David Kilcullen

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'War is a form of armed politics, and politics is about influencing and controlling people and perceptions.' - David Kilcullen [1]
Kilcullen on the Charlie Rose show in 2007

David J. Kilcullen is an Australian counterinsurgency writer who has served as an official advisor to the US State Department, and to David Petraeus, the architect of 'The Surge'. He advocates a US military strategy which draws on insights from the social sciences and is attentive to particular cultures and societies. His approach has become particularly influential as an alternative to the ideological approach associated with the neoconservatives.

Background

Kilcullen grew up on Sydney's north shore, the son of academics. He studied counterinsurgency as a cadet at Royal Military College in Duntroon, the Australian Army's officer training establishment. [2]

He served for 22 years in the Australian Army, suggesting he was commissioned in circa 1983. According to a biographical note in one of his papers, Kilcullen was an advisor with Indonesian forces from 1994 to 1995 and 'was operations officer of the Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville during the final stages of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army insurgency in 1998.' [3] He then commanded an infantry company on counterinsurgency operations in East Timor in 1999-2000 and after September 11th worked with police, paramilitary and military forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere since 9/11. [4]

During this time Kilcullen also studied a PhD at the University of South Wales. Towards the end of his military service, Kilcullen served in Australia’s Office of National Assessments and on the writing team for Australia’s 2004 Terrorism White Paper. [5] He was also a counterterrorism advisor to an unnamed Arabian Gulf state in 2004. [6]

US Advisor

According to The New Yorker, in 2004 Kilcullen’s writings and lectures brought him to the attention of an official working for Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the Deputy Secretary of Defense. [7] Though unnamed in the article this Wolfowitz official is probably Kilcullen's friend John Nagl who became an assistant to Paul Wolfowitz in 2004. [8] That year Kilcullen took leave from Australia's Defence Department to help the Pentagon with the drafting of the 2005 Quadrennial Defence Review, which determines the US's global defence strategy. Working inside the Pentagon in 2004, Kilcullen founded and led the US Government's inter-agency Irregular Warfare Working Group. [9]

In July 2005, Kilcullen, as a result of his work on the Pentagon document, received an invitation to attend a conference on defense policy, in Vermont. There he met Henry Crumpton, who had supervised the CIA’s covert activities in Afghanistan during the 2001 invasion. The two men spent much of the conference talking privately. Soon afterward, Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, hired Crumpton as the department’s co-ordinator for counterterrorism, and Crumpton, in turn, offered Kilcullen a job. [10] Kilcullen left the Australian Army as a lieutenant-colonel, and returned to Washington to work as the chief strategist for Crumpton. [11] His official position was 'Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, The State Department'. [12]

The Times writes that Kilcullen 'was helping Petraeus to write his now-famous text on counter-insurgency' when Petraeus was put in charge of the occupation of Iraq. [13] This is a reference to Petraeus's counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24, the preparation of which he oversaw. [14] Kilcullen then became a senior counter-insurgency advisor to David Petraeus, and was part of the small team that designed “the surge”. In promoting Kilcullen's The Accidental Guerrilla, Oxford University Press describe Kilcullen as having been 'part of General David Petraeus' brain trust in Baghdad'. [15] He was awarded the US Army Superior Civilian Service Medal “for exceptionally meritorious service to the United States as Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor, Multi-National Force-Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.” [16]

Other roles

Kilcullen is a Senior Fellow at the East West Institute [17] and a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. [18] He is also a partner at the Crumpton Group, [19] a strategic advisory firm based in Washington, D.C. by Henry Crumpton, the CIA man who brought Kilcullen to the Pentagon.

Views

In Kilcullen's view the United States and its allies are involved in a global war which demands that they use an updated model of counterinsurgency theory rather than the conventional counter-terrorism paradigm. In an article he wrote in 2004 entitled, 'Countering the Global Insurgency', Kilcullen writes that 'the present conflict is actually a campaign to counter a globalised Islamist insurgency. Therefore, counterinsurgency theory is more relevant to this War than is traditional counterterrorism.' [20]

