David Kilcullen

David Kilcullen
Lt. Col. (res.)
David John Kilcullen
Ph.D., F.R.G.S
Born 1967 (age 43–44)
Citizenship  Australia
Education Ph.D. in Political Science
Alma mater University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy
Australian Defence College
Royal Military College, Duntroon
Years active ?-1996 Australian Army Royal Australian Infantry Corps
1996-1997 British Army School of Infantry
1998-2004 Australian Defence Force
2004 Australian Office of National Assessments
2004-2005 United States Department of Defence
2005-2006 United States Department of State
2007-2008 Multi-National Force - Iraq
2009-2010 International Security Assistance Force
2010-present Caerus Associates consultancy
Known for Theories on Counterinsurgency, Counterterrorism and Conflict ethnography
Awards United States Army Superior Civilian Service Medal[1]

David John Kilcullen F.R.G.S is an Australian author and consultant who is a leading theorist on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. In 2007 he served as the Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser to the Commander of the Multi-National Force - Iraq responsible for planning and executing the Joint Campaign Plan which drove the Iraq War troop surge of 2007.



Kilcullen is the founder and CEO of Caerus Associates,[2] a Washington D.C. based consultancy firm. He is a former Royal Australian Infantry Corps Lieutenant Colonel currently commissioned in the Australian Army Reserve and is formerly a Senior Analyst with the Australian Office of National Assessments. Kilcullen was seconded to the United States Department of State Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism as Chief Counterterrorism Strategist and then was the Special Advisor for Counterinsurgency to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In 2007 he served as the Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser to the Commander of the Multi-National Force - Iraq General David Petraeus as a civilian position on his personal staff responsible for planning and executing the Joint Campaign Plan which drove the Iraq War troop surge of 2007. Kilcullen has also been an advisor to the British government, the Australian government, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the International Security Assistance Force and to several private sector institutions. He is also a former Senior Fellow of the Center for a New American Security and now a Member of the Center for a New American Security Advisory Board.[3] He is a member of the Mission Essential Personnel Board of Advisors.[4] Kilcullen is also an Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.[5]


Kilcullen has a Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, focusing on the effects of guerrilla warfare on non-state political systems in traditional societies. His thesis was titled The political consequences of military operations in Indonesia 1945-99: a fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict. In it he argues that counter-insurgency operations, whether successful or not, cause the diffusion of political power from central to local leaders. He employed a range of social research methods, including fieldwork, to investigate power diffusion in Indonesia and East Timor during the Darul Islam era of 1948-62 and Indonesian occupation of East Timor of 1974-99.[6] Kilcullen also graduated from the Australian Defence Force School of Languages in 1993 with an Advanced Diploma in Applied Linguistics in Indonesian and is a qualified Translator and Interpreter in Indonesian, Malay, French and general modern Arabic.[citation needed]

Military career

Kilcullen has served in several counter-insurgency guerrilla warfare, peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations and campaigns in Southeast Asia]the Pacific Islands and the Middle East, including tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. From 1995 to 1997, he was an exchange tactics instructor for platoon commanders at the British Army School of Infantry.[7] He served in East Timor in 1999 as the Officer Commanding of the Support Company of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment as part of the United Nations International Force for East Timor. Kilcullen has also served with the Australian Defence Force in Bougainville with Papua New Guinea peacekeeping operations. Before he was seconded to the United States Department of State, Kilcullen was Lieutenant Colonel Staff Officer and Analyst with the Australian Office of National Assessments and the Australian Defence Force Headquarters.

Consultancy career

While at the Department of State in 2005-2006 he served as Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, and has worked in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia. He has also written several papers on the Iraqi insurgency after the fall of Saddam Hussein.[citation needed] He also helped design and implement the Regional Strategic Initiative,[8] the principal doctrine for United States Foreign Policy countertorrism strategy.[9]

He is one of a group of civilian specialists and military officers, including Colonel H. R. McMaster and others, who were seconded in late 2006 to the personal staff of General Petraeus to oversee the specialized counterinsurgency aspects of the Iraq campaign in 2007.[10] He previously contributed to the new United States Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24, published in December 2006, of which he authored a chapter entitled "A Guide to Action". His book The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One was published in early 2009.

After leaving the Department of State, Kilcullen founded and currently runs Caerus Associates, a Washington, DC based consultancy firm. According to its website, Caerus aims to pioneer "new ways of understanding and engaging in complex environments." It focuses specifically on community driven development, organizational and community resilience, and field based research to understand and address violent conflict. [11]

Contributions to counterinsurgency

Complex warfighting

Kilcullen's 2003 paper "Complex Warfighting" formed the basis for the Australian Army's future land operational concept, officially approved in 2005.[citation needed] It identifies the key drivers of modern conflict as globalization and anti-globalisation, and US conventional military dominance (which forces all potential opponents to adopt unconventional approaches). The paper describes the land conflict environment as being driven by four key factors: complexity, diversity, diffusion and lethality. The paper analyses the environment of contemporary conflict, in order to determine how land forces (the army and those elements of the navy and air force that support land operations) must operate in order to succeed in this environment. As mentioned above, the paper identifies the contemporary conflict environment as complex, diverse, diffuse and highly lethal.

