View Poll Results: Evaluate Kilcullen's work on counterinsurgency

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  • Brilliant, useful

    26 45.61%
  • Interesting, perhaps useful

    26 45.61%
  • Of little utility, not practical

    1 1.75%
  • Delusional

    4 7.02%
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Thread: The David Kilcullen Collection (merged thread)

  1. #1
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    Default The David Kilcullen Collection (merged thread)

    Moderator's Note

    Prompted by the SWJ Blog article 'Meet An Urban Planner For Cities That Don't Yet Exist' and link:http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/mee...dont-yet-exist I found that two hundred threads contain Kilcullen and nine threads specifically contain his name in the title, so before I merge them to this 'Collection' thread they were:

    1. In 2008 'Killcullen Briefing' a link to another website
    2. In 2008 after his book was published 'Kilcullen article' on defeating the Taliban
    3. In 2009 announcing a speaking slot 'David Kilcullen at the Pritzker Military Library'
    4. In 2009 a link to an Australian TV debate 'Kilcullen debates the ethics and tactics of contemporary warfare'
    5. In 2009 a thread after 'Accidental insurgent' was published 'Recovering David Kilcullen'
    6. In 2006 'Kilcullen -- New Theories for a New Way of War'
    7. In 2010 'Deconstructing Kilcullen's Counterinsurgency'
    8. In 2010 seeking questions for a meeting 'Questions for Dr. David Kilcullen'
    9. In 2011 'Kilcullen on Libya: U.S. Should be ‘Air Referee’

    In January 2015 four other threads were merged into this one.(ends)


    Kilcullen's work has been discussed elsewhere on SWC, including the thread on his "28 articles". But given the high-level attention it has received, a dedicated thread seems appropriate.

    Lt. Col in the Australian Army, Ph.D. in anthropology, Chief Strategist in the Office of the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, recently awarded the Medal for Exceptional Public Service, and subject of a glowing review in the New Yorker article quoted above.

    Here are his major works:

    Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency

    Complex Warfighting, April 7, 2004


    Counterinsurgency Redux, Survival -- IISS, Winter, 2006

    Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency, Dr David J. Kilcullen*, Remarks delivered at the U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Conference, Washington D.C., 28 September 2006
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 01-11-2015 at 09:17 PM. Reason: Cleaned up links. 2012 & 2015 Note added.

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    Default Start at the beginning...

    "28 articles" was written for a Coalition Company Commander just warned for deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan. With admirable clarity, at the opening he defines his subject.

    (Counterinsurgency) is a competition with the insurgent for the right and the ability to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population.
    Right from the start … guaranteed failure. This definition is true when fighting a domestic insurgency, or if we are seeking to create or maintain a colony. Neither is true – yet – for America. Certainly not in Iraq.

    The Iraq government must win the hearts and minds of its people for the Iraq State. A US company commander can only help, as a secondary player in this game.
    Last edited by Fabius Maximus; 12-28-2006 at 02:17 AM.

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    Default Please vote "delusional"

    The number of votes for "brilliant, useful" suggests that America is doomed. I recommend that we all get dual citizenship with some refuge nation, perhaps an isolated communist State up in the hills. Like Albania, or Berkeley.

    Perhaps more evidence will help....

    Kilcullen then gives 28 steps to victory. Let's start at the top.

    1. Know your turf.

    Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.
    At this point a savvy Captain might toss this in the trash.

    This advice is either banal (“know your turf”) or impossible.

    The world expert on “your” district already lives there. What Kilcullen describes is called the home court advantage – and they have it, not us. US company commanders on a six to twelve month rotations cannot develop anything remotely like this knowledge about so foreign a place.

    It might not be possible for then to do so in Watts or Harlem.

    This does however, show the power of Kilcullen's work.

    First, Kilcullen has written a useful field manual. Unfortunately, it works only for insurgents -- not us. See #1 above.

    Second, he (unknowingly) shows why overseas expeditions do not work in a 4GW world. The "home court advantage" has the advantage when (like now) defensive strategies are dominant.
    Last edited by Fabius Maximus; 12-28-2006 at 02:15 AM.

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    Default Apologies, I forgot our ace in the hole!

