The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
This book is likely to emerge as one of the seminal works in the growing field of contemporary counterinsurgency doctrine and practice, along with the U.S. Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (a 2007 publication whose production was overseen by General David Petraeus) and books and articles by other warrior-intellectuals such as John Nagl, H. R. McMaster, Peter Mansoor, and T. X. Hammes.
In it, David Kilcullen shares experiences and insights gained from his 20 years as an Australian Army officer with “small war” combat experience in the Middle East and Southeast Asia; as an astute student of such wars (his Ph.D. thesis was on the political effects of insurgency, counterinsurgency, and terrorism in traditional societies); as a special advisor on counterterrorism strategy to Secretary of State Rice; and as one of the architects of the new U.S. strategy that accompanied the 2007 “surge” in Iraq, where he was senior advisor on counterinsurgency to General Petraeus.
A principal thesis of the book is that although the global “neo-Salafi jihadists” are implacable fanatics with whom there is no room for compromise, most of the people they recruit and exploit have limited aims and sometimes legitimate grievances, and are fighting us because we are in their space, not because they wish to invade ours. U.S. policymakers, Kilcullen maintains, have tended to conflate these “accidental guerrillas” with the jihadi religious terrorists.
The book covers both the global challenge of Islamist extremism and current and recent wars involving insurgency:
Kilcullen’s broad policy prescription is to disentangle the real global threat from local conflicts, deal with the former, and avoid the latter whenever possible but win them if necessary. He recommends a full-spectrum approach to counterinsurgency, encompassing political, security, economic, intelligence, and information (“hearts and minds”) tracks. He approvingly quotes Vietnam War historian and counterinsurgency theorist Bernard Fall that “a government that is losing to an insurgency is not being outfought, it is being outgoverned.” He points out that the new strategy associated with the 2007 surge in Iraq:
Kilcullen concludes that “if we must engage in large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns, then there are certain techniques that can work when properly applied in support of a well-considered political strategy…. It is possible to distill a set of principles for effective counterinsurgency.” These principles are:
In assessing the Iraq War, Kilcullen makes clear his opinion that launching it was a huge mistake:
While he considers that with the surge and new strategy we seem “to have saved ourselves from some of the more egregious consequences of a bad decision to invade Iraq,” he points out that serious issues remain:
On Afghanistan, Kilcullen concludes that: