Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Accidental Guerrilla" Review

By Max Boot.
In "The Accidental Guerrilla," a combination of memoir and military analysis, David Kilcullen looks at the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Indonesia and southern Thailand, all of which, excepting the last, he has seen first-hand. He then draws lessons from his experiences and those of other soldiers.

As a former Australian army officer, Mr. Kilcullen may seem to have an odd background for this task, since Australia is hardly a central player in the global war on terrorism. Yet the Aussies have a long, distinguished history of involvement in guerrilla wars, from Vietnam to Indonesia. Mr. Kilcullen, having studied the Indonesian suppression of Muslim separatists in the 1950s and 1960s (he has a doctorate in political anthropology), went on to command an Australian infantry company in East Timor during its independence struggle from Indonesia in 1999. In 2007-08, he served as a counterinsurgency adviser for Gen. David Petraeus and for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In those jobs he spent considerable time with troops in Afghanistan and Iraq observing what works and what doesn't.

The result is "The Accidental Guerrilla." The title is a reference to the distinction between hard-core jihadists and their less ideological fellow travelers. The former, Mr. Kilcullen writes, are "implacable fanatics" animated by Islamist ideology. The latter, by contrast, "fight us primarily because we are intruding into their space." Ironically, we intrude into their space -- tribal territories from the southern Philippines to Pakistan's Northwest Frontier -- primarily because it has become a hideout for al Qaeda and its ilk. By trying to fight these globe-trotting terrorists, Mr. Kilcullen worries, we may be making needless enemies among their tribal hosts.

I've been reading this on the side, since work is a bit overwhelming. Killcullen is a very dense writer. Not much fluff in what I've read so far, and you need to be paying attention to understand where he's taking you.

Now I just need to finish the book.

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