    As usual with the US military, deus ex machina saves the day!

    Quote Originally Posted by "Knowing the Enemy", George Packer, The New Yorker (Dec 18, 2006)
    ... a “ruggedized” laptop computer, loaded with data from social-science research conducted in Iraq — such as, McFate said, “an analysis of the eighty-eight tribes and subtribes in a particular province.” Now the project is recruiting social scientists around the country to join five-person “human terrain” teams that would go to Iraq and Afghanistan with combat brigades and serve as cultural advisers on six-to-nine-month tours.
    Since there are so few Arabic-speaking, Iraq-expert social scientists in the US (even fewer for Afghanistan), the data for these laptops’ will mostly come from the locals. That is, our maps of the social terrain will be that of various partisans in the Iraq civil war. (there are no neutrals in a civil war)

    It's a high-tech way of making their enemies, our enemies.

    Good idea, just the wrong time and place.

    Also this illustrates our confusion between "data" and "knowledge." Even if the data is correct, most of our company commanders will lack the contextual understanding -- the wider view of Iraq/Afghanistan society -- needed to successfully apply it.
    Last edited by Fabius Maximus; 12-28-2006 at 02:18 AM.

  5. #5
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Questions

    Fabius, I take you don't believe much in Kilcullen? Who would you recommend?

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    Default Who should we be listening to?

    The usual suspects ... Lind, Richards, van Creveld ... and the other folks you see published on www.d-n-i.net

    Unfortunately we are in the early stages of developing strategies effective in the age of 4GW. Early days yet. Yet the wealth of writing of the subject, from both in and outside the services, suggests that we'll have results eventually.

    Implementing them might be a more difficult problem. I consider this the critical step, about which I've seen nothing of interest. Perhaps we must learn to wage 4GW on our own military institutions.

    The sage who I believe has produced the first keys to winning 4GW is MAJ Don Vandergriff (The Path to Victory). In the end, our people are our greatest strength. Nothing is more important than getting the right system to attract, retain, and promote in the armed services.

    Among my articles, the most operational is, I believe:

    "Militia: the dominant defensive force in 21st Century 4GW?"
    http://www.d-n-i.net/fcs/pdf/fabius_..._militia-1.pdf
    Last edited by Fabius Maximus; 12-28-2006 at 02:34 AM. Reason: editign corrections

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default

    Fabius, that's some article. I am not sure about Militias for some of the reasons you mentioned. One thing I do agree with is the defense is vastly underestimated. One of the hardest things I had to learn as a Cop was how to make the criminal come to you! It sounds so odd but it is an enormous advantage when you set up sting operations,or undercover operations and they catch far more criminals then just riding around in a marked patrol car. I will have to pay more attention to the DNI page.

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    Default Another view of Kilcullen's work, by T. X. Hammes

    The below link goes to a favorable mention of "Counterinsurgency Redux" by T. X. Hammes. Hammes is on the A-team of 4GW experts. His opinion deserves attention.

    http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-i...-guerrilla-war

  9. #9
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default

    Fabius, I like TX Hammes and try to read his articles, have not read his book yet, but I will. The last article I read of his was in Military Review (I think) about doing network analysis in order to make the enemy visible. Law Enforcement has been doing this for years since criminals don't walk around with a sign on their head that says Criminal. Glad he is on our side.

  10. #10
    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Default

    I am a bit surprised at the sharp tone of FM's criticism. Most of Mr. Kilcullen's statements seem to be plain common sense well put. The crux of FM's complaint seems to be that something less than perfect is useless.

    1.

    In his little area, the Company Commander is indeed in a competition as stated by Mr. Kilcullen. And, as as been demonstrated in Vietnam, Malaya and Iraq, it is possible to win that competition in his small area of responsibility.

    Of course, the government of Iraq will be the entity that ultimately wins the war in the country as a whole. The Captain "can only help, as a secondary player in this game." But that secondary role can be a vital one.

    2.

    The Captain might well never know the turf as well as the guy who was born and lives there. But FM seems to imply that because he will never equal that knowledge the advice is meritless; if perfection can't be achieved, why bother trying for good enough.

