The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen


  1. A brief note about Kilcullen and his work.
  2. Kilcullen’s major works
  3. Kilcullen’s other works (minor only in comparison with his major works)
  4. My reviews of Kilcullen’s work
  5. A selction of articles about Kilcullen in the mainstream media
  6. Articles about the Revolt of the Anthropologists against “militarization” of their science
  7. Kilcullen’s view of the Iraq War, and the articles about this contraversy
  8. Other articles in this series

I.  A brief note about Kilcullen and his work

Soldier.  Adviser to both Coalition governments and their front-line company commanders.  Advocate of the war on terrorism.  Kilcullen’s work explains how to think about insurgencies (as biological systems, in “Countering Global Insurgencies”), how to fight insurgencies on every level from a single community to the entire world, and warns of imperial overstretch (ibid).

Analysts of modern warfare (herein called 4GW) can be divided into two groups.  First, those who believe that western nations — led by the USA — have the right, resources, and ability to successfully wage offensive “war” (broadly defined) against a global Islamic threat.  Second, there are those who disagree with one or more elements of that proposition.  Kilcullen is one of best-known and most skillful experts in the first group.

The articles he published while a Coalition adviser have few precedents in wartime.  Imagine an adviser to General MacArthur or General Eisenhower writing about our strategy, tactics, and progress during WWII, as Kilcullen has about and even from Iraq.  Is the government using the Internet to accelerate our Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loops, tapping into the expertise and creativity of our citizenry?  Or info-warfare to sustain support for the war, propaganda on a new and more sophisticated level?  It’s something for historians to debate, as we cannot know.

If the former, has this worked?  Note the lack of analysis Kilcullen’s work has received.  Much attention, even adulation.  But, so far as I can find, few articles providing analysis or review.  Given the quality of his work, its importance, and the controversial nature of its subject, this is not only extraordinary but also unfortunate. 

Information about Kilcullen’s background:  a DOD biography as of May 2007; a brief biography on DNI; his entry on Wikipedia.

Please send links for anything not listed to fabmaximus at hotmail dot com {this is the spam-protected form of the address, to fool bots}.

Note:  in the following “SWC” refers to articles posted at the Small Wars Council.

II.  Kilcullen’s major work

Here are his major articles.  Deep analysis, powerful, subtle, often very abstract.

  1. His PhD thesis:  “The political consequences of military operations in Indonesia 1945-99 : a fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict”, University of New South Wales – Australian Defence Force Academy (2000)
  2. ‘Rethinking the Basis of Infantry Close Combat“, Australian Army Journal (Volume I, no 1, Winter 2003) – Kilcullen “argues that the Australian Army should reconsider some aspects of its approach to manoeuvre and suppression in the close battle. The article does not argue for a particular solution.”
  3. ‘The Essential Debate: Combined Arms and the Close Battle in Complex Terrain“, Australian Army Journal (Volume I, no 2) – Discusses appropriate tactics for the close battle in complex terrain.  Update:  most of the links to articles in this issue are broken.  Please email me if you find an online copy elsewhere.
  4. “Irregular Warfare – A Systems Assessment”, September 2004 — unpublished
  5. Chaos versus Predictability:  A Critique of Effects-based Operations“, co-author Brigadier Justin Kelly, Australian Army Journal  (Vol II, no 1 – Winter 2004) – “This article argues that, while the aspirations advanced by supporters of effects-based operations (EBO) are laudable, they may not be achievable, particularly in the land warfare environment.”  The link to the AAJ article is broken.  Republished in Security Challenges (April 2006).
  6. Complex Warfighting SWC (April 7, 2004)
  7. Counterinsurgency Redux“, Survival, a publication of the IISS (Winter 2006)
  8. Countering Global Insurgency“, The Journal of Strategic Studies (August 2005)
  9. Subversion and Countersubversion in the Campaign against Terrorism in Europe“, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism  (August 2007) — Subscription Only — Abstract:  Europe faces, as a primary threat, terrorist-linked subversion with two key objectives — to manipulate and exploit immigrant communities.  Counterterrorism analysis focused on the nature of Islam in Europe is a dead-end, offering no value to how best to arrest the trend. The threats facing western nations requires terrorism analysts to re-think existing paradigms of warfare, intelligence, law enforcement, terrorism and insurgency. Europe has become a transit area for extremists, a source of intellectual capital, exploitable grievances, and a legislative safe haven, in addition to becoming part of the battleground in terrorists’ international campaign.

