David John Kilcullen FRGS (born 1967) is an Australian author,
strategist and counterinsurgency expert and is currently the
non-executive Chairman of Caerus Associates, a strategy and design
consulting firm that he founded.
From 2005 to 2006, he was Chief Strategist in the Office of the
Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department.
Kilcullen was a senior counter-insurgency advisor to General David
Petraeus in 2007 and 2008, where he helped design and monitor the Iraq
War troop surge. He was then a special advisor for
Secretary of State
Kilcullen has been a Senior Fellow of the Center for a New American
Security and an Adjunct Professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of
Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Highly
critical of the decision to invade Iraq, he is on record as saying
"There undeniably would be no ISIS if we had not invaded Iraq."
Kilcullen has written four books: The Accidental Guerrilla,
Counterinsurgency, Out of the Mountains and Blood Year.
2 Australian military career
3 Career in the United States
4 Contributions to counter-insurgency
4.1 Complex Warfighting
4.2 "Countering Global Insurgency"
4.4 "Twenty-Eight Articles"
4.5 Conflict ethnography
5 Positions on American policy
5.2 Criticizing American policy
5.3 Drone use
6 Publications and testimony
7 See also
9 External links
Kilcullen graduated from
St Pius X College
St Pius X College in 1984. He then attended
Australian Defence Force Academy
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
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 the Australian Defence Force
Academy at the
University of New South Wales
University of New South Wales in 2000. His thesis,
entitled "The Political Consequences of Military Operations in
Indonesia 1945-99: A Fieldwork Analysis of the Political
Diffusion Effects of Guerrilla Conflict," focused on the effects
of guerrilla warfare on non-state political systems in traditional
societies. He drew on ethnographic methods to research traditional
systems of governance in
East Timor and West Papua.
His research centered on investigating power diffusion in Indonesia
during the Darul
Islam Era of 1948 to 1962 and the Indonesian
East Timor of 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
Australian military career
Kilcullen was commissioned as a lieutenant in the
Australian Army and
served in a number of operational, strategic, command, and staff
positions in the
Royal Australian Infantry Corps
Royal Australian Infantry Corps and Australian
Defence Force. He served in several counter-insurgency and
peacekeeping operations in East Timor, Bougainville, and the Middle
Kilcullen attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Australian
Army and served as a staff officer in the Australian Defence Force
Headquarters. In 2004, he became a senior analyst in the Australian
Office of National Assessments, 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.
Career in the United States
Kilcullen was seconded to the
United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense in
2004, where he wrote the counter-terrorism strategy for the
Quadrennial Defense Review that appeared in 2006. After going to
reserve status in the Australian Army, Kilcullen worked for the United
States Department of State in 2005 and 2006, serving as the Chief
Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism.
He worked in the field in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of
Africa and Southeast Asia. He helped design and implement the Regional
Kilcullen helped write the United States Army's Field Manual 3-24,
Counterinsurgency, published in December 2006. He also wrote
an appendix, entitled "A Guide to Action."
In early 2007, Kilcullen became a member of a small group of civilian
and military experts, including Colonel H. R. McMaster, who worked on
the personal staff of General David Petraeus, the Commander of the
Multi-National Force – Iraq. There, Kilcullen served as the
Counterinsurgency Advisor until 2008 and was responsible for
planning and executing counterinsurgency strategy and operations. He
was a principal architect of the Joint Campaign Plan which guided the
Iraq War 2007 Troop Surge.
He has also served as the
Special Advisor for
Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice in 2007 and 2008.
Kilcullen was a member of the
White House 2008 Review of Afghanistan
Pakistan Strategy. From 2009 to 2010, he was the counterinsurgency
NATO and the
International Security Assistance Force
International Security Assistance Force in
Afghanistan. Kilcullen has also been an adviser to the British
Government, the Australian Government, and to several private sector
institutions and companies.
He was a senior fellow and a member of the advisory board of the
Center for a New American Security. He was a partner at the
Crumpton Group, but left due to moral and principled differences.
