Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s?

A new article by Dr. David Kilcullen: “Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency“, posted at the Small Wars Council (24 April 2008) — “Road-Building in Afghanistan, Part 1 of a Series on Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency”

Over the past eight years Kilcullen has laid a profound theoretical foundation for COIN on which he has written many articles rich with operational insights and recommendations. Here is a full archive of his work: The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen.

One fascinating aspect of Kilcullen’s work is the relative absence of critical review. Such attention is usually an indicator of significance, and his work is powerful in both an intellectual and operational sense. Why so little analytical attention? Even Newton and Einstein had their critics.

I posted this question (and a link to my archive of Kilcullen’s work) in the comments at both the Small Wars Journal and at Zenpundit. The SWJ Editor(s) deleted both (too disturbing to the troops, perhaps). At the Zenpundit there were two replies. First, from the Zenpundit himself:

Effective critiques require thorough knowledge of a subject. It wasn’t all that long ago that interest in COIN was confined primarily to a small number of military specialists and historians, mainly of the Vietnam War, Napoleonic Spain and similar periods. Most of the ppl most angered by the COIN strategy – politicos and reg Army types – are the least well versed.

As the number of thinkers involved with or studying COIN increases, the quality of peer review and potential critics and competitors rises for everyone.

Second, Selil said:

The peer review process will mature as the science of asymmetric warfare becomes more well known. There is also a certain lag to the scientific process and much of the current positions will not be reviewed for many years. Consider the time frame between when S.L.A. Marshall published his serialized essay on men in combat (1940’s) and the critical review of his facts by Spiller and Chambers in the 1970s. Outside of military circles neurologist are looking at Nobel prize winning research from the 1950s on neurons and electrical impulses versus the new (unproven) concept of sound pulses and sonitrons. Science and discourse moves slowly unfortunately and unforgivably.

These comments raise a larger question: to what extent is there adequate debate (“peer review”) about fundamentals within the US military? About the need for a large fleet? For a force of large manned bombers and fighters? About the assumptions underlying the COIN manual (FM 3-24), such as the utility of teaching basic social science concepts to line officers (discussed here and here). About the extent to which militant Islam (however labeled) is a substantial threat to the US?

There is much and intense debate within the military. But is it about the right things, the important things?

Back to Kilcullen — some reviews of his article

Kilcullen’s article has received some analytical attention. First, the small posts that constitute most discussion on the Internet. For example, this post at Kings of War (the blog of Department of War Studies, King’s College London).

I.   “The Strange Benefits of Paving Afghanistan“, Joshua Foust, posted at (“Central Asia news — All central Asia, all the time”) — A through review, with some interesting insights.

II.  “Country roads – For donkeys or for trucks?“, Péter Marton, posted at State Failure Blog (26 April 2008)

III.  “Afghanistan: Key Road Toward Pakistan To Improve Trade, Security“, Radio Free Europe (29 April 2008)

Update:  a comment from Dave Dilegge posted here at Zenpundit


At your site you ask – “too disturbing to the troops, perhaps.”  I reply – no, and having spent my entire adult life with “troops” I think it might take much more to disturb them than your self-indulgence.  I always delete self-promotion in our comments section. If you would have left some commentary rather than “come to my site” or “go to this site” postings then they might have remained untouched.

I use this as an SWJ “industry” standard: A work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported only by the author’s track record.  Your posts fell well short of that standard.

I revoked your posting rights on SWJ – will reinstate if you give me a reason to or pay me for advertising.  Dave

Note:  the quote above about the “industry standard” is from this blog’s “About” page.  My reply:

The second post was to Joshua Foust’s review at – no “self-promotion” involved. He has some knowledge of these issues, and goes into considerable detail. It’s out of my area of knowledge, so I made no comment on it. 

The first linked to an archive of Kilcullen’s work, strictly a library function (it has links to 35 articles by or about Kilcullen, 2 backgrounders to his work, 7 mainstream media articles about him). You are welcomed to copy it over to SWC (no link necessary, just a credit please). His body of work is imo important. All you did was prevent your reader’s seeing this resource.

This is of course trivia.  The SWC has the right to control their site.  This is an FYI, to keep the record clear.  I suggest clicking through to Foust’s review and the Kilcullen archive — I believe you will find both of interest.  If you enjoy reading this sort of thing, you can see us batting the shuttlecock back and forth here in the Zenpundit comments.  There are two more volleys after these.

Update:  with the passage of time the memory of these firefights fades.  We’re both cross-listed on each other’s blogrolls, and the SWC has lifted the block.

5 thoughts on “Roads in Afghanistan, a new weapon to win 4GW’s?”

  1. Within my “risibly low standards” of accuracy (to steal a phrase from Kilcullen) the problems seem to be as follows:
    1) Insurgents can use roads too.
    2) Friendlies who always travel on roads are easier for insurgents to ambush (and Russia already made this mistake).
    3) Roads are a minor military benefit with military drawbacks, and they’re being hyped as if they were the second coming of sliced bread.
    4) Joshua Froust knows how to use the word “pleonasm.” Presumably he has a plenum full of pleonasms, and he’s ready to sling out plenary plethoras of pleonasms.

  2. Update: another article about Kilcullen’s theory that security follows roads.

    Roads, Roads, Roads, Josuha Foust, posted at (3 May 2008) — Excerpt:

    “Kilcullen says security follows roads. Ignatius says roads follow security, and then reinforce it. Ignatius’ version of causation makes more intuitive sense. But Afghanistan has a habit of defying intuition.”

  3. Update: another powerful post by Joshua Foust!

    Thinking Critically About Road Construction“, posted at (6 May 2008) — Opening:

    “There is a good reason to think that the concept of “paved roads equal improved security” is a coordinated multi-agency media campaign by the Army. Seemingly out of nowhere, the message began popping up in the accounts of brief embeds by mostly American reporters, from State Department employees at Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Kunar to an unnamed Brigade Commander, again in Kunar, and now to a Brigade Operations Officer in Khost. And let us not forget Ann Marlowe making the same case months ago, only in reference to Ghazni and Laghman. So what does that BOO have to say?”

    I recommend reading this. DoD’s info ops are becoming more effective. Too bad we are the target.

  4. You might want to be aware that Joshua Foust is a paid employee of a contractor for the Human Terrain Team. At least until recently the HTT paid for his Registan blog – which seems to devote an inordinate amount of space to attacking my writings, presumably because I attacked the HTT. While this armchair “expert” is welcome to his opinions, he is intellectually dishonest in failing to disclose his source of income. He also has the nerve to solicit reader contributions to send him to Afghanistan – which is ludicrous, because presumably he could not go to Afghanistan as an independent traveler or reporter while an employee of the HTT.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for your reply and for this information!

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