III.  Kilcullen’s Other works

  1. “The Dark Side of Globalisation: War and Conflict in the 21st Century”, keynote speech at the Consilium of the Centre for Independent Studies (4 – 7 August 2005).  “{Kilcullen} suggested that we are in a phase of wars of globalisation.  In the end, the war will not be won by military might, but by people realising that liberal institutions are the way forward. He said that it is the job of the military to keep society safe while it promotes these liberal values.”  Here is an article in The Australian about the speech.  Does anyone have a link to the transcript?
  2. United States Counterinsurgency: An Australian View” — slides, undated
  3. Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency“, Military Review  (May-June 2006) — for $9.75 you can buy a digital version from Amazon.
  4. Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency“, remarks delivered at the U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Conference in Washington D.C. (28 September 2006) — the conference summary appears below.
  5. A Framework for thinking about Iraq Strategy, SWC (12 January 2007)
  6. Don’t confuse the “Surge” with the Strategy, SWC (19 January 2007)
  7. Two Schools of Classical Counterinsurgency, SWC (27 January 2007)
  8. The Baghdad Marathon, SWC (22 February 2007)
  9. Guardian Article Misrepresents the Advisers’ View, SWC (1 March 2007)
  10. From the Advisors — Bombs in Baghdad, SWC (24 March 2007)
  11. Transcript of Kilcullen on the Dept of Defense’s Bloggers’ Roundtable (25 May 2007)
  12. Edward Luttwak’s “Counterinsurgency Malpractice” , SWC (15 April 2007) — rebuttal of Edward Luttwak’s “Dead end: Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice” in Harper’s (February 2007) (Harper’s article is subscription only)
  13. The Urban Tourniquet – “Gated Communities” in Baghdad, SWC (27 April 2007)
  14. New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict“, eJournal USA (published by the US Department of State) (May 2007)
  15. Religion and Insurgency, SWC (12 May 2007)
  16. Ethics, Politics, and Non-State Warfare: A Response to GonzálezAnthropology Today (June 2007) — Subscription only.
  17. Understanding Current Operations in Iraq, SWC (26 June 2007)
  18. Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt, SWC, (29 August 2007)
  19. “Counterinsurgency in Iraq: Theory and Practice, 2007” — A seminar at the Grey Research Center at Quantico, Virginia (26 September 2007).  Slides are here (2.6 mb PPT).  Notes by Dave Dilegge about the presentation are here
  20. Charlie Rose interviews Kilcullen (5 October 2007).  See the show or read the transcript.
  21. Transcript of interview with Kilcullen on BBC Radio 4’s Analysis (4 November 2007)
  22. Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency“, Small Wars Council (24 April 2008) — “Road-Building in Afghanistan’ Part 1 of a Series on Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency”
  23. The Strange Benefits of Paving Afghanistan“, Joshus Foust, posted at (25 April 2008) — A detailed review of Kilcullen’s 24 April article.
  24. Dinosaurs versus Mammals: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Adaptation in Iraq“, RAND Insurgency Board (8 May 2008)
  25. Death From Above, Outrage Down Below, co-author with Andrew McDonald Exum (Army, retired), op-ed in the New York Times, 16 May 2009

Also worth reading, background and other relevant material:

  1. Twenty-Seven Articles“, T. E. Lawrence, The Arab Bulletin (20 August 1917) — possible inspiration for some of Kilcullen’s work.
  2. Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century: Creating a National Framework“, results from a September 2006 Conference co-sponsored by Depts of State and Defense (Kilcullen moderated one of the sessions).

IV.  My reviews of Kilcullen’s work

  1. Why we lose at 4GW:  an analysis of Kilcullen’s “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency”.
  2. What if bin Laden were smart, like Dr. No or Ernest Blofeld?  28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America.
  3. America takes another step towards the “Long War — a comparison of Kilcullen and that key figure of the Cold War, George Kennan.
  4. Stories or statistics? Read and compare to find the truth! — a discussion of Kilcullen’s Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt”.
  5. Kilcullen explains all you need to know about the Iraq War — a discussion of Kilcullen’s “Counterinsurgency in Iraq: Theory and Practice.”
  6. Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s? — Kilcullen talks about roads, in Rome and Afghanistan.
  7. Another “must-read” presentation by Kilcullen about COIN — Kilcullen discovers the “Darwinian ratchet.”
  8. A moment of truth about Iraq; apologies quickly follow – please forget this ASAP! — a review of articles about Kilcullen’s remarks.
  9. A major function of our intelligence agencies is to shape the narrative. They do it well, molding history like clay on a wheel. — Kilcullen’s role at the beginning of the War on Terror.