Kilcullen goes on to argue that counterinsurgency theory must be adapted because it was developed as a model to defeat insurgencies in one country. He argues that 'new approaches to systems analysis' developed by scientists suggest that the United States should use a 'model of insurgencies as biological systems' in order to identify 'key system elements and means to attack them'. [21] The aim he says is to 'return the insurgency’s parent society to its normal mode of interaction, on terms favourable to us.' A key aspect of this approach Kilcullen writes, is 'improved cultural capability'. [22]

In other words, Kilcullen seeks a more advanced understanding of particular cultures and societies, in order that America and its allies can dominate them more efficiently. In another article Kilcullen writes that: 'in modern counterinsurgency, where there is no single insurgent network to be penetrated but rather a cultural and demographic jungle of population groups to be navigated'. That being the case, 'the counterinsurgent must control the overall environment rather than defeat a specific enemy.' [23]

In his research Kilcullen therefore seeks to develop what he called a 'conflict ethnography', that is 'a deep, situation-specific understanding of the human, social and cultural dimensions of a conflict'. [24] This term was used in a presentation he gave at the RAND Corporation in May 2008. [25] In essence what the term encapsulates is Kilcullen's view that an effective counterinsurgency must be based on a culturally sensitive reading of the particular society of which the insurgents are part. In an online article, Kilcullen writes that a 'professional counterinsurgent' has a 'personal obligation to study, internalize and interpret the physical, human, informational and ideological setting in which the conflict takes place.' [26] In the context of that article Kilcullen was arguing against other commentators who believe that 'insurgents' are motivated by religious ideology. Kilcullen criticised such commentators as 'Western armchair theorists who concede the enemy’s religious arguments [and] are either unfamiliar with reality on the ground, or deceived by enemy propaganda.' [27]

Kilcullen has generally stressed that his writings are practical not theoretical, and that counterinsurgency theory cannot generally be widely applied in different social contexts. However, he is not all together dismissive of the value of theoretical approaches. In an email to a critic posted on the military website Small Wars Journal, Kilcullen suggests that he is searching for a new more effective paradigm for Western military domination:

I don't believe I do have the answer, and as I write in those other papers, although COIN [Counterinsurgency] theory is a better fit for current problems in the WOT [War on Terror] than is CT [Counter-terrorism] theory, it's not a perfect fit. Indeed, I would argue that this set of conflicts we are in actually breaks all our existing paradigms so that we need a fundamental re-think...But I don't claim to have the answer. I sometimes feel as if a new paradigm is on the tip of my tongue, and I have a strong feeling that the solution (if there is one) is about a strategic form of armed propaganda that goes well beyond our current concept of IO [Influence Operations] into a type of semi-kinetic "influence operations". [28]

This belief that the Western military should focus on 'armed propaganda' rather than on purely military and technocratic methods of domination is also evident in Complex Warfighting, an operations manual Kilcullen wrote for the Australian Army in 2004. In one passage he writes that: 'The Australian Army’s philosophy of war views warfare as fundamentally a human, societal activity, rather than a technical or engineering problem. War is a form of armed politics, and politics is about influencing and controlling people and perceptions. War is a free creative human activity, inextricably linked to human will, emotion and psychology.' [29] The paper quoted from a paper published by the Australian Department of Defence in 2002 called 'Future Warfighting Concept', which stated that: ‘the challenges of complex environments reinforce our view that warfare is multidimensional. We view conflict not just in space and time, but also in context – a context created by the physical, political, cultural and informational environments where conflicts are fought.’ [30]

Because he is seen as presenting a more nuanced, sophisticated and less ideological view (particularly in comparison with Rumsfield, Cheney and the Neoconservatives), Kilcullen is often praised by journalists and intellectuals. Tara McKelvey writes in The American Prospect that: ‘Counterinsurgency has a special allure for liberal writers and thinkers because it offers a holistic approach, emphasizing efforts to win the hearts and minds of local people, and attempts to transform formerly autocratic governments into ones that respect human rights, women's education, and the rule of law.’ [31] For example Janine di Giovanni writes in the New York Times writes that: 'After reading “The Accidental Guerrilla,” one is left to wonder why the Pentagon did not listen to his sage advice back in 2003, instead of that of all those cheery optimists who predicted the Iraqis would greet the American forces with flowers.' [32]