    It seems to me that the advantages the Captain brings, around 100 well trained and organized soldiers, good communications, superior fighting power, good transport, reliable supply, money to spend (hopefully) can make what less than perfect knowledge he can, through hard work, acquire, good enough to win a local victory.

  11. #11
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    Default a little too harsh

    Fabius I have to agree with Carl for the most part. I have yet to read all your posted links (except for the first post), but a Company of professional soldiers brings many things to their area of operations that probably didn't exist previously, such as a viable, non-bias security force. I have seen companies reenergize existing systems such as the local medical, sewage, education, banking, etc. If something isn't working, they go out and see what the problem is, and get the appropriate powers to be to fix the problem. We're generally there because the problem set was greater than the HN government could manage on its own, so to assume we bring no goodness is quite simply wrong. To state we're at a disadvantage because we're not on home turf is obviously a truism, but always has been, and it has not prevented us (and others) from winning in these types of conflicts previously.

    As for Killcullen being a genius or a dreamer, I have to side closer to genius. You need to remember that he works for our Dept of State, so he can only go so far with his public statements. If you want to see if he understands where the differences between traditional COIN fits and modern 4GW I recommend reading the article titled "Knowing the Enemy" by George Packer in the NY Times. (See link below, note this was posted elsewhere in in the counsel, and surprisingly received little comment, it was the best articles I have read lately).

    On the other hand I agree with you that a traditional COIN approach will not work in some cases, and OIF is one of them. More later, I need to read to your posts.

    http://www.newyorker.com/fact/conten...061218fa_fact2

    Bill

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    Default Carl is right, from one perspective...

    (a quickly written note, apologize for typos)

    From the perspective of company commanders, this is just another set of advice, to be skimmed for a few insights. "#1 Know your turf ... tell me something I don't already know."

    It's banal in the sense of commonplace, almost trivial.

    (side note: For every members of Al Qaeda there must be hundred+ manuals on how to fight him, many of which are hundreds of pages long ... Perhaps we should conduct counterinsurgency by smothering our enemies with manuals.)

    From a larger perspective this -- boiling his work down to commonplaces -- misses the key to Kilcullen's views. He's a brilliant PhD anthropologist - Lt Col in the Aussie Army.

    I'll bet that he means this stuff, in its full glory as I described above. As do the senior DoD and State folks -- uniformed and not -- who promote his work.

    The "excesses" (my word, not yours) that you throw away ("be the world expert on your district") are his key insights. Delusional as they might be.

    This illustrates some key larger points as to why we lose these wars. Hence deserves attention!

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    Default I was not harsh enough.

    Bill, how can you say I am too harsh on Kilcullen before reading my analysis? Perhaps I am too gentle. (I vote for option B, too nice too often to too many).

    Since I quoted from this New Yorker article, I probably read it!

    These "genius new CI experts" and "innovative new Army commander" articles in the general media are a staple of 4G wars. They appear all the way from the confident entry to the defeat and withdrawal at the end.

    They deserve close attention, as they illustrate why we lose.

  14. #14
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    Default Going out on a limb here, but...

    FB,

    I try to live by the adage that arguing over the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics because even if you win, you're still retarded.

    That said, I offer that you have misread the 28 Articles:

    Kilcullen then gives 28 steps to victory. Let's start at the top.
    As a former company commander who actually served in Iraq, my read of the work tells me it was not intended to be a presciption for victory, but rather a memory jogger so that the mobilized company commander could frame his thoughts, work, and shape his staff. He wants the guy on the ground to contribute to victory, not be the end all.

    Kilcullen also wants the commander to avoid being part of the problem, like the hammer in search of a nail. If you think his work is only good for the insurgents, then I believe that you have misread and missed his point.

  15. #15
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    Default Well said,

    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    FB,

    I try to live by the adage that arguing over the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics because even if you win, you're still retarded.

    That said, I offer that you have misread the 28 Articles:

    As a former company commander who actually served in Iraq, my read of the work tells me it was not intended to be a presciption for victory, but rather a memory jogger so that the mobilized company commander could frame his thoughts, work, and shape his staff. He wants the guy on the ground to contribute to victory, not be the end all.

