Friday, 20 November 2015

Kilcullen on ISIS

Since the Paris attacks, there's been an avalanche of comment on both social and mainstream media about the ISIS threat and how to deal with it.

Much of this comment is knee jerk, tribal, and a reflection of the depth of ignorance the Australian public has for both the history and the reality of this phenomenon.

If you're going to get into comment about current events, it's always useful to first identify individuals who have real experience of the issues in hand, knowledge gained through years of painstaking research, and the capacity to communicate this knowledge and experience clearly and succinctly.

Then you should probably read and consider their writings on the subject before making public comment..

David Kilcullen is such an individual.

His resume - (from Wikipaedia)
Kilcullen graduated from St Pius X College in 1984. He then attended the Australian Defence Force Academy and completed a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Military Art and Science through the University of New South Wales and graduated as a Distinguished Graduate and was awarded the Chief of Defence Force Army Prize in 1989. He took his army officer training at the Royal Military College Duntroon. After twelve months of training in Indonesia, Kilcullen graduated from the Australian Defence Force School of Languages in 1993 with an Advanced Diploma in Applied Linguistics.  He is fluent in Indonesian and speaks some Arabic and French. 

Kilcullen received a PhD in politics from ADFA at UNSW in 2000. His thesis, entitled "The Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945-99: A Fieldwork Analysis of the Political Power-Diffusion Effects of Guerrilla Conflict," focused on the effects of guerrilla warfare on non-state political systems in traditional societies. 

His research centered on investigating power diffusion in Indonesia during the Darul Islam Era of 1948 to 1962 and the Indonesian occupation of East Timor f 1974 to 1999. Kilcullen argues that counter-insurgency operations, whether successful or not, cause the diffusion of political power from central to local leaders and that populations are the major actors in insurgency and counter-insurgency dynamics.

Kilcullen was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Australian Army and served in a number of operational, strategic, command, and staff positions in the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and Australian Defence Force. He served in several counter-insurgency and peacekeeping operations in East Timor,  Bougainville, and the Middle East. Kilcullen attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army and served as a Staff Officer in ADF headquarters,. In 2004, he became a Senior Analyst in the Australian Office of National Assessment, where he served on the writing team for the Australian Government's 2004 Terrorism White Paper, "Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia".

He left active duty in 2005 and is commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army Reserve.

 David Kilcullen was a senior advisor to General David Petraeus in 2007 and 2008, when he helped to design and monitor the Iraq War troop “surge”. He was then a special advisor for counterinsurgency to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. From 2005 to 2006, he was Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the US State Department. He has also been an adviser to the British government, the Australian government, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force. He is a former Australian Army officer and the author of three acclaimed books: The Accidental Guerrilla, Counterinsurgency and Out of the Mountains.

The following are extracts from his Quarterly Essay 58 -  Blood Year - Terrorism and the Islamic State.  

(You can purchase the E-book for $9.99. It's worth the read).

I've divided the extracts on the basis of theme. Kilcullen's text is in italics. Regular font is my summary.

Blame -

As I've explained, there's plenty of blame to go around. President Bush conflated enemies, defaulted to attacking states rather than thinking about how to deal with non-state actors, and - mother of all errors - invaded Iraq, and then botched the occupation.

President Obama compounded Bush's errors - pulling out without putting in enough effort to cement the gains of the surge, acting opportunistically in Libya, remaining passive in the face of massacre in Syria. (p230)

Responsibility -

After 2003 in Iraq, Western powers had a legal and ethical obligation to stabilise the society we'd disrupted, establish a successor government to the regime we'd overthrown, protect an innocent population we'd put massively at risk, and rebuild the economy and infrastructure we'd shattered. (p272)

Politicians acting tough -'s a criticism of decision-makers (usually, though not always, sitting in safety thousands of miles away, who've never heard a shot fired in anger) who succumb to the allure of Predator Porn, misusing these strategic assets - which should be applied sparingly as part of a broader plan - as tactical tools, to substitute for lack of strategic thought, or (worse) who send others in harm's way to make themselves look tough.

What to do -

Militarily -

1. Ramp up the air strikes to a level resembling Kosovo and Libya. This may require forward observers on the ground.
2. Use the existing deployment differently. Get them out of the training bases and give them the authority to fight offensively.

Politically -

Hence a critical counterpart to the "war strategy" to neutralize ISIS in Iraq is a peace strategy in Syria - to end the slaughter by convincing all players that they can't achieve their goals through continued conflict, and that their best alternative is a negotiated peace. As in Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya, there may be a role here for the military, (specifically, air power): creating humanitarian corridors and no-fly zones, or inflicting sufficient damage on armed forces to force a ceasefire. But ultimately this is a political problem - and it will demand at least as much strategic effort and attention as the military problem in Iraq. (p328)

Conclusions -

1. We are living in an era of persistent conflict.
2. We need to remove ISIS as a state like entity using a larger more intense commitment, (though emphatically not an occupation or a counter insurgency campaign).
3. International engagement is a necessity. It's an international problem.
4. We need a strategy that recognises global terrorism for the threat it is, but doesn't treat it as if it's our only security issue. Between the overreaction of 2001-04 and the passivity of 2008 onwards, we need to find a middle ground.

He concludes -

Preserving and strengthening the political will of our societies, the will to continue this struggle without giving in to an horrific adversary, but also without surrounding our civil liberties or betraying our ethics, is not an adjunct to the strategy, it is the strategy. (p339)  

Pretty sobering reading, especially the reference to "an era of persistent conflict".

It takes me back to 2003, when, as Australian troops were being committed to the invasion of Iraq, I publicly refused to accept my National Service Medal from old mate Ian Macfarlane. This was my small protest against two things.

The first was being used as an ex-servicemen to justify a poor strategic decision. The second was the nature of the decision itself - a decision that emanated from Washington, not Canberra.

As Kilcullen has written - that decision was "the mother of all errors".


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