Tom Hayden comments on the Huffington Post that, 'The long New Yorker piece by George Packer pictured Kilcullen as a charming, eccentric, and isolated genius of sorts.' [33] Given such praise it should be noted that Kilcullen does not object to conquest and occupation, rather his objections and criticisms are purely tactical. As the New Yorker notes in its overwise flattering profile:

In his view, winning hearts and minds is not a matter of making local people like you—as some American initiates to counterinsurgency whom I met in Iraq seemed to believe—but of getting them to accept that supporting your side is in their interest, which requires an element of coercion...a willingness to show local people that supporting the enemy risks harm and hardship...[B]ecause he talks about war with an analyst’s rationalism and a practitioner’s matter-of-factness, Kilcullen can appear deceptively detached from its consequences. [34]

Kilcullen has, as Tom Hayden points out, advocated a 'global Phoenix program'. The original 'Phoenix' was a detention, torture and assassination programme in South Vietman which was denounced and disbanded by the US Congress after hearings in the 1970s. [35] Indeed Kilcullen has written that 'somewhat counter-intuitively, Vietnam was methods appear to address the full spread of attack methods. and that 'Counterinsurgency in Vietnam was highly effective'.[36] On the Phoenix programme Klcullen recommends 'actions to target the insurgent infrastructre that would resemble the unfairly maligned (but highly effective) Vietnam-era Phoenix program'.[37]

Hayden also notes how Kilcullen's goal of controlling the civilian population in Iraq mimicks the 'strategic hamlets' programme in South Vietnam, originally developed by Robert Thompson in Malaya and inevitably justified as an effort to 'protect' the occupied population. [38] Kilcullen's approach, and that of 'the surge' more generally can be seen as a modern and urbanised form of the 'strategic hamlets' programme.
Slide from a presentation Kilcullen gave at the RAND Corporation in May 2008 showing how the cycle of violence can be broken [39]

This is evident in a presentation Kilcullen gave at the RAND Corporation in May 2008 in which Kilcullen described the 'breaking [of] the cycle' of violence through ‘gated communities’ and ‘access controls’ to prevent the mixing of Shia and Sunni populations, ‘domination of "belts"’ (Provinces adjacent to Baghdad), ‘control of access to Baghdad’, and ‘Joint Security Operations to protect people in their homes' [40] (see diagram on the left)

Influence in media and politics

Kilcullen has been called 'America, Britain and Australia's favourite expert on counterinsurgency methods and tactics' [41] and more particularly 'Gordon Brown and David Miliband's favourite counter-insurgency expert' [42] The claim that Brown admires Kilcullen appears to originate from articles written by the British journalist Matthew D'Ancona in August 2007 wherein D'Ancona implies that Brown has cited Kilcullen's work whilst in Washington. [43] Miliband's admiration for Kilcullen is confirmed by a blog entry of his made on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website in which he wrote: 'I think that some of the best thinking about terrorism has been done by David Kilcullen.' [44]

In promoting Kilcullen's The Accidental Guerrilla, Oxford University Press describe Kilcullen as 'the "go-to guy" for journalists when it comes to counterinsurgency'. [45] Kilcullen has a substantial media presence. The Lexis Nexis newspaper database lists 440 articles mentioning Kilcullen between 2005 and 2008 and 104 in its Major World Newspapers group. [46] [47]

Writings

Kilcullen's 2009 book Accidental Guerilla

Kilcullen's PhD thesis was presented in 2000 and titled Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945 – 99. [48] The thesis explored the history of counterinsurgency in Indonesia and drew on Kilcullen's personal experences. [49]

In 2006 Kilcullen wrote a short paper on counterinsurgency called The 28 Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level CounterInsurgency, which used by the US, Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Iraqi and Afghan armies as a training document. According to an article in The Australian, Kilcullen wrote the paper after junior officers' feedback on Petraeus's counterinsurgency document FM 3-24 suggested commanders needed something more practical. [50]

According to The Australian, it has become 'the equivalent of the Lonely Planet guide for an infantry fighting asymmetrical battles: a pragmatic, blunt and at times blackly humorous tract that has revolutionised the way the so-called war on terror is being fought.' [51]

In Twenty-Eight Articles, Kilcullen writes that, 'Rob Greenway, Bruce Hoffman, Olivier Roy and Marc Sageman influenced my thinking over several months.' He also credits a 'current serving officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, and two other members of the intelligence community, also made major contributions but cannot be named. [52]


