image of book cover The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
image of book cover The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

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

May 19, 2009

Have U.S. actions in the "war on terror" blurred the distinction between local and global struggles? How can the U.S. develop strategies that deal with global threats, avoid local conflicts where possible, and win them where necessary?


JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon, I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to welcome our members and guests. Thank you for joining us.

We are so pleased to have as our speaker this afternoon David Killcullen. He is one of the world's most influential experts on counterinsurgency and modern warfare. He will be discussing his widely acclaimed book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.

When it comes to wanting to know more about counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare, David is the one that the media always turns to. So it's no surprise that his book, published only two months ago, has already been declared a master class on the subject of counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare.

At the heart of Mr. Killcullen's argument is that until recently America has approached conflicts such as Iraq and Afghanistan and every other situation involving Islamic militants with the wrong attitudes and the wrong methods. He says that while our enemies practice a new form of hybrid warfare, our response is still framed by old fashioned, conventional warfare epitomized by World War II.

To his mind this new hybrid war is better fought using the methods of counterinsurgency, which focus not on the enemy but on the population. Enemy-centered operations involve trying to kill as many terrorists as possible, while population-centered operations have been more successful, as they put U.S. troops into smaller outposts in urban centers where they can work safeguarding the population.

He distinguishes between hard core jihadists who are implacable fanatics animated by Islamic ideology, and their less ideological fellow travelers, who fight us primarily because we are intruding on their space. The former may have to be eliminated by force, while the latter, he believes, can be brought into the political process. He talks about today's conflicts as a complex pairing of contrasting trends, as part of reaction against globalization, part of a global Muslim insurgency, the result of a civil war within Islam itself, and a rebellion of the weak against America's might.

David Killcullen is a very interesting man. He is a former Australian Army Officer with combat experience in both Southeast Asia and the Middle East and also holds a Ph.D in political anthropology. He is fluent in Indonesian and Arabic, which has played no small part in his understanding of guerilla warfare, aided by 22 years in the field.

Our speaker has served in every theatre of the war on terrorism, or the long war as he prefers to call it, since 9/11. He was special adviser for counter insurgency to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, senior counterinsurgency adviser to General David Petraeus during the 2007 Iraq War, and chief counterterrorism strategist for the U.S. State Department. It was his vision of war that dramatically influenced America's decision to rethink its military strategy in Iraq and implement the Surge, a decision which is credited in altering the nature of the war there.

You might wonder how did David come to his understanding of counterinsurgency and to know what strategy is needed to fight the wars of the 21st century. Generally speaking, it was his vast experience that's drawn from many places, not just Iraq but in hot spots ranging from East Africa to the Japanese Highlands, to the jungles of the Philippines, Afghanistan and Pakistan, that have informed his understanding of the subject and provided a remarkable fresh perspective on the so-called long war.

Our speaker was trained as an anthropologist and for his dissertation he did field work on the Indonesian suppression of Muslim separatists in the 1950s and 1960s. It was his experience there that planted the seeds of a new understanding of how international Islamic terrorism works. He found that by exploiting local grievances that may or may not have much to do with religion, fanatics enlist the locals with the fantasy of eventually leading popular insurgencies and overthrowing secular moderate or western-backed governments in the Middle East and Asia, replacing them with Islamic regimes and Sharia law.

In addition to drawing lessons from his field work, he has spent a great deal of time observing our troops both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Going forward, David says we must learn to develop new strategies as we deal with global threats and hybrid warfare, and avoid global conflicts where possible and win them when necessary. A reading of The Accidental Guerrilla will not only tell us how but will simply change the way we think about military operations. Please join me in welcoming the most sought-after counterinsurgency expert, David Killcullen.


DAVID KILCULLEN: So, are there any questions? [laughter] Thank you for that very comprehensive introduction. I'm really happy to be here, and in fact I'm somewhat overawed after reading the list of people in the audience. So I thought what I'd do is just talk a little bit about my book and then throw the floor open and devote the bulk of the time to engaging in a discussion with you about the issues that the book raises and about what we're seeing on the ground right now.

Can everybody understand my charming southern hemisphere accent? I'll try and speak slowly. I want to go to the theoretical stuff that frames the case studies in the book and talk about that first of all.

There's a case study about Iraq, there's a case study about Afghanistan, and there's a bunch of other case studies, but the first chapter of the book tries to lay out a couple of different ways, or actually four different ways, to think about the conflict environment. So if you ever do buy my book you won't have to read Chapter One after this discussion.

Essentially what I say is that as I have tried to think about the nature of the conflict environment that we're dealing with now, I find four explanations for the underlying trends that represent the organizing principles of the types of conflicts that we're in now. And I don't suggest that these are mutually exclusive and they're also not exhaustive. There are other ways of thinking about the environment that can be equally persuasive but the four that really helped me in understanding or framing my experiences which were quite diverse over time, and trying to see how different things related to each other, were these four that Joanne mentioned:

  • The idea of a backlash against globalization
  • the idea of a globalized insurgency
  • the model or the theory of a civil war within Islam
  • and then finally the idea of asymmetric warfare.

The first of those is basically a geopolitical explanation for what we're seeing, or an explanation based on the effective globalization on societies around the world. The second is military strategic discussion about what al-Qaeda is and what it's trying to do. The third one is almost a theopolitical description of what's happening inside the Islamic world and then the final one is a military technical model. So they cover the waterfront in terms of thinking about the environment.

