Trish's Reviews > The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen
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Mar 26, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: mideast, nonfiction, war, politics, religion, social-science, history, foreign-affairs, africa, classics, audio
Read in May, 2009

Faced with unsuccessful military interventions in several conflicts, some of our own making, the U.S. military leadership seconded Lt. Col. David Kilcullen of the Australian Army to work with them on devising a and testing a new strategy that might allow them to withdraw from their engagements without complete failure. Kilcullen is a military officer, but also an anthropologist. This book is his attempt to explain his thinking on the worldwide Islamic insurgency and the best methods to try and counter it successfully. Kilcullen thought the U.S. intervention in Iraq was an extremely serious strategic error, but tried, as assistant to General Petraeus in 2007, to devise a method to stabilize the population, reduce violence, and establish governance so that U.S. troops could effectively withdraw and leave Iraq to the Iraqis.

Kilcullen thinks globalization and anti-globilization, and overwhelming U.S. military dominance are drivers to conflict in the 21st century—that citizens of countries around the world become involved in conflicts not of their making when warring groups enter their “space.” They choose the least foreign “side” and fight for their group. In this book, Kilcullen first introduces successful attempts to reduce violence and increase local participation in governance and stabilization in Afghanistan, then sheds light on the conflicts in Iraq, and then discusses East Timor, where he earned his credentials as part of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the 1999. He then discusses Thailand, Europe and Pakistan. Trying to understand an ongoing conflict is extraordinarily difficult, but Kilcullen draws on his experience, research, and natural bent to establish a framework he insists can, will, and is working in various conflict theatres around the world.

I instinctively like what Kilcullen is saying and have an affinity for his natural respect for cultures living out their lives in remote areas of the world. He and I would agree that globalization and U.S. cultural dominance is not only unappealing to much of the world, it is central to many conflicts we become involved in. He suggests that American military power is so out of proportion to every other nations’ military expenditures and capabilities that an American military presence creates its own weather: it creates resistance and backlash because it gets in the space of other groups, cultures, nationalities. He suggests there may be times when we might even eschew overt military retaliation to a direct attack when the target is difficult to eliminate without killing innocents or involving a massive military presence, which would increase local distaste, distrust, and hatred. He instead suggests relying on generous aid and assistance, developing a relationship of trust and cooperation, working through local tribal leaders, deferring to local customs and keeping a small footprint so as not to create a larger backlash than necessary.

This line of thought is already central to our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has proponents, and detractors. In important ways, it is still theoretical, and needs to be discussed and tested over and over because each conflict and set of objective circumstances is so different. But it is a remarkable change of mindset for military men and women, and places value and weight on different skill sets than has traditionally been recognized in our bureaucratic corps. It almost seems as though I can actually see a generational changing of the guard with the ascendancy of Kilcullen’s theories on counterinsurgency. Perhaps we are actually evolving as a species.

I listened to the audio--twice--after trying to read this years ago. I knew then it was important, I just couldn't concentrate on the reading. The audio was so much easier for me to get the main points, I went back for the details.
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Reading Progress

05/25/2011 page 175
58.0% "Hmmm, very interesting that he started with Afghanistan then moved to discussion of Iraq. BIG TAKEAWAY: this is where our national treasure is going, folks--not Medicare, Medicaid, or aid to the poor."
05/27/2011 page 255
84.0% "I get it. Started with conflict in which principles applied, went back to explain how the thoughts coalesced, then how applied in ongoing conflict, THEN takes on Pakistan, which, folks, has to be the most revealing of all. I did NOT know these things, though I suppose I could have ferreted them out elsewhere. Englightening."
01/30/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Sirotkin Yup, I thought the book did an excellent job of capturing the idea that men we label as terrorists simply see themselves as soldiers fighting for a greater good:

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