Chronological list of publications

  • David J. Kilcullen, Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945 – 99. A fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict. PhD dissertation. School of Politics, University College, The University of New South Wales 2000
  • David Kilcullen, 'Rethinking the Basis of Infantry Close Combat', Australian Army Journal, Volume I, no. 1, December 2003
  • David Kilcullen, 'The Essential Debate: Combined Arms and the Close Battle in Complex Terrain', Australian Army Journal Volume I, no. 1, December 2003
  • David Kilcullen, Complex Warfighting. Australian Army’s Future Land Operational Manual, 2004
  • David Kilcullen & Brigadier Justin Kelly, 'Chaos versus Predictability: A Critique of Effects-based Operations', Australian Army Journal, Volume II, no 1 – Winter 2004
  • David Kilcullen, 'Countering global insurgency', Small Wars Journal, November 2004
  • David Kilcullen, 'Countering global insurgency', Journal of Strategic Studies, 28, no. 4 (2005): 597-617
  • David Kilcullen, 'Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency', Military Review, 86, no. 3, May/June 2006, pp.103-108 & Marine Corps Gazette, 90, no. 7, (2006): 50
  • David Kilcullen, 'Globalisation and the Development of Indonesian Counterinsurgency Tactics', Small Wars and Insurgencies, 17, no. 1 (2006): 44-64
  • David Kilcullen, 'Counter-insurgency Redux', Survival, 48, no. 4 (2006): 111-130
  • David Kilcullen, 'Ethics, Politics and Non-State Warfare', Anthropology Today, 23, no. 3 (2007): 20
  • David Kilcullen, 'Subversion and Countersubversion in the Campaign against Terrorism in Europe', Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Volume:30, Issue:8, August 2007, pp.647 to 666
  • David Kilcullen, Matt Porter, Carlos Burgos, U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide (eBook), (Department of State Washington D.C., January 2009)
  • David Kilcullen, The accidental guerrilla: fighting small wars in the midst of a big one (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Affiliations and connections