The backlash against globalization theory is fairly simple. It's the argument that just like the wars of the 1950s and 1960s, which seemed at the time to be very diverse and have all sorts of different causes, but looking back on them we can see a lot of these as wars of decolonization as the European empires pulled back from colonial possessions; and there's a unified trend here of the collapse of European Empires and people's reaction to that.

One of the things that unifies a lot of the fighting that we see around the world today is the backlash against globalization, where a lot of traditional communities and traditional societies around the world perceive U.S.-led, Western-defined modernization and the globalization of commerce and culture, of industry and perception, as a threat to their deeply held identity. And there's a sort of corrosive effect on traditional cultures and we see a backlash against that effect and we see it in a variety of different ways, most of which are not violent.

One of the examples I quote in the book is the Arcigola organization, which is now known as the slow food movement in Europe. It was basically a response to the opening of a McDonalds franchise in Rome in 1986 and people said, "This is crazy you know. Why are we bringing hamburgers from America?" And they started this whole movement pushing back to protect their traditional European way of thinking about how to cook and eat food. That's the sort of benign national identity end.

At the other end we have basically highly xenophobic and traditional societies pushing back against the influence of the globalized economy. We talk about the FATA for example, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan. And as most of you probably know, the real economy of the FATA actually resides in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, because most of the money that's made by people in the FATA is remittances sent back by workers who work in the Gulf States. And yet in the Gulf States, people who come from that part of the world, or from the Philippines, are often persecuted by their employees and suffer some pretty significant discrimination based on where they come from.

If we look at West Africa and Nigeria there's a huge divergence between parts of the country and parts of the population that are tied into the global economy and are part of the globalization process and other people who are pushing back against that. So that's one trend and what I suggest in the book is that this doesn't explain the rise of al-Qaeda—what it is, is it's an underlying set of grievances which have been around for a long time, but we now have an actor on the scene in the form of al-Qaeda and a couple of other groups that are capable of exploiting these grievances and directing a wide variety of different groups that have disparate causes and care mainly about local issues, directing them all in the same direction and on the same objective. That's the second possible explanation for the environment which is the ideal of a globalized insurgency.

Traditional terrorism studies define terrorist groups and insurgent groups in ways that it's very hard to separate the two. You know terrorists and insurgents are really kind of similar, but I draw a functional distinction. A terrorist group draws its ability to operate, its freedom of movement, in a military sense its center of gravity, from the tightness of its network: Clandestine cells that are secret, that operate together, that have access to resources and conduct terrorist activity.

Insurgents are not like that. Insurgents draw their freedom of movement and their strength and their ability to operate from their ability to manipulate and mobilize a social base. So the terrorist hides within the broader society. The insurgent manipulates and rides a social wave. Al-Qaeda is an insurgency, not a traditional terrorist group. And we can talk about that in a little more detail if you like, but there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Most of al-Qaeda's successes have been achieved by manipulating and exploiting the grievances of local groups and pointing them all in the same direction. They are not the only, but they're probably the most prominent, of what I call counter-globalizers.

So if you think about the people we were just talking about in terms of the backlash against globalization, if you think about those people as anti-globalization, al-Qaeda are not anti-globalization. They are pro- globalization. It's just a very different version of globalization from what we're talking about. It's a use of all the tools of globalization but in the service of different ideology. Al-Qaeda, paradoxically, along with some of the other groups such as environmental protesters and the anti-world economic forum protestors, are one of the most globalized and globally networked organizations ever. So it's not that they are anti-globalization. They're just serving a very different version of how they want the world to look.

And what we see is that al-Qaeda is successfully aggregating this wide variety of different local groups and pointing them all in the same direction and exploiting them, or at least that's the strategy they're trying to put in place. They've had mixed success, and as we'll get to in a minute, the areas of the world where they succeeded most in getting people to unify and oppose the West are areas where we have invaded using our predominantly military force.

The areas where they've had least success since 9/11 have been the areas where we have not sent military force. The Southern Philippines is a sort of grey area because we have forces there but they're not doing the primary operations. The most successful areas are the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, all areas where we haven't actually sent U.S. forces to engage on the ground. So that's an interesting down point that I'll come back to in a minute.

The third way of thinking about the environment is as a civil war within Islam. Al-Qaeda got its start as an opposition movement toward the Saudi kingdom, and in fact Ayman Al Zawahiri, the number two in al-Qaeda, is heavily opposed to the Egyptian state. Al-Qaeda for quite some time in the 1990s directed most of its efforts against what they called the "near enemy," that is the apostate regimes in the Middle East whom they sought to overthrow. They only switched attention to the "far enemy," i.e. us, towards the end of the 1990s, when they figured out what was sustaining these regimes that they were concerned about was U.S. support and U.S. engagement; and they wanted to knock us out of the region and exhaust us and cause us to pull back so that these apostate states would collapse and they'd be able to gain control. I quote in the book a lengthy strategy document written by Ayman Al Zawahiri that lays that strategy out.

That's one way of thinking about the sort of civil war within Islam, but there's a whole other civil war going on between the Iranian and the Arab and the Shia and Sunni versions of Islam and there's a whole theory of the Shia revival which we've all, I'm sure, become very familiar with. Vali Nasr has a very good book about this. It's not only the rise of Iran, it's also the rise of Shia-dominated Iraq, which is not unconnected with our own policies, but it's also the belief amongst a large proportion of people in the Middle East that there's an existential threat to Sunni dominance, and 90 percent of Muslims are Sunni. There's an existential threat to Sunni dominance of most of the resources of the Muslim world by sort of a rising Shia social revolution.

