May 2, 2009


Local Wars: a review of THE ACCIDENTAL GUERRILLA: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One by David Kilcullen (JANINE di GIOVANNI, NY Review of Books)

The French writer on military affairs David Galula, who was known for his theories on counterinsurgency, particularly during France’s Algerian war, must have influenced Kilcullen while he was doing his Ph.D. in political anthropology. Galula’s thesis is that one aim of war is to support the local population rather than control the territory. Part of Kilcullen’s academic research involved living and working alongside villagers in West Java, trying to absorb the culture of Dar’ul Islam, a guerrilla movement hatched in the late 1940s (and later identified by some as an Indonesian clone and ally of Al Qaeda).

What Kilcullen wanted to do was to observe the movement the way the locals did — not from the “official version I could find in books.” So he lived in vil­lages and conversed with his curious neighbors about blue jeans and the Internet, until they trusted him enough to share ­information.

“You should talk to old Mrs. N, her husband was an imam who worked with the movement,” was the kind of lead Kilcullen would get after a time. And with patience and cunning, he built up the knowledge he needed. Later, Kilcullen went on to advise Condoleezza Rice and helped Gen. David Petraeus implement the 2007 surge — which, up to a point, he believes has been successful, largely because of his friend Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

His work in Iraq and Afghanistan involved much on-the-ground fact-­gathering — meeting with the people rather than locking himself in the Green Zone. His ideas were linked to the research he did 10 years earlier in the Javanese jungle: the theory that the war on terror has essentially two contrasting aspects.

One is the larger international movement: the Long War, as the Pentagon calls it, against Al Qaeda. The other, though largely ignored, is equally crucial: the uprisings of local networks and fighters. These are small insurgencies seeking autonomy that align themselves intentionally (or sometimes not) with the larger movement.

...when this rather routine theory was called "hearts and minds"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 2, 2009 10:37 AM
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