He has also been an Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at the Johns
Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Kilcullen founded Caerus Associates, LLC in 2010. Caerus is a
Washington, D.C.-based strategic and design consultancy firm that
specializes in working in complex and frontier environments.
Contributions to counter-insurgency
In 2004, Kilcullen wrote Complex Warfighting, which became the basis
of the Australian Army's Future Land Operating Concept, approved the
next year. It identifies an operating environment heavily
influenced by globalization and the United States' conventional
military dominance. The concept claims that future conflicts will
feature asymmetric threats requiring land forces to be flexible, able
to deploy quickly and operate in urban terrain. The paper calls for
"modular, highly educated and skilled forces with a capacity for
network-enabled operations, optimised for close combat in combined
arms teams. These teams will be small, semi-autonomous and highly
networked, incorporating traditional elements of the combined arms
team as well as non-traditional elements such as civil affairs,
intelligence and psychological warfare capabilities. They will have a
capacity for protracted independent operations within a joint
interagency framework." While not strictly limited to
counter-insurgency, it stated that counter-insurgency and other
non-traditional actions were going to compose a greater part of
warfare in the 21st Century.
"Countering Global Insurgency"
"Countering Global Insurgency" proposed a new strategic approach to
the War on Terrorism. It was first published in
Small Wars Journal in
2004 and then a shorter version appeared in the Journal of
Strategic Studies in 2005. The paper argues that al-Qaeda is best
understood as a "global Islamic insurgency" that seeks to promote its
takfiri version of
Islam and increase its role in the world order.
Thus, counter-insurgency strategies and tactics need updating to deal
with a globalized movement like al-Qaeda, especially increasing
participation and cooperation of many states' intelligence and police
Kilcullen's 2006 paper "
Counterinsurgency Redux" questions the
relevance of classical counterinsurgency theory to modern conflict. It
argues from field evidence gathered in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa that:
[T]oday's insurgencies differ significantly from those of the 1960s.
Insurgents may not be seeking to overthrow the state, may have no
coherent strategy or may pursue a faith-based approach difficult to
counter with traditional methods. There may be numerous competing
insurgencies in one theater, meaning that the counterinsurgent must
control the overall environment rather than defeat a specific enemy.
The actions of individuals and the propaganda effect of a subjective
"single narrative" may far outweigh practical progress, rendering
counter-insurgency even more non-linear and unpredictable than before.
The counterinsurgent, not the insurgent, may initiate the conflict and
represent the forces of revolutionary change. The economic
relationship between insurgent and population may be diametrically
opposed to classical theory. And insurgent tactics, based on
exploiting the propaganda effects of urban bombing, may invalidate
some classical tactics and render others, like patrolling,
counterproductive under some circumstances. Thus, field evidence
suggests, classical theory is necessary but not sufficient for success
against contemporary insurgencies
Kilcullen's paper "Twenty-Eight Articles" is a practical guide for
junior officers and non-commissioned officers engaged in
counter-insurgency operations in
Afghanistan and Iraq. The paper's
publication history is an illustration of new methods of knowledge
propagation in the military-professional community. It first appeared
as an e-mail that was widely circulated informally among U.S. Army and
Marine officers in April 2006, and was subsequently published in
Military Review in May 2006. Later versions of it were published in
IoSphere and the Marine Corps Gazette, and it has been translated into
Arabic, Russian, Pashtu and Spanish. It was later formalized as
Appendix A to FM 3-24, the US military's counterinsurgency doctrine,
and is in use by the US, Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Iraqi
and Afghan armies as a training document.
