Tuesday, 17 May 2016
Counterinsurgency - David Kilcullen
Author: David Kilcullen
Publisher: Oxford UP
Those of you actively involved in counterinsurgency operations are most likely to have heard about David Kilcullen. Both an experienced operator (infantry in East Timor, Indonesia as well as tours in Iraq and Afghanistan) as well as a renowned student of the insurgent/terrorism ‘art’ he has, in this book, put together a practical and common sense approach to tackling the challenges of insurgency and terrorism (he clearly delineates between the two) in different environments. The book is a compilation of articles and concept papers that he has drafted based on firsthand experience, immediate debriefs with those involved in conflict, follow-on interviews with combatants from both sides as well as a deep engagement with local civilians.
His first chapter covers the 28 articles or ‘rules of thumb’ that a counterinsurgent must remember to maintain effectiveness. Based, very loosely, as a companion piece to the original 27 articles of TE Lawrence (of WW1 Arabic uprising fame), it is updated and adjusted to reflect the realities of the modern counterinsurgent battle space. Each article is also preceded by an explanatory introduction that sets the stage for the focus of the article and provides for the reader the context within which to approach it. His points are succinct and eminently relevant and logical.
His next chapter discusses the value and merit of metrics. He acknowledges the critical requirement of being able to measure success (or failure); however, he posits that the traditional methods of measurement are not relevant or accurate to the asymmetric conflicts that we are engaged in. For example, the traditional body counts or military accessibility levels into regions do not provide for accurate measurements of enemy capability. Rather, he suggests that a series of non-traditional metrics based upon the four ‘pillars’ of counterinsurgency (the population, the supported government, the security forces and the enemy forces) should be adopted. Examples that he provides are not exhaustive but do adjust the paradigm of the reader into a more correct avenue. Things such as: price of exotic vegetables, tax collection or participation in sponsored programs can act as indicators for population stability, Government Indicators: where officials sleep, capital flight, rate of budget execution; Security Forces: ratio of guilty to innocent detainees, ratio of kills to wounds/captures, night operations and, finally, Enemy Forces: Insurgents villages of origin, insurgent medical health, price of black market guns and ammunition and midlevel insurgent casualties.
In the following chapters he discusses the success of the Indonesian forces in suppressing the West Java insurgents in the late 1950’s and how the tactics used so successfully there were a failure when it came to East Timor (and why). This chapter is extremely interesting as it reinforces the importance of appreciating how there is no standard solution to an insurgency that can be applied universally. Changes in motivation, geography and technology (to name a few) can have profound effects upon the methodology best suited to countering it. The Indonesian example is particularly relevant when viewed from the perspective of the impact of world opinion on the activities of Indonesian security forces in East Temor mirroring the of ‘media’ and communication technology as a factor (both positive and negative) on operations.
He next discusses the environment within which insurgencies are able to flourish. He postulates that identifying regions as being pro-government or pro-insurgent is missing the fundamental truth that populations seek security, predictability and stability and they will follow whatever group or organization that can guarantee it locally. This is one of the main reasons for the frustrating tendency in Afghanistan for locals to ‘switch’ from government to Taliban and back. It is not loyalty; it is pragmatism that is their driving force. Thus it is that concurrent to an armed challenge of an insurgency, it is imperative that issues of poor governance, corruption and mismanagement amongst the governing body be addressed aggressively.
He concludes with an examination of the modern phenomenon of the global insurgency, its make-up, methods of operation, strengths and weaknesses. Starting with an assessment of the differences between ’terrorism’ (seen today as synonymous with any act of violence against the government) and ‘insurgency’ he clearly delineates not only the difference between two, but also, the forces behind them and the paradigm shift needed to address them effectively. He concludes with a discussion on the critical weaknesses of the global jihadist style movements and how best to exploit these weakness in the ‘competition for government’.
Kilcullen has a great wealth of experience to draw upon when contemplating these issues. There are those who would make the argument that much of what he writes is common sense and not new revelations. That may be; however, it is also true that while many of the successful techniques used against jihadist movements have been used in the past, it took much blood and treasure to begin applying the lessons of yesteryear. The shift in paradigm and approach to the modern global jihadist with its access to instantaneous communications requires not only a reinforcement of our previously learned but forgotten lessons, but further enhancement to meet the unique challenges of today’s modern insurgent. Kilcullen’s book is an excellent place to further enhance that education.