V.  A selction of articles about Kilcullen in the mainstream media

  1. Exceptional strategist is our man in Washington“, The Australian (14 December 2006)
  2. Knowing the Enemy:  Can social scientists redefine the war on terror?“, by George Packer, The New Yorker (18 December 2006)
  3. There is no substitute for knowing your enemy“, The Australian (20 December 2006)
  4. Ed Batista — Executive Coaching and Change Management — discusses what business leaders can learn from Kilcullen (7 January 2007)
  5. Pay attention to jihad“, Diana West, Op-ed in the Washington Times (1 June 2007)
  6. Call it like it is“, Diana West, Op-ed in the Washington Times (6 July 2007)
  7. Strategist behind war gains“, The Australian (18 August 2007)

VI.  Articles about the Revolt of the Anthropologists against “militarization” of their science

Anthropologists go to war AND Revolt of the Anthropologists

VII.  Kilcullen’s view of the Iraq War, and the articles about this contraversy

  1. A Counterinsurgency Guide for Politicos“, Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, 28 July 2008 — Kilcullen speaks honestly.
  2. My Views on Iraq“, David Kilcullen, posted at the Small Wars Council blog, 28 July 2008 — Kilcullen attempts to back away from his remarks.
  3. Sources Holler Back: Kilcullen Edition“, Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, 29 July 2008 — Ackerman gives Kilcullen some covering fire.
  4. Iraq war stupid, Aussie David Kilcullen tells US“, The Australian, 2 August 2008 — The media kicks sand in our eyes to obscure our view of these things.
  5. A moment of truth about Iraq; apologies quickly follow – please forget this ASAP!, 3 August 2008 — My analysis.

VIII.  Other articles in this series

  1. The Essential 4GW reading list, chapter One:  Martin van Creveld
  2. The Essential 4GW reading list, chapter Two:  Donald Vandergriff

14 thoughts on “The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen”

  1. “The articles he published while a Coalition adviser have few precedents in wartime. Imagine an adviser to General MacArthur or General Eisenhower writing about our strategy, tactics, and progress during WWII, as Kilcullen has about and even from Iraq. Is the government using the Internet to accelerate our Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action loops, tapping into the expertise and creativity of our citizenry? Or info-warfare to sustain support for the war, propaganda on a new and more sophisticated level? It’s something for historians to debate, as we cannot know.”

    In my opinion, Kilcullen makes an honest attempt to advance the discourse about Iraq and global insurgency. The Small Wars Journal in particular is an excellent resource for understanding the nature of global conflict. I don’t necessarily always agree with the analytical perspectives there, but they do engage in good faith–in marked contrast to the rest of the political discourse in this country.


  2. fabiusmaximus2000

    Personally, I agree. Of course, we’re both just guessing. History suggests that guesses are unreliable guides, so caution is needed.

  3. Very much so. None of us have any certainty about how this is going to end up. Speaking of intellectual work, got any good stuff planned for DNI? I’m working on something right now about super-empowered individuals–should be finished relatively soon.

  4. fabiusmaximus2000

    Everything will appear here first, in small chunks. This allows readers to comment on flaws and suggest improvements. Then I’ll revise and combine in a complete article to be posted on DNI. Also, I have found that putting too much new material in one article overloads most readers. I have two dozen articles in various stages of drafts; the limiting factor (as for most of us) is time to write!

  5. Sounds good. When I posted on Simulated Laughter I used it as a space to test out new ideas. My intention with my new site is also to test–but more to use it as an original space for ideas. In any event, I look forward to reading your articles when they come out. Keep up the good work.

  6. I have read some of Kilcullen’s work. I have said that if I was leading a group going into Iraq I would tattoo the 28 articles on the back of my eye lids so I could memorize them while sleeping. They were, in my unexpert opinion, a very good plan to work from. The problem I see is that much of what he wrote is already obsolete for the conditions there. Kind of in a day late and a dollar short way.

    Modern warfare pretty much lost its momentum when the Anbar option became available. The US military , in a way, admitted we had lost our ability to influence the outcome of the Iraq experiment and turn the empowerment over to the Iraqis. It looks like now it will be mostly the Syria option ( will take hold in the country. I don’t think this was in the manual on modern warfare.

    Under the Syria option, the US will become a nationstate guarantor. We will guarantee that its neighbors will not invade while at the same time broker the civil war and become Iraq’s ATM machine. In return, we will be able to keep our bases in Iraq, influence the flow of oil, and the country will look as if our efforts in the Middle East have been strategic relevant. We will probably have to thank the Sunnis for giving us this option. I wonder if they made a book out of it?

  7. fabiusmaximus2000

    I strongly agree about the current state of affairs. I predicted this, in broad outlines, in March. I wonder, however, if this situation is stable. Forecasting on the basis of a sample set of one — Syria — is pretty weak. Exp as the relationship of Syria/Lebanon is very unlike Iraq/USA. We’re foreigners in a way Syria is not; Syria understands and has connections to Lebanon that we lack to Iraq.

  8. “We’re foreigners in a way Syria is not; Syria understands and has connections to Lebanon that we lack to Iraq.”

