Top positive review
Ambitious yet accessible
Reviewed in the United States on November 6, 2011
This is an ambitious work, with Kilcullen attempting to encompass everything from tactical to grand strategic responses to insurgency and terrorism in the one relatively short and accessible volume. Key to this work is Kilcullen's understanding of the fundamental difference between "Tier 1" guerrillas (or the 25% or so of most insurgent movements motivated by higher-order ideological grievances) and the "Tier 2" insurgents - or the "Accidental Guerrillas" of the title - who tend to be motivated by more local and parochial concerns. Kilcullen's theory of COIN and/or counterterrorism relies on the distinction he draws between the two, and the prospect of (ideally) preventing the rise of Tier 2 insurgents in the first place, or at the least co-opting them, while being reconciled to the military and political defeat of Tier 1. While only slightly more complex than schools of thought at either end of the spectrum that range from "Global Islamist Al-Qaeda conspiracy" or "root causes thanks to capitalism and US foreign policy" (or, everybody is Tier 1 or Tier 2 respectively), Kilcullen's perspective is a valuable corrective to either view.
Kilcullen's policy prescriptions are in my view more clearly enunciated the closer he gets to the tactical level than the grand strategic. This is in part due to his reliance on case studies focused squarely on tactical and operational experience (considerable analysis/personal experience from Afghanistan and Iraq and somewhat more succinct studies of East Timor, Southern Thailand and Pakistan's Tribal Areas), which are mostly excellent. The discussion of Australian operations in East Timor is a little cringe-worthy - by not conceding there was no real, enduring Tier 1 threat against INTERFET that had any prospect of mobilising Tier 2 guerrillas, Kilcullen here sounds a bit too self-congratulatory and reminded me a bit of Running the War in Iraq: an Australian general, 300,000 troops, the bloodiest conflict of our time. His discussion of possible wider strategic responses to Islamic fundamentalist militancy is less prescriptive (if inclusive of a lot of good sense, in particular redressing the balance of military versus non-military means of state power) and not quite as compelling - I suspect partly due to the author's own ambivalence as to how serious the threat is. If it is largely a law enforcement problem as he argues in part, what is the necessity of a ARCADIA-style conference to hammer out a grand strategy between major powers struggling for national survival (as in 1942)? I fear that an ARCADIA between states not facing a perceived existential threat (or hoping to buck-pass their way out of it) would end up being more like a Munich Conference - somebody would end up being the people of which we know little getting their liberty traded away - perhaps better in these circumstances for liberal democracies to consider the issue "one campaign or crisis at a time"?
For those with an interest in counterinsurgency, this is a "must read", if for no other reason that everybody else with an interest will have read it and formed an opinion. Fortunately, it is accessible, sensible and with a few real insights thrown in, and is worth the investment in time. A tiny bit under the five stars Amazon will let me give it, and I will take it with me when I deploy again in the near future - that has to be some sort of recommendation.