    Kilcullen also wants the commander to avoid being part of the problem, like the hammer in search of a nail. If you think his work is only good for the insurgents, then I believe that you have misread and missed his point.
    I started to post something along this line last night but got overwhelmed with the SWJ updates...

    Again, spot on and well said.

  16. #16
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    Default Briefly

    While I heartily endorse FM's call to look at the writings of Chet Richards, T.X. Hammes, William Lind and DNI generally ( I'd throw in John Robb too) I don't agree with his assessment of Colonel Kilcullen who comes with some good COIN experiences in Indonesia ( how many of us are familiar with the enormous constellation of hinterland militias there ? Talk to anyone from Besi Merah Putih lately ? From even the little I know about Indonesia, I can say it is as easily as complex a situation as Iraq in terms of ethnic, religious and political dynamics but with ten times the population and thousands of islands. Getting a handle on that requires some real brains).

    Kilcullen is giving general advice, not an operational plan (I doubt the DoD is listening anyway).

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    Default Strategic level

    I thought his comments on the enemy's tying of its tactics to his PR campaign was very insightful. I will let others argue over the effect of his works on the local level. One of the biggest failures we have had in this war is in the media battle space, While the man at least recognizes the problem, we still have put no one in charge of fighting in thsi battle space.

  18. #18
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    Default Reference Post #8 by FM

    Fabius, I read the article by TX at the link you posted, and thanks for posting as I said I like TX and enjoy reading his work, and I will get his book shortly. Maybe I can give you something to review. In the article he recommends several movies if you don't like to read- Lawrence of Arabia, Battle of Algiers,etc. I would suggest "Next of Kin" with Patrick Swazye. Sometimes it is a little goofy in places but it is closer to truth then you might think with reference to Family Tribes. There are some lessons to be learned for Iraq to. Blood is thicker than water or an idea. If you get a chance watch it, let me know what you think. I would also recommend it for the SWC, maybe a topic for future discussion. "Remember Kin is Kin and thats the way it is!!!!" Great line from some part of the movie. Later.

  19. #19
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by jcustis View Post
    FB,

    I try to live by the adage that arguing over the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics because even if you win, you're still retarded.

    That said, I offer that you have misread the 28 Articles:



    As a former company commander who actually served in Iraq, my read of the work tells me it was not intended to be a presciption for victory, but rather a memory jogger so that the mobilized company commander could frame his thoughts, work, and shape his staff. He wants the guy on the ground to contribute to victory, not be the end all.

    Kilcullen also wants the commander to avoid being part of the problem, like the hammer in search of a nail. If you think his work is only good for the insurgents, then I believe that you have misread and missed his point.
    To echo jcustis as another former Troop commander who has been to Iraq for two years, LTC (Dr.) Kilcullen's pieces are Cliff Notes for those who haven't been there yet. True, most of what he's written becomes second nature to someone with experience in the arena. I had taken for granted the importance of some of his points (I first read his 28 points article after my second year in Iraq) though, in retrospect, I found myself using his article as a report card for performance.

    In addition, I saw Dave Kilcullen present on his 28 Points article about 2 months ago. he presented the 28 points as a pre, during, and post operation PMCS of sorts. Most of his points can be addressed at the company level during an abreviated MDMP or mission planning process.

    Also, it's interesting to me that Dave Kilcullen, TX Hammes, and John Nagl are all good friends and seem to quote each other regularly. I take it for what it's worth; a triad of guys who are pretty smart on the subject. Mixing their knowledge with what I've learned in over two years of COIN gives me, in my opinion, a pretty good handle on the COIN business.

    $0.02
    Last edited by RTK; 12-28-2006 at 08:28 PM.

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    Default a minor point about the discussion...

    Folks, we're all stumbling around here. If you want good answers, call Martin van Creveld. It's long distance, but worth it.

    Meanwhile, back in the weeds, it does not help me when you say that I'm wrong (btw, you're pussycats compared to the DNI editorial cabal).

    Or that I've mis-read Kilcullen (ditto).

    I've given a close analysis of his text. Please give specifics as to my errors.

    Zenpundit, Merv, and others have raised some great and specific points, which I will attempt to grapple with later. Now on to the central question ...

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