Kilcullen has argued in most of his works for a deeper cultural
understanding of the conflict environment, an approach he has called
conflict ethnography: "a deep, situation-specific understanding of the
human, social and cultural dimensions of a conflict, understood not by
analogy with some other conflict, but in its own terms." In the
same essay, "Religion and Insurgency", published in May 2007 on the
Small Wars Journal, he expanded this view:
The bottom line is that no handbook relieves a professional
counterinsurgent from the personal obligation to study, internalize
and interpret the physical, human, informational and ideological
setting in which the conflict takes place. Conflict ethnography is
key; to borrow a literary term, there is no substitute for a "close
reading" of the environment. But it is a reading that resides in no
book, but around you; in the terrain, the people, their social and
cultural institutions, the way they act and think. You have to be a
participant observer. And the key is to see beyond the surface
differences between our societies and these environments (of which
religious orientation is one key element) to the deeper social and
cultural drivers of conflict, drivers that locals would understand on
their own terms.
In 2010, Kilcullen brought together his writings in his book
Counterinsurgency and developed his understanding of counterinsurgency
to address the globalized threat of radical Islam. He argues that
successful counterinsurgency is about out-governing the enemy and
winning the adaptation battle to provide integrated measures to defeat
insurgent tactics through political, administrative, military,
economic, psychological and informational means.
Positions on American policy
In an interview with
Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent in
2008, Kilcullen called the decision to invade
Iraq "fucking stupid"
and suggested that if policy-makers apply his manual's lessons,
similar wars can be avoided in the future. "The biggest stupid idea,"
Kilcullen said, "was to invade
Iraq in the first place." Kilcullen
didn't deny saying it, but rather that "I can categorically state that
the word ‘fucking’ was said off the record". Kilcullen
explained his comment the next day:
[I]n my view, the decision to invade
Iraq in 2003 was an extremely
serious strategic error. But the task of the moment is not to cry over
spilt milk, rather to help clean it up: a task in which the surge, the
comprehensive counterinsurgency approach, and our troops on the ground
are admirably succeeding.
... The question of whether we were right to invade
Iraq is a
fascinating debate for historians and politicians, and a valid issue
for the American people to consider in an election year. As it
happens, I think it was a mistake. But that is not my key concern. The
issue for practitioners in the field is not to second-guess a decision
from six years ago, but to get on with the job at hand which, I
believe, is what both Americans and Iraqis expect of us. In that
respect, the new strategy and tactics implemented in 2007, and which
relied for their effectiveness on the extra troop numbers of the
Surge, ARE succeeding and need to be supported.
In his book Blood Year, published in 2016, Kilcullen makes very clear
his view that "there undeniably would be no Isis if we had not invaded
Iraq." In a March 2016 interview on the UK's Channel 4 News, he went
on to say:
We now face not one but two global terrorist organisations in an
environment that’s much less stable and much more fragmented than it
was in 2001.
Criticizing American policy
On 6 March 2009, Kilcullen published a piece on Small Wars Journal
titled "Accidental Guerrilla: Read Before Burning." The piece
responded to Andrew Bacevich's review of Kilcullen's book, The
Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One,
and also addressed his criticisms of American administrations.
[M]y views have been on the public record for years, since well before
I came to work for the government and since before I served in the
field in Iraq,
Afghanistan and Pakistan. They hired me anyway. And
secondly, surprising as it may be, the last administration – just
like the present administration – was big enough, open enough and
intellectually honest enough to tolerate and, indeed, welcome
constructive criticism and genuine attempts to fix policy problems. I
never found that it needed much moral courage to be honest about my
opinions – non-partisan honesty was exactly what Secretary Rice
wanted from me, and she told me that more than once. The ability to
tolerate and integrate different opinions, and thus to self-correct,
is one of the foremost strengths of our form of government, and I
suspect this is true of all administrations, though perhaps it is true
of some more than others.
Kilcullen argues that targeted killings with drone strikes in
Pakistan is a mistake. in 2009 he said: "These strikes
are totally counter-productive. It is a strategic error to personalize
the conflict in this way, it’ll strengthen the enemy and weaken our
friends. How can one expect the civilian population to support us if
we kill their families and destroy their homes."
Publications and testimony
The political consequences of military operations in Indonesia
1945-99. Australian Defence Forces Academy. 2000.
"Rethinking the Basis of Infantry Close Combat" (PDF). Australian Army
Journal. I (1): 29–40. June 2003.
"Complex Warfighting" (PDF).
