The major Left-wing British newspaper, The Guardian, published an unflattering ( surprise, surprise) article – ” US commanders admit: we face a Vietnam-style collapse” about the new counterinsurgency-oriented “surge” strategy being employed by the Bush administration in Iraq. LTC. David Kilcullen, the special adviser to the State Department for Counterinsurgency, strenuously disagrees. Well, I infer Kilcullen believes that The Guardian’s article is cross between shoddy journalism and a politically motivated “hit piece” but holding an official position, he’s too reticent to blast The Guardian that explicitly.
Some background: Dr. David Kilcullen is an Australian Army lieutenant colonel on loan to the USG who holds a PhD. in Anthropology, whose area of expertise is Islamist guerillla-terrorist networks in Indonesia. I have, at best, a very superficial introduction to the sociology of Indonesian politics through the graces of attending periodic lectures in the last few years given by scholars associated with The Center for Southeast Asian Studies at NIU. Indonesia is incredibly complex, far moreso than is even polyglot Iraq, and this is where Dr. Kilcullen cut his teeth learning counterinsurgency warfare in steamy tropical jungles. His journal articles “Twenty Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency” ( a play on the original by T.E. Lawrence) and “Counterinsurgency Redux” are “must-reads” in professional military circles and among defense intellectuals. Colonel Kilcullen is a practitioner of this kind of warfare, not just a bright scribbler in a think tank somewhere inside the beltway.
So, given his experience and his involvement in the war in Iraq, I take heed when Kilcullen has something to say. Today at the SWJ Blog, Dr. Kilcullen issued a sharp corrective to The Guardian, “Guardian article misrepresents the advisers’ view“. An excerpt:
“There is a real country called Iraq, where a real war is going on, with real progress but very real challenges. We are not going to “win the war” in six months — nor would anyone expect to. But the Guardian seems to be describing some completely different, (possibly mythical) country, and some imaginary group of harried and depressed advisers bearing no resemblance to reality. As counterinsurgency professionals, we take a fact-based approach and we are well aware of the extremely demanding task we face. That makes us cautious realists — but we are far from pessimists, as The Guardian’s anonymous source seems to imply.
The article is littered with inaccuracies:
• the “advisers” are not bunkered down in the Green Zone, but in another location, and frequently out on the ground.
• the article (incorrectly) describes me as a serving military officer – I’m a civilian diplomat, as any source truly familiar with the team’s thinking would be well aware.
• while recognizing the severity of the challenge, the team’s mood is far from pessimistic. Success will take months or years, not weeks or days, and although early signs are somewhat encouraging it’s really far too early to say how things will play out. The war has been going for four years, the new strategy for less than four weeks. Give it time.
• the State department is not failing to meet its personnel targets. On the contrary, more than 90 % of civilian positions in Iraq are filled, and we will grow to 20 Provincial Reconstruction Teams soon.
• the coalition is far from disintegrating – British redeployment from the South reflects improved security, not lack of will, and the same day the British announced their move the Australians announced a force increase in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
• The plan is not “unclear” or “constantly changing” – we all know exactly what the plan is. The article seems to be mistaking the freedom and agility which have been granted to us, allowing us to respond dynamically to a dynamic situation, for vacillation.”
Read the rest here.
In my view, the so-called “surge” is about changing tactical situations in Iraq for the better and ceasing to treat battling terrorists and insurgents with tactics better suited to defeating the Wehrmacht or the Red Army. In other words, it is adjusting the U.S. military to the war the United States is actually in, rather than the war that the Pentagon would prefer to fight against a mythical “near-peer” competitor. Strategic change in Iraq can only come with shrewd diplomacy, politics and economic policy building upon any improvement in the short-term military situation. This is something out of Kilcullen’s hands or even those of General Petraeus.
But for the job they are doing, give them the room to run.
For Chicago Boyz readers interested in military affairs, military history or the insights of active duty military professionals, I warmly endorse The Small Wars Council and The Small Wars Journal, run by Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle. Each site represents a superb resource and many, many hours of interesting reading.