Review: The Accidental Guerrilla–Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

2 Star, Insurgency & Revolution

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

2.0 out of 5 stars Accidental American Accidentally Rediscovers Old Knowledge

June 21, 2009

David Kilcullen

The author is an accidental American given access to top secret information and inner circles much more appropriate to Ralph Peters, Steven Metz, Max Manwaring, Gunny Poole, and many others who knew all this–and have sought to teach all this in speaking truth to power–for decades. Someone liked him, he was given temporal admission to the closed circle, and this book is what he knows and what they hear.

While the author provides a commendable view for one man in isolation, he is wrong on multiple points, e.g. ethnographic studies are not about ethnic studies, but rather about deep local studies that contribute to a mosaic of global understanding that is more nuanced than top-down generics; CIA did not coin the term Irregular Warfare, the French study in 1999 was long preceded by Policing the New World Disorder: Peace Operations and Public Security, etc.) This author joins the crop of new-bees who rediscover old knowledge. Sadly, this book is probably a measure of where the Secretary of Defense is going to take the Quadrennial Defense Review in 2008, and that makes me want to gag.

The author’s facile explanation of “the accidental guerrilla” is that we are intruding in our Global War on Terror (GWOT), the locals are resisting our intrusion rather than being “insurgents,” and they are fighting to be left alone. I have a note: “weak on history, weak on internal sources of disorder [see the image on predicting revolution], completely ignorant of the larger picture of unilateral militarism, virtual colonialism, and predatory immoral capitalism.”

What I got out of this book:

+ Distinguishes between human and national security, implies correctly that USA and most still focused on state on state security and oblivious to the ten high level threats to mankind [which, I might add for the author’s edification, are outlined in A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.]

+ Four models for thinking:
– Backlash against globalization
– Globalized insurgency
– Civil war within Islam
– Asymmetric warfare

On the latter, while the author has two insights: that cost asymmetry matters and that US will not develop because the military-industrial complex cannot profit from low-cost capabilities development, it infuriates me to find no reference to any of 20 or more pioneers of the asymmetric challenge from General Al Gray in 1988 to all of the speakers at the Army Strategy Conference in 1998. See my articles, “The Asymmetric Threat: Listening to the Debate”, and it’s 10-year reprise, “Perhaps We Should Have Shouted: A 20-Year Retrospective”.

I am especially annoyed by the failure to acknowledge and integrate anything at all by Max Manwaring or Ralph Peters, thus confirming my own view that this book is an immaculate conception of what passes for thinking at the high table, and totally disconnected from larger reality. Cf.
The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century
Uncomfortable Wars Revisited (International and Security Affairs Series)

On the first, I am totally amazed that anyone could earn a PhD and observe that globalization has created haves and have-nots, without any reference to solid literature such as:
The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World
Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)

There are many other books the author has not had an opportunity to explore, in the comment I provide URLs for Gray, the two articles mentioned above, and an annotated bibliography leading to 500+ non-fiction books about reality organized into 20 or so categories.

The author has a diagram of the four phases of Al Qaeda operations: infection, contagion, intervention by others, and rejection by locals of foreign intervention.

There are some false notes, e.g. one explanation mounted for villagers joining the Taliban to pin down a US force, “Do you have any idea how boring it is to be a teen-ager in Afghanistan?”

I agree with the point on page 44, that insurgent successes seem as much due to inattention and inadequate resourcing on our part as to talent on theirs. Of course Charlie Wilson and Steve Metz said this first. Cf.
Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy

The author’s assessment of the Taliban as the most competent tactical enemy faced by the US anywhere is interesting, along with his ground observations on use of snipers, prepared positions, and scouting-intelligence.

He largely ignores the Pakistani support for the Taliban, taking it as a given, and the involvement of Karzai and his brother in the drug trade. He does agree with the author of Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia with respect to Karzai compromising himself and his government.

For anyone who has actually studied real-world conflict and especially revolutionary conflicts, this is a very annoying book that can be summed up with “Focus on the population, not the enemy; good governance works.” Duh.

The author appears unwitting of the fact that SOF went into Afghanistan in the first place with a tribal map from the Royal Academy in Sweden that was color-coded and backed up by current research, or that SOF is really beginning to excel at social network analysis and that company commanders are creating intelligence cells out of hide to do more of that.

I would recommend the book for its description of the “dialog of the deaf” where US officers speaking fast English show powerpoint slides to Afghan leaders, who then respond with a range of questions and complaints and observations that must be translated, neither side “getting” what the other was seeking to communicate.

The author is still a command and control loyalist: he says on page 150 that the fundamental problem is one of control–of people, terrain, and information. Sorry, but wrong. Sun Tzu today would say that “to gain control one must give up control,” and he would refer the aspiring commander to the concept of Epoch B leadership (see image posted above).

He itemizes the mistakes in Pakistan without mention of their British training:
01-Focus on enemy vice population
04-Overextended-active, reserve-deficiency
06-Discounting of local-assets
08-Lack-of-mine-protected vehicles
09-Desire to copy US (?)

Five classes of threat facing Europe:
05-crime/terrorism overlap

Nothing on corruption, incompetence, failure to assimilate, waste, even organized crime and rotten education.

I have no argument with the author’s basic premise, spelled out on page 263:

“…concepts such as hybrid warfare and unrestricted warfare make a lot more sense than traditional state-on-state, force-on-force concepts of conventional war.”

I agree with the author when he says counterterrorism is not a strategy, proposed an ARCADIA Conference, salutes the limits of our influence, and describes the emergence of an anti-Powell doctrine.

He makes eight recommendations:
03-continuity of key personnel and policies
05-cueing and synchronization
07-emphasis on building local security forces
08-region-wide approach

He says that ambiguity arises because the conflict [GWOT] breaks existing paradigms. Quite so, but for 20 years no one in Washington has been willing to listen to thousands saying this over and over.

His conclusion:
04-identify-the-new “strategic services” [not mentioned: Civil Affairs, Air Peace, Open Source Agency, Multinational Decision Support Centre] 05-develop-strategic-information-warfare

I put this book down with great sadness. Those who provided jacket blurbs did so with good intentions, but the conclusion that I come to is that this “closed circle” neither reads nor learns. The author is an accidental guru as well as an accidental American.

I regret Amazon limits me to 10 links, see 2008 Chapter: Annotated Bibliography on Reality for 500+ relevant works including The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State.

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