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A Review of "The Accidental Guerilla"

This is my first attempt to provide an analysis of a foreign affairs or counter-insurgency book. Or put simply, this is a review. More often than not when I read a book or article it sparks one particular idea, I simply write up particular idea and cite the source. (This happens almost every time I read Foreign Affairs, for example.) But the entirety of David Kilcullen's The Accidental Guerilla left me nodding my head, silently saying, "Yes, yes, yes." With regards to both counter-insurgency and the threat of terrorism, David Kilcullen hits the mark on what the US, our NATO allies, and the UN must do to face Islamic extremism. If you care about counter-insurgency or terrorism, read this book.

David Kilcullen is uniquely placed to comment on both of these subjects. As an Australian Army Captain, he learned the basics of counter-insurgency when he deployed to Indonesia. As a counter-terrorism official, he worked in the US State Department after 9/11. As an adviser, he helped craft both Generals Petraeus and General McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most importantly, he writes perceptive analysis of political war (our word not his) that provides actionable tips as well as theory. His piece “28 Articles on Counter-insurgency”  (originally published in the Military Review) is probably the most widely distributed guidance in the US military today.

I was probably predisposed to liking The Accidental Guerilla from the beginning. His acknowledgements section reads like a who's-who of the people I respect in foreign affairs. From Andrew Exum (who runs an amazing blog Abu Muquwama) to T.X. Hammes (who brought the phrase 4th Generation War into serious intellectual discussion) to Kalev Sepp (who wrote probably the second best piece on good counter-insurgency after David Kilcullen himself) to John Nagl, Tom Friedman and Tom Ricks, these are people who, in my opinion, are doing the most exciting work in international relations theory.

While standing on the shoulders of these giants, Dr. Kilcullen reveals his greatest strength: the ability to synthesize the competing forces of insurgency, terrorism, Islam, asymmetric war, globalization, the fourth generation of war, and the Western world into one cogent theory. He coins a new term to combine these forces, hybrid warfare. When I took time to define the terms of political war, I mentioned hybrid warfare as a term that "gets" it. His explanation of hybrid warfare then flows directly into his theory on accidental guerillas. Frankly, this theory should define America's approach to the problems in Afghanistan of terrorists, insurgents, Al Qaeda and the Taliban--mainly it shows the flaws in attempting a pure counter-terrorist approach.

The Accidental Guerrilla came out earlier this year, and I read it a few months ago. I hesitated to start posting on it because I feared it would open the floodgates. Hopefully, my review will explain my obsession with this book and encourage our readers to read the one book that will explain national security better than any other on the market. Today I addressed the background that gives this book its strength; next time, I will address the ideas in the book.

(A personal note: In March 2008, David Kilcullen was in Konar Province, Afghanistan where I was deployed. The photo he took of the Asadabad Provincial Reconstruction Team in Asadabad is a place I went about twice a week. Dr. Kilcullen even uses our area of operations as a case study, though he focuses on Lt. Col. Cavoli, whose unit we replaced. I plan to write a post comparing Dr. Kilcullen's thoughts on counter-insurgency and my battalion's operations.)

three comments

Luke made a comment on Friday’s post about how society no longer shares a common literature, and I totally agree with his point. I think books like the above, though, should be considered must reads, at least among soldiers.

Now added to the must read list.

Yeah, and I would add its very accessible to non-experts as well.