Parts of Iraq where I worked where [inaudible], Muqtada Al-Sadr's group were most active, we saw a social revolution, not just a push-back against occupation but a complete alteration of the social structure. That's something that's deeply threatening to people and I guess it's worth pointing out that we're currently fighting both sides of this particular civil war at once. We're engaging Iran in a variety of ways in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're also fighting al-Qaeda. The two of them are natural enemies. We've somehow found ourselves fighting both sides of the civil war at once.

The final way to think about the global environment is through the notion of asymmetric warfare, and I don't mean by this just a mismatch between different actors. I'm talking about something very specific: The mismatch between the United States and every other country in the world on the one hand, the mismatch between U.S. military power and U.S. civilian agencies, and then the mismatch within the U.S. military. So let me talk about each of those in turn.

Total global defense spending today is about $1100 billion. So every year all the countries of the world put together spend about $1100 billion. Of that, the United States defense budget accounts for just under two thirds, so the United States spends as much on defense as every other country in the world combined and then half as much again. The United States has achieved dominance in the conventional war fighting arena of state-on-state, force-on-force battle that's just never existed in the past.

At the height of the British Empire the British aspiration was to be as strong in the naval domain as the next two countries combined. That was their aspiration. They never quite pulled that off. The United States is as strong across all domains, not just the naval warfare domain, as every other country in the world. We could destroy the rest of the world. And so there is an enormous asymmetry between U.S. power and the power of everybody else. And one of the enduring implications of that is that no smart enemy is going to fight us conventionally, because the only possible outcome of fighting the United States in a conventional fight is you're going to lose.

And so I quote in the book a very optimistic general who came to talk to my class at the war college in 2001 and made this point, he said we just have unprecedented dominance and so no one is going to fight us anymore. People are going to engage in economic competition and propaganda and that kind of stuff, but warfare basically, is a thing of the past because we're so dominant no one's going to fight us.

Well you know it turns out that no one's going to fight us conventionally. But most people are moving out of the way of our conventional superiority and trying to fight us in different ways. Some people are going above that conventional superiority into the realm of weapons of mass destruction. Others, the majority, because weapons of mass destruction are expensive, are going below our superiority into terrorism, insurgency, and a variety of other sort of non-traditional ways of warfare.

So the very power of the United States forces anybody that wants to fight us to fight us in non-conventional ways, which means that we may have in the U.S. military the most perfectly developed, highly adapted, expensive military in history, adapted for precisely the wrong kind of war, because everyone will be going around the superiority that we've established.

The second mismatch is between U.S. military and non-military, [inaudible] . There's 1.68 million people in the U.S. armed services, 2.1 million if you count all the civilians in the Department of Defense. I served in the State Department but this isn't a State/Defense thing because I also served in the Defense Department, but between State and AID combined there are about 8,000 diplomats/foreign service officers in the U.S. So that's 360 to 1 in terms of budget and 210 to 1 in terms of military guys to diplomats.

Contrast that to most other countries in the world, which have a ratio between 8 and 10 to 1. So we are dramatically out of proportion. We have this huge, well developed, highly expensive, well-coordinated military arm of national power and this tiny, shriveled, little puny diplomatic arm of national power. Not surprisingly we tend to see most problems as military problems and we tend to approach them with military solutions, because that's the asset set that we have available.

By comparison there are five times as many accountants in the Department of Defense as there are diplomats in the U.S. diplomatic service. There's as many lawyers in the Department of Defense as there are in the diplomatic service. There are actually more people playing as musicians in defense bands than there are diplomats. So there's a pretty substantial mismatch.

And of course that leads us to militarize our foreign policy. We have global syncs, you know the commanders-in-chief of Pacific Command, Central Command, Southern Command and so on. We divide the whole world up between U.S. military commanders.

When we created Africon, the African Command, we thought we were doing Africans a favor. Do you remember the discussion when we said, you know, we now have a command that's designed to look after Africa and deal with them. A lot of Africans said to me, "Damn it. Now we're on your map. You know were weren't on the map before and now you've got nanny looking after us. We don't want to be part of your near colonial dividing of the world into different zones."

I'm not against us having a coordination mechanism that says who's responsible for what in the U.S. government, but it's interesting that it's a general in charge of it and it's a military foreign policy that we're executing.

The final asymmetry is within the military itself, where we have 11 carrier battle groups, a massively capable air force, and an army that's very highly developed to fighting other states and defeating the armed forces of other states. And we're really rather good at that actually. Like I said, no one can really take us on in that space.

But when it comes to dealing with some of the difficult non-state kinds of problems, we find that we just don't have the resources we need and that it's really difficult for us to get anything done because the military is very adapted to one form of warfare rather than another.

Now some people have painted what people like me have said as kind of a zero sum. Like, "You're saying we should get rid of having a powerful military," or "You're saying we really don't need all this conventional war fighting capability." I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is you could multiply the number of diplomats in the United States foreign service by ten times and you could triple the number of people focusing on humanitarian operations and peacekeeping and it would be a marginal difference to the rest of the capability because it's so asymmetrically different.

Let me get to one final Osama Bin Laden reference and then I'm going to throw the floor open so you can discuss. In November 2004 Osama Bin Laden made a statement on Al Jazeera which I found quite illuminating. I quote it in the book and this is a verbatim quote.

He said, "All we've done has shown that it's very easy to provoke and bait this U.S. administration. All we have to do is send two mujahedin to the furthest point east with a flag on which is written the words "al-Qaeda" and the Americans will panic and send an army and a general there to engage in military operations and cost themselves blood and money and political capital. And then we just have to do it again somewhere else and we keep doing this until the Americans eventually will run out of money and become exhausted." And he says, "So we are continuing to pursue this exhaustion and bankruptcy strategy towards the United States."

