Journal: Notes on David Kilcullen to US IC

05 Civil War, 09 Terrorism
David Kincullen
David Kincullen

David Kilcullen spoke to NCTC and ODNI on Dec 2, unclassified, and spent a good deal of time talking about good and bad ways to measure counter-insurgency.

His remarks are at a level below the “global police action against the jihadist criminal conspiracy” (how Bacevich characterized on morning NPR interview, Dec 3).

Kilcullen is now with the Crumpton Group.

His book  The Accidental Guerrilla–Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One remains his most easily accessible offering.

Some general points on counter-insurgency:

  • It is “an adaptation struggle”
  • Governments almost always win under two conditions: if they negotiate to end it, and if they are fighting to take back their own country (not in occupation/colony).  (He was using Correlates of War data from Univ. of Indiana.)
  • Insurgency is actually stronger in many ways when smaller, and the remnant is really hard to stop.  He was decorated for fighting 400 Malay insurgents 30 years after the war was supposedly won.
  • The ratio of troops to population that is in the manual is based on an irrelevant figure from an old Rand study.  He tried to keep it out of the manual.  He says you can do quite well with fewer troops.  In Vietnam, we exceeded this ‘standards’ and still lost.

Some bad measures

Some bad measures

  • body count.  Even if you could count accurate, the insurgents are usually in control of their own loss rate; they just go quiet.  Also, each death tends to encourage insurgent recruitment at a higher rate.  (So the measure may actually be useful in the reverse direction from the way it is normally interpreted!)
  • kill ratio, them versus us.  The absolute number is misleading, but the change in this ratio might be useful.
  • military accessibility.  Heavily armored troops can go anywhere, meaningless.
  • level of violence, or “significant activities”.  This will go up in Afghanistan simply because there are more troops leading to more reporting and more targets.

Some useful measures

  • who fires first in a skirmish, and especially change over time.   If govt fires first, this is good, since you are controlling the loss rate, you are inflicting unsought casualties.  Shows that you are taking initiative, also that you have situational awareness.  In Iraq went from 15% to 85%.
  • popular perception of safety, goes with belief in govt as winners.  In Timor, troops were there but hiding.  Farmers didn’t feel safe, even though there was no fighting.  Troops started to walk around in the open and that made all the difference.
  • some opinion surveys (ICOS?) have bad designs but are still useful when you look at the changes.  Pew surveys are better designs but they keep changing then, which makes them useless.
  • activity in the market, or a related item: availability of exotic vegetables.  Means that transport is working, but you can see the price change related to security.
  • ratio of IEDs found versus explode.  Most IEDs that are found are because a local sees it.  Training locals, and getting them to have confidence to report, is much better all around than any technical detection means.
  • ratio of recruits to desertions in security forces.
  • where local officials sleep