Friday, 27 November 2015

The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen

While some may say that Kilcullen's theories on the Accidental Guerrilla are not revolutionary, I believe that to the date of the book being published they, in a manner of ways, were.
In fact the author himself says "The ideas are not new; implementing them effectively would be". And that is what this book is all about.
Implementing conceptual frameworks that quantify best practise in the field of Accidental Guerrilla syndrome (ad hoc fighters with little interest in Jihad motivations) and in counter insurgency.
Not an easy thing to do, I expect, in an unstable environment torn apart already by ethno sectarian violence and war. Where these very counter insurgency best practice approaches revolve around an enemy which is constantly adapting, evolving and applying pressure.

His words on Western led globalisation and its hand in straining resentment amoung less wealthy cultures is of particular interest, or should be of particular interest to anyone observing the shifting tides of allegiance and disunity in the Middle East.
He points out that relative deprivation can be a fire in the tinder box of anti Western sentiment. That we have so much and they have so little, and that they want what we have and we won't give it to them, makes us 'Accidental Supremacists' (my term not his) of a sort. A source of resentment. We think we are supremely better because we are spoilt and nobody likes a spoilt brat with an attitude of intolerance towards lessors, do they?
And this is why Vietnam War style Psych Wars have been replaced by the 'winning hearts and minds' ethos instead. Give a kid a Football, don't give a kid a leaflet.

Protecting the population is key to the hearts and minds ethos.
It is also the key to successful counter insurgency. But the downside to that, is that this means bringing war to where the people are concentrated, as David Kilcullen himself states; "You win or lose it a village at a time, and you secure villages and gain access to the people by controlling valleys, roads, and heights that overlook them, in order of that priority."
Hard to keep local populations clear of collateral dangers when the fight is in their backyards.

Western led Military Forces must also help to connect that local population to the government and not to the military.
It is all very complex and unlike any war we have fought before. Or tried to fight before.
There is a great quote in the book by Sir Olaf Caroe that speaks to that complexity. "Unlike other wars, Afghan wars become serious only when they are over"
That is something I think we can all see, no-one more so than those on the ground trying to micro manage population protection in the face of looming troop withdrawals.

According to Kilcullen and his peers, hiring hundreds of local security and local peoples to help build roads and other infrastructure projects plays a crucial role in protecting populations. Hire local people, and those people are more likely to defend their projects against outside insurgents. Or if not defend, at least pass information on to those who can, Western led Military Forces and their representatives.
I cannot help but wonder however, whether hiring hundreds of 'locals' indiscriminately for local security is one of the reasons why there is an increase in local security turning on soldiers and western contractors and gunning them down. But, I suppose there will always be those kinds of dangers when dealing with an enemy that must resort to unethical or unorthodox methods to fight back.

I was surprised to learn in this book that the counter insurgency efforts in the South of Afghanistan have become, in many ways, counter narcotic in nature more so than anything else. I did not know that.

The book itself is interspersed with the author's own field notes, which was good and he mixed in a few of his combat experiences also.
He goes into detail regarding 'the Surge' in Iraq and expounds upon those informed approaches and tactics that helped him contribute to the Surge strategy.

In all, this is an excellent book in my opinion. It is the only one of its sort that goes into this specialised kind of detail on counter insurgency and the Accidental Guerrilla.


NB* I wrote this review a couple years back and, like many of my reviews, am only now moving it to my blog.

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