So the al-Qaeda strategy is to gain control of a wide variety of disparate local actors, point them all in the one direction, and get us to engage in a series of far-flung interventions that cost us money until we eventually get tired of that and run out of money and run out of political puff, and then they hope to inherit the wreckage that follows. If that's your enemy's strategy, what I am suggesting in the book is it's therefore not a good idea to engage in a lot of large-scale interventions around the world.

So the main points that I make in the book are we need to get out of the business of invading other people's countries because we think terrorists are there. That's the fundamental thing we need to do. And I use an analogy about, imagine that burglars move in to your neighborhood and they move into somebody's house and they set up shop and then they start robbing the rich people's houses on the other side of town. Sooner or later the police are going to turn up. If the police turn up and their response is to start blowing up people's houses, sooner or later the whole neighborhood is going to turn against the police.

You might not like the burglars, but the police are blowing people's houses up. The burglars never hurt you. They were just robbing some rich guy's house on the other side of town. And so sooner or later the whole society in your neighborhood is going to turn against the police. But it's actually worse than that because it's not police from the local district, its police from the other side of the world, right?

What we tried to do in Baghdad in 2007 wasn't like the New York Police Department trying to secure New York. It was like the Iraqi police trying to secure New York. Because we took a bunch of Americans to a city we never knew and a society that we didn't understand and tried to secure that. We had a huge learning curve to make that happen. Now we got it done and we can talk about Iraq in Q and A. We did manage to turn the environment around but it cost us a huge amount of effort and time and a lot of lives to do that.

And I guess what I'm suggesting is we managed to pull back from some of the more egregious consequences of a bad decision to invade Iraq in 2003—let's not make the same mistake again. And looking at the parts of the "war on terror," so called, where we have not intervened in large numbers, where we've worked through local partners and we've focused on finding a local solution, almost like appropriate technology in a development sense but in the security realm—in those environments we've done a lot better and I think that's not unconnected with the fact that when you turn up in a large unilateral military engagement in somebody else's country, you provoke a backlash, the people I call "accidental guerrillas" and that just hardens people's resolve to support the groups like al-Qaeda which are already hiding out in the environment.

So let me stop there. There's a lot of other stuff in the book to talk about, but why don't we throw it open and pick up what you guys want to talk about?

Thank you very much.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: First of all, thank you very much. As a quick preface, I was in the Foreign Service for a long time and I'm very familiar with what you said. President Obama has now suggested a significant increase in the budget to the Foreign Service, but as you've said it's pretty marginal.

My question has to do with your relationship with the Bush administration and the Obama administration. According to Joanne's presentation you were an advisor to Secretary Condoleezza Rice when she was at the NSC [National Security Council]. To what extent did you present all these views during the Bush administration and to what extent did they heed them, other than the Surge? I'm thinking also of the torture issue, which you've not mentioned.

And to what extent do you think that the Obama administration is now adopting a set of policies that you believe are actually consonant with the general direction, or do you think policy is still wrong given the increase in troops going to Afghanistan?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes, that's a good question. I actually had two different relations with the Bush administration. I was initially an Australian officer embedded in the U.S. military so I was not a member of the U.S. government at all. And when I was serving as the Chief Strategist to the State Department I was actually an Australian embed. When I was in Iraq I was still serving as an Australian diplomat—actually double seconded, I was an Australian diplomat seconded to the State Department and then the State Department loaned me to General Petraeus. But I was not in the U.S. government at any time before I came back from Iraq.

When I got back, Secretary Rice asked me if I would serve as her advisor, as not a political appointee, but what we call schedule C, expert advisor. So I came in as like a technical advisor. And I said to her when I took the job, "You know I didn't support the war in Iraq," and she's like, "I know that." And I said, "and I'm going to tell you what I think," and she's like, "That's why we're hiring you."

So basically I got to call Bush on a lot of stuff that happened in the last couple of years of the Bush administration and they sent me out on the ground to look at what was going on and come back and report. So I spent a lot of time in the field working programs and working with people on the ground. And all of these points that we've talked about were made repeatedly to the Bush people, not only by me—David Petraeus made the same points, there was a bunch of us that were making the same points.

And when I look back, I see a huge policy discontinuity between the ways things were when I first came in 2004 to where they are now. But that discontinuity really happened during the Bush administration.

There were things when I first arrived in 2004 that you couldn't even write down. Like I was saying things like, "You know maybe we're putting too much effort into Iraq and we should be focusing more on Afghanistan. You know, maybe we're doing it wrong in Iraq," and it was like, "Mr. Rumsfeld doesn't want to hear that."

By the time we were really in the middle of the Surge in 2007, the whole policy picture was different. And I never felt sort of ideologically pressured by the Bush people. They didn't ever say that's not appropriate for you to say that. The whole reason I was there was to give a sort of alternative picture, but it became the dominant picture by the end and I was on the White House policy review for Afghanistan and Pakistan, designing the policy.

I see a huge amount of policy continuity between the last couple of years of the Bush administration and what we've seen of the Obama administration today. And in terms of the current administration, I'm an informal advisor to the State Department still. I'm not a paid advisor but I've worked pretty closely with Richard Holbrooke and also the vice president and a number of other people and I'm still very plugged in with General Petraeus and people, so I'm helping, but I'm not a member of the Obama administration.