    True and this has been expressed before. Outside of SOF our influence will be very limited. We will have to learn when to, as an example, stop killing Sunni and start killing Shia or any number of combination. The only real importance, in my unqualified opinion, is that we will stop pretending we can continue to use Modern warfare in Iraq and hope the true believers have given up on the Crusade. Let’s hope being traffic cop is good enough for now.

    It is only our ability of controlling the friction inside of Iraq (broker agreements between stakeholders) and maintaining the gap between Iran and Iraq that could make this work. While the Shia have common goals with Iran, I don’t think one of those goals is to let a bunch of Persians in.

    In physics we would be what is referred to as the normal force perpendicular to the frictional forces. We enable friction, but how much of that friction is in the form of heat will be left up to the friction forces (how much force is trying to pull them apart). As you say we don’t have that type of relationship to understand what the temperature will be. More normal force will bring those frictional forces together. As things cool off, less normal force will be required to hold the parties together.

    To have the normal force in the Iraqi society (this is normally called the vertical force of a society) being represented, at least the heavy lifting part, by the US military would be a big benefit for all Iraqi parties. Shia could continue to build a big power base while maintaining relations that are still distant with Iran. The Kurds could maintain their relevance in negotiations with Turkey, and of course the Sunni could build on the US relationship with KSA to remain relevant in Iraq.

  9. fabiusmaximus2000

    Perhaps you are correct that we can perform this role on an extended basis, although nothing we have done so far suggests that this is so (e.g., the Anbar “awakening” was neither forecast nor initiated by our efforts). All we need now is the reason why we should tie up the core of our military in Iraq for an indefinite stay, assurance it will not strain or break our military, why we should expend another trillion borrowed dollars, and why this will not generate some degree of blowback thoughout the Islamic community. Then everyone will agree, I am confident, that this mission is Go!

    Also interesting that a listing of Kilcullen’s work generates this discussion. Coincidence?

  10. “Coincidence?”

    While you don’t steer as well as Zenpundit, you have covered a lot of domains here in your start-up so I am not sure it could really be called coincidence. Perhaps you are referring to an evolutionary movement from Kilcullen to…?

    “All we need now is the reason why we should tie up the core of our military in Iraq for an indefinite stay, assurance it will not strain or break our military, why we should expend another trillion borrowed dollars, and why this will not generate some degree of blowback throughout the Islamic community.”

    I think only the Iraqis can give us those reasons. I think this US administration only knew one thing, grab the high ground. After that they preferred to let things go as they may.

    We have never been able to build any potentials in Iraq. Especially a potential for leaving. Perhaps we never had any intentions of doing so, you think? Perhaps the Iraqis need to look at this potential (leaving)closely, because the Syrian option only works if there is a US presence there.

    Why would they want this option? I don’t know, it seems to be working out that way. As you said we haven’t forecasted or initiated this effort in the first place. Perhaps this is an option the people in the Middle East understand.

    Perhaps we in the USA are lacking in understanding of other people in the world. Perhaps we only know how to grab the high ground and throw resources at it. It worked pretty well in WWII. You know, war of attrition. A war of sacrifice. Something other than 4GW.

  11. fabiusmaximus2000

    About Iraq: You are foreshadowing my new post, going up tonight (I’m trying a 3 posts/week plan).

    What does “don’t steer as well as Zenpundit” mean? (Zenpundit being one of the most interesting sites on the web, imho).

  12. “You are foreshadowing”

    I suppose to keep someone from foreshadowing you, a person needs to lead. In any dance (and blogging, of the type you are doing here, could be called a dance between OODA loops) one has to lead and one has to follow.

    Zen is a master at leading. As his blog flows through many domains he kind of steers the course through the domains. I thinks he does this by understanding what the person(s) don’t know (it could be that he is a very good teacher) as much as what they do know. After all a blog is like a video game in that what you are learning includes the rules of the person who designed the game as well as the game itself, content as well as context. It could be that what makes Zen’s site so interesting is that he writes from the perspective of inputs as well as outputs. I feel this ability in you as well. May the force be with you, Ha!

  13. FM … I’ll take a crack at it …

    “It’s now fundamentally an information fight,” Kilcullen said. “The enemy gets that, and we don’t yet get that, and I think that’s why we’re losing.”

    I propose visiting ‘journalists’ at night. Have them understand that if they don’t write the information we want them to that their expense accounts will be audited. They will no longer be given super-star status in Presidential press conferences. Their children will no longer be accepted at Ivy league schools.

    Their mistresses will be subjected to harassment. And, if all else fails, the key ‘journalists’ will be made to write for blogs instead of “The Most Influential Newspaper[s] on Earth!” That should work. Or perhaps their favorite pet[s] severed head[s] could placed into their beds. After all if it worked for the Corleones’ it must be effective!

  14. Pingback: We weaponized anthropology. Why didn’t it work? | Tech Bit

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