Australian Army Future Land Operational
Concept (FLOC). 7 April 2004.
"Countering global insurgency" (PDF). Small Wars Journal. 30 November
2004. Longer draft version of journal article.
"Countering global insurgency". Journal of Strategic Studies. 28 (4):
597–617. 2005. doi:10.1080/01402390500300956.
"Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level
Counterinsurgency" (PDF). Military Review. 83 (3): 103–108.
May–June 2006. Different version
Counterinsurgency Redux" (PDF). Survival. International Institute of
Strategic Studies. 48 (4): 111–130. Winter 2006–2007.
"New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict". Countering the Terrorist
Mentality. U.S. Department of State. May 2007.
Counterinsurgency and Irregular Warfare: Issues and Lessons Learned"
(PDF). Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee
of the Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives. 7 May
"Balanced Response: A National Security Strategy for the Protracted
Struggle Against Extremism". Beyond Bullets: Strategies for Countering
Violent Extremism (PDF). Center for a New American Security. 8 June
2009. pp. 39–59.
"Testimony Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings on
Afghanistan" (PDF). U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 27 July
"Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee" (PDF).
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 11 May 2011. Video
Williams, Kenneth, ed. (2011). "State Versus Non-State Interventions
in Fragile States". Rethinking: A
Middle East in Transition. Middle
East Institute. pp. 65–69.
"Selected Publications by Dr. David Kilcullen". Center for a New
"Dave Kilcullen author index page". Small Wars Journal.
"Blood Year: Terror and the Islamic State". Quarterly Essay. 2015.
The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big
One. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.
Counterinsurgency. New York: Oxford University Press. 2010.
Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla. New York:
Oxford University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-0-19-973750-5.
Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism. New York:
Oxford University Press. 2016. ISBN 978-0-19-0600549.
Human Terrain System
Iraq War troop surge of 2007
^ a b c d e "David Kilcullen". EastWest Institute. Retrieved 11 March
^ "caerusassociates.com - About - History". Caerus Associates website.
Retrieved 9 Sep 2014.
^ a b c Sengupta, Kim (9 July 2009). "David Kilcullen: The Australian
helping to shape a new
Afghanistan strategy". The Independent.
Retrieved 18 January 2013.
^ a b c d e Mark, Craig (September 2010). "Kilcullen and the Efficacy
of Contemporary Counterinsurgency" (PDF). Australian Political Science
Association Conference 2010.
^ a b c d Williams, Kenneth, ed. (2011). "State Versus Non-State
Interventions in Fragile States". Rethinking: A
Middle East in
Middle East Institute. p. 195.
David Kilcullen Joins CNAS as a Senior Fellow". Center for a New
American Security. 19 November 2008. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
^ a b "Counterinsurgency". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 16
^ a b c "Former US military adviser
David Kilcullen says there would
be no Isis without
Iraq invasion". The Independent. 4 March 2016.
Retrieved 8 March 2016.
^ "Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen". Kirkus Reviews. 3
David Kilcullen - Sunday Profile". Australian Broadcasting
Corporation. 4 December 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2013.
^ Kilcullen, David J. (2000). "The political consequences of military
operations in Indonesia 1945-99". Australian Defence Force
^ "Transcript: Charlie Rose interview with David Kilcullen". New York
Times. 5 October 2007. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
^ Weisser, Rebecca (18 August 2007). "Strategist behind war gains".
Australian. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
^ Packer, George (18 December 2006). "Knowing the Enemy". The New
Yorker. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
^ Gawenda, Michael (6 February 2007). "US drafts Australian to advise
Iraq push". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
^ Kilcullen, David (2009). The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small
Wars in the Midst of a Big One. New York: Oxford University Press.
p. 130. ISBN 978-0-19-536834-5.
^ "Beyond Bullets: Strategies for Encountering Violent Extremism"
(PDF). Center for a New American Security. 8 June 2009. p. 4.
Retrieved 27 June 2013.