The thing which I've learned in watching this is—and as a former diplomat you don't need to know this—but foreign policy isn't like engineering. It's like dating, you know. A lot of the policies that President Obama is coming out with now were things that President Bush tried to do two or three years ago but no one wanted to hear it because of what happened in the first Bush term. The real break came between first Bush term policies and second Bush term policies.

For example, take closing Guantanamo Bay. President Obama announced that with a great deal of fanfare on his second day in office. President Bush tried to do that in April 2006. He announced the closure of Guantanamo Bay but no one wanted to listen, no one was going to play and it was because the first date didn't go so well in Iraq and people were still remembering the way that the administration behaved in 2002 and they didn't trust anybody and they didn't want to deal with the same guys involved in Abu Ghraib and what had happened and all those sorts of things. Now it's a different person.

So I guess my personal lessons learned thing out of that was in foreign relations, what is said is actually often a lot less important than who's saying it and how they're saying it, and we have a whole different bunch of people now who are not personally linked to any of those unpopular policies from the Bush period. So even though what they're saying is the same as what the Bush people were saying last year, that didn't have any resonance last year but it's having a lot of resonance now. So I think it's an important lesson.

QUESTION: I enjoyed your remarks, I served myself for about 30 years in the Army. I've been to Iraq about six times. My question is you seem to paint a "damned if you do damned if you don't" scenario.

I mean if you look at Iraq, everybody I know, and I've talked to David Petraeus and many other senior military officers, who all say none of these wars, Iraq, Afghanistan could be won solely by military means, they all agree upon that. We talk endlessly about what we're going to do, we the United States, we seem to forget that along the way we're trying to develop this government and my read of the Iraqis is that actually think they're in charge now and that's key to overall stability as we all know.

And frankly, I humbly fear that Iraq is going to fail because we offer them an opportunity that I'm not sure they're going to take. And we seem to unfortunately be playing out the same thing now in Afghanistan where President Karzai is—lots of corruption—basically is the Mayor in Kabul and that's about it. And now we have President Zardari, and I always say if your President is known as "Mr. 10 percent" you're in trouble to start with.

How do we turn that piece of it around? We can do the military piece, but has does one establish that good governance piece because at some point in time they take it over. And then the flip side of that is, and how if it's a long term event, which it seems it's always going to be in Afghanistan, how do you condition a democracy like ours to endure these things which might go on a couple of decades?

DAVID KILCULLEN: there's a huge amount in that question. I'll just pick up a couple of points. Let me ask you a rhetorical question: Why did we defeat the Taliban in 2001?


DAVID KILCULLEN: Good comeback.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Well I would actually even disagree with that. At the time Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that it was because of our superior technology of air power, right? And we put small U.S. forces on the ground. You know tiny U.S. Special Forces teams, the man on the horse, remember that photograph? And the bombers came in and smacked the Taliban and we defeated them through the sheer naked brilliance of our technological ability.

General Franks who commanded the force in Afghanistan wrote in his memoirs that the ISR, the intelligence, surveillance, and recognizance capability through space-based satellites and that kind of stuff, gave him what he said was the God-like perspective that Homer gave to his heroes. But we basically said that why we defeated the Taliban was because of our technology and because we were so brilliant.

Well I've got to tell you, I've spoken with a lot of Afghans on the ground and I started off saying, "Hey tell me about the invasion of 2001," and they say, "What invasion? What are you talking about?" No Afghan that I've ever talked with considers what happened in 2001 an invasion. And let's look at the numbers, on the 7th of December, 2001 when Kandahar fell and Kandahar was the last Taliban stronghold to fall. On that day we had 110 CIA officers and just over 300 Special Forces guys on the ground in southern Afghanistan, but we had 50,000 Afghans fighting the Taliban, right?

So the reason that we won in 2001 was because the Afghans kicked the Taliban out and we enabled that process. The reason we won in Anwar in 2007 was because the Iraqi tribes kicked al-Qaeda out and we enabled that process. The reason that we've done well in the past in Afghanistan and where we've done well mainly in the East is because we've forged partnerships with the local population.

So I don't say it's a contradiction. I think it's a parabola. If you're not in there, don't go in. But if you find that you've got to go in for some reason then you're on the other branch of the parabola and you've got to put enough resources in there to make people feel safe, and enough political thought to generating workable local political deals that can make this happen. Our biggest weakness in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I think, has been the lack of political strategy. Not unconnected with the fact that we talked about before how we've got such a massive military apparatus and such a tiny little political apparatus. So yes.

QUESTION: Thank you for a very articulate and wonderful discussion and presentation. One aspect of many of the insurgencies, correct me if I'm wrong, but the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, is the provision of social services, of clinics, of schools, many services which on the ground people really want and need. How can we counterthrust that effort, you know, on the ground where the locals know you know that those are going be provided by those people?

DAVID KILCULLEN: This is a really good point. I've decided—I see my publisher sitting in the room—but I decided to leave this out of the book because I want to put it in my second book. [laughter]

But I actually have started to formulate a theory which I call the theory of competitive control about how insurgents do well versus how they do badly. And I'm starting to think that as I'm working this through that it's actually the breadth and flexibility of your control over the population that makes you an effective insurgency. If you have a narrow or brutal span of control it's relatively easy to break. And I would contrast the al-Qaeda model which is brutal and narrow. It's focused on the intimidation band of control with the [inaudible] or Hezbollah model which is a very broad spectrum.

So you think about al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in Iraq was a one-trick pony. All they could do is behead you, right? They could hurt you but they couldn't help you. They were extremely fierce and if you stepped out of line, look out. But as soon as we broke their control and their ability to hurt people and intimidate them, nobody liked them, they had no support and people just drove them out of society.