Affiliations

Connections

John Nagl | David Petraeus | Henry 'Hank' Crumpton

References

Resources

Notes

  1. David Kilcullen, Complex Warfighting. Australian Army’s Future Land Operational Manual, 2004
  2. Rebecca Weisser, 'Strategist behind war gains', The Australian, 18 August 2007
  3. Footnote 7 in David Kilcullen, 'Counter-insurgency Redux', Survival, 48, no. 4 (2006): 111-130
  4. Footnote 7, in David Kilcullen, 'Counter-insurgency Redux', Survival, 48, no. 4 (2006): 111-130
  5. East West Institute, Staff: Dr David Kilcullen, accessed 26 May 2009
  6. Footnote 7, in David Kilcullen, 'Redux', Survival, 48, no. 4 (2006): 111-130
  7. George Packer, 'Knowing the Enemy', The New Yorker, 18 December 2006
  8. Thomas E. Ricks, 'High-Profile Officer Nagl to Leave Army, Join Think Tank', Washington Post, 16 January 2008
  9. Patrick Walters, 'Exceptional strategist is our man in Washington', The Australian, 14 December 2006
  10. George Packer, 'Knowing the Enemy', The New Yorker, 18 December 2006
  11. Patrick Walters, 'Exceptional strategist is our man in Washington', The Australian, 14 December 2006
  12. David J. Kilcullen,Redux], 2006
  13. Bronwen Maddox, 'David Kilcullen's Iraq invasion lesson for the US: don't do it again', The Times, 12 May 2009
  14. Sarah Sewall, 'He Wrote the Book. Can He Follow It?', Washington Post, 25 February 2007. A copy of FM 3-24 is available online [1]
  15. OUP USA, The Accidental Guerrilla, accessed 26 May 2009
  16. East West Institute, Staff: Dr David Kilcullen, accessed 26 May 2009
  17. East West Institute, Staff: Dr David Kilcullen, accessed 26 May 2009
  18. see contributor notes for Jamestown Foundation event Pakistan's Troubled Frontier, 15 April 2009
  19. East West Institute, Staff: Dr David Kilcullen, accessed 26 May 2009
  20. David Kilcullen, 'Countering global insurgency', Small Wars Journal, November 2004
  21. David Kilcullen, 'Countering global insurgency', Small Wars Journal, November 2004
  22. David Kilcullen, 'Countering global insurgency', Small Wars Journal, November 2004
  23. David Kilcullen, 'Counter-insurgency Redux', Survival, 48, no. 4 (2006): 111-130
  24. Dave Kilcullen, 'Religion and Insurgency', Small Wars Journal, 12 May 2007
  25. David J. Kilcullen, 'Dinosaurs versus Mammals: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Adaption in Iraq, 2007', RAND Insurgency Board, 8 May 2008
  26. Dave Kilcullen, 'Religion and Insurgency', Small Wars Journal, 12 May 2007
  27. Dave Kilcullen, 'Religion and Insurgency', Small Wars Journal, 12 May 2007
  28. Email from David Kilcullen to the blogger 'Fabius Maximus', cc'd to and posted on the website Small War Journal on 1 July 2007
  29. David Kilcullen, Warfighting. Australian Army’s Future Land Operational Manual, 2004
  30. David Kilcullen, Warfighting. Australian Army’s Future Land Operational Manual, 2004. The document 'Future Warfighting Concept' is available online.
  31. Tara McKelvey, ‘The Cult of Counterinsurgency’, The American Prospect, 20 November 2008
  32. Janine di Giovanni, 'Local Wars', New York Times, 24 April 2009
  33. Tom Hayden, 'Meet the New Dr. Strangelove', Huffington Post, 20 June 2008
  34. George Packer, 'Knowing the Enemy', The New Yorker, 18 December 2006
  35. Tom Hayden, 'Meet the New Dr. Strangelove', Huffington Post, 20 June 2008
  36. David Kilcullen 'Countering Global Insurgency' Small Wars Journal September-November 2004. Cited in Hughes, Solomon (2008)’Killer Intellect’, Red Pepper, Feb/Mar: 19.
  37. David Kilcullen 'Countering Global Insurgency' Small Wars Journal September-November 2004. Cited in Hughes, Solomon (2008)’Killer Intellect’, Red Pepper, Feb/Mar: 19.
  38. Tom Hayden, 'Meet the New Dr. Strangelove', Huffington Post, 20 June 2008
  39. David J. Kilcullen, 'Dinosaurs versus Mammals: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Adaption in Iraq, 2007', RAND Insurgency Board, 8 May 2008
  40. David J. Kilcullen, 'Dinosaurs versus Mammals: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Adaption in Iraq, 2007', RAND Insurgency Board, 8 May 2008
  41. Robert Fox, 'Echoes of Vietnam in Afghanistan', Guardian Unlimited, 12 May 2009
  42. 'Lions led by Labour donkeys', The Spectator, 4 April 2009; p.5
  43. Matthew d'Ancona, 'On the road with Gordon in the search for hearts and minds', The Spectator, 4 August 2007; Matthew d'Ancona, 'Brown is leading the way in counter-terrorist thinking', Guardian, 2 August 2007
  44. Screengrab created ‎27 ‎May ‎2009, ‏‎22:52
  45. OUP USA, The Accidental Guerrilla, accessed 26 May 2009
  46. Searches conducted on 26 May 2009. Details of the searches used are as follows: All English Language News > (David Kilcullen ) and DATE(>=[2005]-01-01 and <=[2008]-12-31) and Major World Newspapers (English) > (David Kilcullen ) and DATE(>=[2005]-01-01 and <=[2008]-12-31)
  47. The LexisNexis Major World Newspapers group file which was used for the search contains over 40 full-text newspapers from around the world. According to LexisNexis the papers included “are generally regarded by the reading public as those giving the most comprehensive and reliable coverage”.
  48. KILCULLEN David J. Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945 – 99. A fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict. PhD dissertation. School of Politics, University Collage, The University of New South Wales 2000.
  49. Karina Marczuk, 'A Visionary and a Practitioner: the Bernard Kouchner vs. David Kilcullen', Defence and Strategy, Volume 2/2007
  50. Rebecca Weisser, 'Strategist behind war gains', The Australian, 18 August 2007
  51. Rebecca Weisser, 'Strategist behind war gains', The Australian, 18 August 2007
  52. David Kilcullen 'Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency', Military Review, 86, no. 3, May/June 2006, pp.103–108