^ Rogin, Josh (17 February 2010). "Why did
David Kilcullen leave the
Crumpton Group?". foreignpolicy.com. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
^ "Strategic Studies-Faculty". Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced
International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Archived from the
original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
^ "Dr. David Kilcullen". Caerus Associates. Archived from the original
on 23 June 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
^ Ferguson, Gregor (10 January 2008). "Headline tests complex
warfighting plans". Australian Defence Magazine.
^ "Countering global insurgency" (PDF). Small Wars Journal. 30
^ "Countering global insurgency". Journal of Strategic Studies. 28
(4): 597–617. 2005. doi:10.1080/01402390500300956.
^ Kilcullen, David (2006). "Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of
Company-level Counterinsurgency" (PDF). Military Review. 83 (3):
103–108. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
^ "Selected Publications by Dr. David Kilcullen". Center for a New
American Security. Retrieved 18 January 2013.
^ "FM 3-24: Counterinsurgency" (PDF). 15 December 2006. Retrieved 28
^ a b Kilcullen, David (12 May 2007). "Religion and Insurgency". Small
Wars Journal. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
^ Ackerman, Spencer (27 July 2008). "A
Counterinsurgency Guide for
Politicos". Washington Independent. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
^ Ackerman, Spencer (29 July 2008). "Sources Holler Back: Kilcullen
Edition". Washington Independent. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
^ Kilcullen, Dave (29 July 2008). "My Views on Iraq". Small Wars
Journal. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
^ Bacevich, Andrew (2 March 2009) [March–April 2009]. "Raising
Jihad". National Interest. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
^ Kilcullen, David (6 March 2009). "Accidental Guerrilla: Read Before
Burning". Small Wars Journal. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
Appearances on C-SPAN
East Timor border contact at Motaain 10/10/1999".
Packer, George (18 December 2006). "Knowing the Enemy". New Yorker.
Retrieved 22 January 2013.
Marczuk, Karina (2007). "A Visionary and a Practitioner: the Bernard
Kouchner vs. David Kilcullen". Defence and Strategy (2):
González, Roberto (June 2007). "Towards mercenary anthropology? The
new US Army counterinsurgency manual FM 3-24 and the
military-anthropology complex" (PDF). Anthropology Today. 23 (3):
14–19. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8322.2007.00511.x. Citation
Kilcullen, David (June 2007). "Ethics, politics and non-state warfare:
A response to González". Anthropology Today. 23 (3): 20.
Gusterson, Hugh (2007). "Anthropologists and war: A Response to David
Kilcullen" (PDF). Anthropology Today. 23 (4): 23.
Weisser, Rebecca (18 August 2007). "Strategist behind war gains".
Australian. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
Hayden, Tom (6 September 2007). "The New Countersinsurgency". The
Nation. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
"Transcript: Charlie Rose interview with David Kilcullen". New York
Times. 5 October 2007. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
Packer, George (14 November 2008). "Kilcullen on Afghanistan: "It's
Still Winnable, But Only Just."". New Yorker. Retrieved 28 June
Scheuer, Michael (15 April 2009). "The Accidental Guerrilla and the
Deliberate Interventionist". Antiwar.com. Retrieved 28 June
David Kilcullen (6 May 2009). Authors@Google: David Kilcullen. Talks
at Google. Retrieved 18 August 2014.
David Kilcullen on The Accidental Guerrilla". Pritzker Military
Museum & Library. 16 June 2009.
David Kilcullen and Julian Burnside on Tactics in the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 26 August 2009.
Hayden, Tom (14 October 2009). "Kilcullen's Long War". Nation.
Retrieved 22 January 2013.
MacAskill, Ewen (12 November 2009). "Barack Obama 'risks Suez-like
disaster' in Afghanistan, says key adviser". The Guardian. Retrieved
27 June 2013.
Mark, Craig (September 2010). "Kilcullen and the Efficacy of
Contemporary Counterinsurgency" (PDF). Australian Political Science
Association Conference 2010.
David Kilcullen (2014). David Kilcullen: "Out of the Mountains: The
Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla". Talks at Google. Retrieved 18
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