Contrast that with Hezbollah or [inaudible]. It's got a terrorism ring so it does the same stuff that al-Qaeda does but it also has a propaganda wing, and a charity arm, it runs hospitals and schools, it's got a political wing in the parliament, it's got this full spectrum of comprehensive approach to generating control and mobilizing the population. And when you are facing a terrorist or insurgent group that has that very wide span of control it's much more difficult to defeat than a narrowly focused intimidatory terrorist group.

That's the bad news. The good news is if the groups that you're dealing with have a charity arm and run schools and hospitals and a political wing and they also do terrorism, you don't have to defeat all of that. You just have to deal with the terrorism part. You know if Hezbollah is just a charity arm with a political party, what's wrong with that? You know, you may disagree with their politics but then if they are not blowing you up it's just a political discourse.

So part of what I think we need to be doing and this is what we did successfully in Iraq is learning how to tell the difference between groups that cannot be co-opted and have to be fought and groups that can be co-opted. And of course that's a dynamic difference because it changes as you operate.

One of the guys I quote in the book is an Afghan tribal leader and also a local official, who said to me, "Look, 90 percent of the people that you think are Taliban are actually tribal fighters who are fighting you because of local interest or tribal interest or Pashtun nationalism and because they're terrified of the other 10 percent who are the fanatical guys allied with al-Qaeda. And if you can break the power of those 10 percent the other 90 will come to your side." And that's kind of the art of it, how you do that and it's different every time I think, but the principles can be the same.

QUESTION: The Vietnam War 50 years or more ago was a guerrilla war basically and yet we went away from that not changing our military strategy, our war colleges didn't change their strategy. Does it take 50, 60 years for us to turn things around in terms of major strategy?

DAVID KILCULLEN: In 2005, 2006 we were relearning old lessons that the U.S. military had learned five or six, probably ten or a dozen times before. If you look at the history of the U.S. military right back to Indian fighters on the frontier, or the French and Indian wars, or the whole guerrilla dimension to the civil war which really isn't written about—we have a long history of exactly this kind of stuff. The U.S. army actually grew out of this. The U.S. Marine Corps spent most of the 20s and 30s engaging in the so-called Banana wars in the Caribbean. We know how to do this stuff. We've learned all these lessons before.

And I wasn't here during Vietnam—actually I was, but I was about three—but my impression is that Vietnam was such a traumatic event, for not only the U.S. political debate, but also for the U.S. Army, that the Army almost deliberately tried to forget. After Vietnam they were like, thank God we can stop doing that. Just put it all away.

And in fact there was a school for military advisors down in Fort Bragg which had designed to within a very fine degree of tolerance all the things you need to do to build local authorities and work with police and do development projects and all this sort of stuff. It was shut down in 1974 and all the papers were burned.

So we deliberately forgot that stuff. The Special Forces were supposed to try and retain some of that, but having done both, the Special Forces' variant of counterinsurgency is kind of different from the other kind. So we deliberately forgot these lessons and then had to relearn them again.

Now the good thing is, the U.S. military adapted rapidly and we've seen a huge amount of improvement and I've been stunned by how good people are on the ground now. U.S. military and State Department and AID, Justice, all the other Departments that are out on the ground have really adapted, more so then anybody else that's engaged in the environment.

So we've relearned these lessons in spades and are much better off then really you could have expected. The danger is that we'll forget them again, particularly if this engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends up like Vietnam. I don't think that it will now. I think it's going be different; it may not be good but it's going to be different.

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about Pakistan, please, and put it in the theoretical framework you spoke of. Are all these things at play or is it one major theme you would focus on?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Pakistan is probably I think the ancestral home of the accidental guerrilla. The syndrome is that you have a bad guy settle in a remote or xenophobic population group in a remote area. There's some bleed-out where there's a contagion effect where they attack the wider world. Then there's a response and it's heavy handed or alienating to the population and people close ranks behind the extremist even though they might not have liked the extremist particularly before the outsiders turned up. That is precisely what we've seen in Pakistan.

In 1947 when Pakistan was first established, Jinnah made a deal with the tribes, particularly in Waziristan, during the time of the Kashmir war to the effect that if you sit down quietly and don't cause trouble and remain quiet under the Maliks and the political agents and the other sort of neo-colonial set up that we've got in place and remain part of Pakistan nominally, then we'll stay out of your affairs.

And from 1947 until 2002 the Pakistani Army never went into the FATA (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas) on a war footing. So that basically the deal was, sit down quietly under the local political agent and if you don't, the Army's going to come in and kick your ass. That was the implicit sanction behind that structure.

In 2002, at our urging, the Pakistanis went into the Tirah Valley. First time since the existence of Pakistan they went in to actually fight their own people in the Tirah Valley and they lost. So they actually called their own bluff. Then the tribes were like, well so much for that. You know you said that if we didn't sit down quietly, the Army was going to come in and defeat us and we just beat the Army. So what's to worry about?

So the tribes within two or three years were in a state of pretty much total uprising against the Pakistani Army, which had been very alienating in the way it had carried out its operations. I went out with them on the ground a number of times in 2006 and was just appalled by the way they were treating the local population—shelling villages. At one point they were applying heavy collective punishment to any village which had had some kind of Taliban sighting nearby.

