Fabius Maximus website

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 Registan.net (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