Countering "global insurgency"

His 2004 paper "Countering Global Insurgency" proposed a new strategic approach to the global War on Terrorism. The paper argues that the strategy is best understood as a "global Islamic insurgency" initiated by a diffuse grouping of Islamist movements that seek to re-make Islam's role in the world order.[citation needed]

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, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa that:[citation needed]

...today'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 theatre, meaning that the counter-insurgent 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.

Conflict ethnography

Kilcullen has argued in most of his works for a deeper cultural and linguistic 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 May 2007 on the Small Wars Journal website he argued:

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.[12]

"Twenty-Eight Articles"

Kilcullen's paper "Twenty-Eight Articles"[13] is a practical guide for junior officers and non-commissioned officers engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, responding to T.E. Lawrence's "Twenty-Seven Articles" of how to begin and sustain an insurgency.[14][15] 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,[16] 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 was translated into Arabic and Spanish by the editors of Military Review. It was later formalized as Annex 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.[17]


In 2010 he brought together salient writings in Counterinsurgency[18] and developed his understanding of the counterinsurgency to address what he calls the globalised 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. He sees the need for local people to act as the agents for post-conflict futures.


According to Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent, Kilcullen called the decision to invade Iraq "stupid" and suggested that if policy-makers apply the 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." However, Kilcullen explained his comment the next day this way:

On Small Wars Journal, Dave writes a clarification of his views on the war that I’d like to quote...:
... in 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. ... Anyone who knows me has been well aware of my position on Iraq for years. When I went to Iraq in 2007 (and on both previous occasions) it was to end the war, by suppressing the violence and defeating the insurgency. (Note: I said END the war, not abandon it half-way through, leaving the Iraqis to be slaughtered. When we invaded Iraq, we took on a moral and legal responsibility for its people's wellbeing. Regardless of anyone's position on the decision to invade, those obligations still stand and cannot be wished away merely because they have proven inconvenient). ... 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.[19]

In November 2009, Kilcullen told The Guardian that President Obama "risks a Suez-style debacle in Afghanistan if he fails to deploy enough extra troops and opts instead for a messy compromise."[20] In the same interview, Kilcullen criticized Obama for taking so long to make a decision: "I do think, though, the policy process of this administration this year has been, shall we say, messy and this, the latest incident [leaked cables from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry to President Obama], underlines how messy it has been, and I think that is problematic. It sends a message of indecision and uncertainty which has an effect on allies, and has a huge effect on the British political debate and has huge impact on the Afghans."

On 6 March 2009, Kilcullen published a piece on smallwarsjournal.com 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. Kilcullen wrote:

... my 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.[21]


  • The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One New York: Oxford University Press, March 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-536834-5
  • Counter Insurgency. Melbourne: Scribe, 2010. ISBN 978-1-921640-34-6
  • Out of the Mountains. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011 (forthcoming)

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Caerus Associates
  3. ^ "Dr. David Kilcullen". Non-Resident Senior Fellow. Center for a New American Security. http://www.cnas.org/kilcullen. 
  4. ^ "MEP Board of Advisors". Missionep.com. 30 November 2010. http://missionep.com/company/boa. Retrieved 2011-03-21. 
  5. ^ http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Politics/?view=usa&ci=9780199737499
  6. ^ The political consequences of military operations in Indonesia 1945-99 David Kilcullen, 2000. PhD thesis, The University of New South Wales
  7. ^ [2][dead link]
  8. ^ US State Department, The Terrorist Enemy: Regional Strategic Initiative
  9. ^ East West Institute profile
  10. ^ D. Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla, p. 130.
  11. ^ Caerus: about
  12. ^ Kilcullen, David (12 May), Religion and Insurgency, Small Wars Journal, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/religion-and-insurgency, retrieved 16 October 2011 
  13. ^ Kilcullen, David (March), Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency, http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/coin/repository/28_Articles_of_COIN-Kilcullen%28Mar06%29.pdf, retrieved 16 October 2011 
  14. ^ T. E., Lawrence (20 August), The 27 Articles of T.E. Lawrence, http://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/The_27_Articles_of_T.E._Lawrence, retrieved 16 October 2011 
  15. ^ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1496223.ece Retrieved 04SEP2011.
  16. ^ http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article1496223.ece "As Nato’s biggest offensive against the Taliban gets under way in Helmand, many of the 4,500 soldiers involved will be recalling the words of an 11-page e-mail that has circulated like wildfire among those fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq." Retrieved 04SEP2011
  17. ^ FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency "Annex A" Retrieved 04SEP2011.
  18. ^ Kilcullen, David (July 2010). Counterinsurgency. Scribe Publications. pp. 264. ISBN 9781921640346. http://www.scribepublications.com.au/book/counterinsurgency. 
  19. ^ Ackerman, Spencer (29 July), "Sources Holler Back: Kilcullen Edition", The Washington Independent, http://washingtonindependent.com/403/sources-holler-back-kilcullen-edition, retrieved 16 October 2011 
  20. ^ MacAskill, Ewen (12 November 2009). "Barack Obama 'risks Suez-like disaster' in Afghanistan, says key adviser". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/12/obama-us-troops-afghanistan-kilcullen. 
  21. ^ Kilcullen, David (6 March 2009). "Accidental Guerrilla: Read Before Burning". Small Wars Journal. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2009/03/accidental-guerrilla-read-befo/. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 

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