There was one village in Khyber Agency which had started to become favorable to the government and to think "Oh this is bad. We shouldn't be part of this. We'll join the government side of the conflict." And so the Afghan Taliban just went and set up an ambush next to the village unbeknownst to the villagers, and ambushed the next army convoy that came along. So the army just mortared the village, destroyed a bunch of houses and killed a bunch of civilians—problem solved. It was an enemy village again.

So this has happened on a larger scale all through Pakistan. That's one problem. A second problem is that elements of the Pakistani military and in particular the intelligence service are actively or passively on the other side.

A lot of the people that we were fighting in Afghanistan in 2007, 2008 were trained or supported by ISI [Pakistan's intelligence agency] and the army. The Mumbai attack on India last year was almost certainly sponsored by the military. The Indian Embassy bombing in July 2008 which killed 50 people was carried out by LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], which is an ISI-sponsored terrorist group at ISI direction. The ISI director admitted that. It's not on the record but you know there's plenty of open source media reporting about that.

So what I would say is the poor performance of the Pakistani military has probably passed the point of which you can explain it away by mere incompetence. There's a lot of incompetence there but there's also mixed loyalties. And President Obama actually said this in his speech on the 27th of March. He said, "Pakistani military has had mixed loyalties. The time of a blank check is over." And so right now there's legislation before Congress which is designed to impose benchmarks on Pakistani military performance and to impose a degree of conditionality on how they perform.

Now this is not against the Pakistani civilian government and I'm not trying to suggest that Pakistan is the enemy. What I'm saying is that the civil government which is democratically elected and legitimate doesn't control its own national security establishment and some elements within that establishment are opposed to our interests. So what we need to be doing is identifying and working with our friends and building up their authority and helping them in Pakistan and trying to limit and weaken the power of our enemies which is basically [inaudible] and the TTP [Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan]—a bunch of other insurgent groups, but also some elements within the military and the intelligence service.

It's a complex picture in Pakistan but it's not a pretty one, and I think the risk of Pakistan becoming a failed state is there and it has to be thought about. And we should remember that if you took the population of Iraq and the population of Afghanistan and added them together, it's still around a third of the population of Pakistan. Pakistan has 173 million people, more than 100 nuclear weapons, an army bigger than the U.S. army, and Osama Bin Laden sitting right there in the two thirds of the country that the government has lost control of, and that's a very dangerous environment looking forward.

QUESTION: My question is going to be about Pakistan too. The concern I have—and I think we all have this obviously—is the question of the atomic weapons there. But can we not find a way of providing drones to the central government and let them do the attacks on the Taliban within their own territory. Let it be the Pakistanis that are doing the killing and not ourselves, because every time there's a strike and we kill another 100 villagers at a wedding or something, we seem to be creating more and more problems for ourselves.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well there's two points to this: one is the drones themselves and the other one is the Pakistanis hiding behind the drone attacks. In the period since January 2006 we have killed 14 mid level al-Qaeda people using unmanned arial vehicles known as drones in Pakistan. The reason we're flying drones and not manned aircraft is because it's Pakistani territory and we don't want U.S. pilots being shot down over the FATA.

For the Pakistanis that doesn't apply. They shouldn't be using drones. They should be using their own Air Force, which they already have, which we gave to them, and they're not using it because they're hiding behind the drone strikes. We have had a number of occasions where senior Pakistani officials have approved a strike in private and have applauded the strike's results in private and then criticized it roundly in public and said it's a violation of Pakistani sovereignty. So essentially we have a Pakistani military that's shirking its responsibility to actually deal with terrorists in their own territory and hiding behind drone strikes to enable to do that.

I think what we need to do is call off the drone strikes all together. I think they are doing a lot more damage than they're doing good. In the same time frame that we've killed 14 al-Qaeda guys, we've killed 700 Pakistani non-combative civilians with the same strikes. That's a 2 percent hit rate, 98 percent collateral damage. That's not precision and I think it's unethical for us to be doing it. It also makes it hard to preserve the fiction that this is a major ally fighting alongside us in the "war on terror," when we're bombing their population three times a week.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for a wonderful presentation and I have two very quick comments before I put my question to you. First of all I think we need more people like you in our defense and in our army services. A friend of mine works in [inaudible] forces and she said we need more people with your background to understand better the population and we're working in the field with.

My second comment is that I believe you cannot compare the services provided by the Taliban with, for example, Hamas, because I don't think the Taliban has ever provided much social services for the population. I happened to be in Afghanistan during 2001 and 2000 and also in Gaza in 2004, so just a point.

But my question is, are you talking in your book about the role of Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabis, because you talk about al-Qaeda which were first going to destroy the Saudi Arabian regime. But are you talking about the role of Saudi Arabia before the Wahabbis, in Afghanistan, but also now the way they support the guerrillas?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes, I didn't talk about Saudi Arabia and I had a bit of a methodological issue with this. I tried to focus in the book—and I have in the appendix on the methodology—on a technique that I'm christening conflict ethnography. And I tried to focus on personal field research or using the research of people that used a similar method of getting out on the ground and talking to individuals and aggregating perceptions and then comparing them against hard data. And so I had to rule out a number of conflicts where I have not been able to do personal field research and one of those was what's happened inside Saudi Arabia since 2003.

Another three which I really wanted to write about but I just had to say no because I hadn't been there myself, was the Israel-Palestine conflict, Chechnya, and Kashmir. And again if I ever do write another book I'll probably try to get out on the ground and do some field research in those environments. So I didn't write about that because I felt I would be making it up. I really felt like I needed to go and talk to people on the ground to be sure.

Let me just say about the Taliban comment that you made, I think you're exactly right. I think what the Taliban are providing is a different kind of service in the southern part of Afghanistan. They're providing a dispute resolution and local law and order service, and that's kind of instructive.

