The Accidental Guerrilla

I had seen some pretty high-power reviews of David Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One start popping up, then a co-worker who’s acknowledged in the book’s Acknowledgements lent me her copy. Very, very interesting.  For starters, this is a good description of the difference between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  Kilcullen takes great pains throughout the book to make sure the reader understands and remembers why these two types of activities are different and how both their successful tactics and strategies differ from one another.

Kilcullen begins the book with a very thorough description of the accidental guerrilla.  In a nutshell, an accidental guerrilla is someone who falls into violent terrorist or insurgent ways due mainly to his economic, sociological, political and religious environments.  I think one of Kilcullen’s main points is that proper counterinsurgency actions both reduce the number of existing accidental guerrillas and reduce the likelihood of the creation of future accidental guerrillas,  hus increasing security.

Chapter Two covers the author’s experiences with counterinsurgency actions in Afghanistan from 2006-2008.  He contrasts them with the at-times inappropriate and insurgency-causing counterterrorism actions taken by the West (or at least, the part of the West fighting in Afghanistan).  Chapter Three covers part of the Surge in Iraq in 2007; again describing the effectiveness of counterinsurgency actions.  Both of these chapters are very detailed and include very thorough references.  Kilcullen was operating at a level in both countries which allowed him an effective balance between on the ground experience and access to high-level military and diplomatic leaders.  Because of this, his observations, analyses, criticisms and prognostications may be more likely to be accurate.  Chapter Four surveys insurgencies and counterinsurgency actions in smaller regions from Europe to Indonesia.  Both Chapter Five and the Conclusion discuss, again in great and interesting detail, how to move from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency actions, when and where needed.

The depth of The Accidental Guerrilla is in no way represented by this brief review.  The analysis work that Kilcullen has done on the causes of insurgency, the differences between insurgent and terrorist actions, the potential and real undesirable effects of counterterrorism actions against insurgents, and the way to move military, political and diplomatic actions towards counterinsurgency when needed is very detailed, documented well in the text and presented well to the reader. Reading this book and thinking about its implications both in the areas Kilcullen described and here in Mexico was like taking a very intense university course, in that the material was thorough, well-prepared and well-presented.

For indepth reviews, see  The NY Times, thearmchairgeneral.com, The Economist (below a review of Ricks’ The Gamble), Bacevich’s criticism and Kilcullen’s response.

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