Right now there are 13 Taliban so-called Sharia Law Courts across the south of Afghanistan. When you think of a Sharia Law Court you think about women being killed for adultery and hands being cut off, and that does happen. But actually about 95 percent of the work of the so-called Sharia Law Courts is what we would call civil law. So they're issuing driver's licenses and they're dealing with property disputes and land rights and grazing and water disputes and they're providing a dispute resolution and mediation service to the population, which is something that the government is not providing.

One of the reasons for that is that when we went into Afghanistan we focused on central institutions of the state, and so the Italians were given responsibility for the justice sector and rule of law and the Germans were given responsibility for policing. Both of those countries started at the central level with the Supreme Court and training prosecutors and a police academy in Kabul, all that kind of stuff. And the Taliban came in at the local level and just started providing local dispute resolution and mediation services.

For those familiar with Herodotus, there's a whole story is about Deioces, who became King of Persia by basically the same technique of just applying local law and order. And they gradually sort of aggregated authority based on their ability to deliver a fair judgment. So it is very different, but the Taliban are a much smarter and broader spectrum enemy than al-Qaeda because they're not just an intimidatory force, they're also providing a bunch of other things to the population.

QUESTION: I want to get back to a question that was asked earlier that you never really responded to. What do we do about the fact the people on the ground that we may want to ally with are themselves quite often corrupt, inefficient, dictatorial, et cetera?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well let me give you two practical things we can do. One of the things that we can do is what I call the partnership model. When we were in Iraq in 2006 we basically sat back in these large operating bases outside of the cities and we were relying on the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police to secure the Iraqi population, and that was not happening, partly because the Iraqi police were drawn from part of the society that was actively attacking the people they were supposed to be protecting, so there was a lot of corruption and abuse and actual death squad activity going on in parts of Baghdad and other big cities because we weren't in there. It was all being done by the Iraqis.

We decided to partner and actually I wrote the guidance for how we were going to operate during the Surge and one of the guidance points we made to everybody was never leave home without an Iraqi. So we said the U.S. forces will never, ever operate without Iraqi military and Iraqi police next to them. The Iraqi police will never operate without the Iraqi military and the U.S. military next to them. And what we found was that the performance of all three elements improved dramatically when we made them all operate together at the lowest level.

The Americans have been kind of blind in the environment because they didn't speak the language, they didn't know who was who, they couldn't tell the bad guys from the good guys. They weren't able to operate. When they had an Iraqi next to them someone was there who was able to say, "Actually that guy is not from here. You know what the old lady said was this," and they were able to work that.

The Iraqi military's performance improved because they suddenly had access to intelligence and mobility and protection and weapons and all those sort of things that they didn't have before and they also had the example of an American unit next to them doing it right and they were able to figure out what right looked like and operate that way.

Most importantly the Iraqi police were no longer able to abuse the population because they had a soldier standing next to them going, "What are you doing? Why are you beating up that old lady?" So there was a sort of monitoring affect that prevented a lot of those abuses because there was always an American in the loop saying "Hang on a second," So that partnering really helped us to break that cycle.

We've never done that effectively in Pakistan. That's just not even a question. In Afghanistan we're starting to get there and if we do that right, in the next year or so we may see some reduction in the police and military problems that we've had in Afghanistan, so that partnering model was very important.

And then the other thing is you've got to have a legitimate local government. In both Iraq and Afghanistan we promised to hold provincial and district elections which we subsequently delayed and never held, and that's a big grievance, particularly in Afghanistan. People say, "This representative came down from Kabul to tell me how to run my affairs, how is that legitimate?" And then the Taliban come along and say "This guy's not from here. We are. Let's work together," and it just undercuts the government all the time.

Now you could go out and do the most complicated ever ethnographic and social and political study and try to figure out who's really in charge in the environment and make deals with those people—or you could just hold elections. And then you know who's in charge because they just got elected. Even if it's a bad person that you don't agree with, at least you know that when you make a deal with that person they can make it stick, which is not the case in a lot of places now. So local democratic elections are not necessarily to be feared even if they elect the bad guys, particularly in environments where we have a lot of troops and we can retain control.

QUESTION: I'd be very interested to hear you talk a little bit about Algeria, which is a country that seems, at least on its face, to be a perfect local insurgency and at least anecdotally, al-Qaeda's been frustrated in their attempts to do that, and I'm curious whether that's the result of U.S. policy that is somewhere between Iraq and the Philippines, or whether or not that's the result of local conditions on the ground there.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think it's primarily the result of local conditions and I have not done field work on the ground in Algeria so I'm speculating, so I'll just caveat that. But I do know a lot of diplomats who work there and I've spoken to a lot of people who've been on the ground.

There was a huge amount of violence as you know when GIA [Armed Islamic Group]and the government really got to it in the 1990's and I think one of the reasons that we've seen some of the unwillingness to get involved with al-Qaeda directly in Algeria is because of that war weariness after all that violence and also because the government was just so harsh in some of the measures that it took that it was actually able to be even more harsh than the enemy.

Now certainly one route to defeating an extremely brutal enemy is to be even more brutal than them. That is not an option open to the United States government, so I tend to rule that out without thinking, but other governments have done that in the past—Syria, Algeria, the Romans—so there is a recognized technique of out-brutalizing the enemy. Some of that happened in Algeria. Other than that I think that I would be going too far to speculate until I've done some more detailed field research.

JOANNE MYERS: Well I have to thank you. It was really a privilege.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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