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“Twenty-Eight Articles”: Fundamentals of Company-level
Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen
Ph.D., Australian Army
“28 Articles” originally came to Military Review as a submission for the Combined Arms Center Commanding General’s Special Topics Writing
Competition (“Countering Insurgency”). Pressed to publish the piece immediately because it could help Soldiers in the field, LTC Kilcullen graciously
agreed and pulled his essay from the writing contest. It would certainly have been a strong contender for a prize.

Your company has just been in most situations. Injudicious use you acquire. Study handover notes
warned about possible deployment of firepower creates blood feuds, from predecessors; better still, get
for counterinsurgency operations in homeless people, and societal dis- in touch with the unit in theater
Iraq or Afghanistan. You have read ruption that fuel and perpetuate the and pick their leaders’ brains. In an
David Galula, T.E. Lawrence, and insurgency. The most beneficial ideal world, intelligence officers
Robert Thompson. You have stud- actions are often local politics, civic and area experts would brief you;
ied FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency action, and beat-cop behaviors. For however, this rarely happens, and
Operations, and now understand your side to win, the people don’t even if it does, there is no substitute
the history, philosophy, and theory have to like you but they must for personal mastery. Understand
of counterinsurgency.1 You have respect you, accept that your actions the broader area of influence, which
watched Black Hawk Down and The benefit them, and trust your integrity can be a wide area, particularly
Battle of Algiers, and you know this and ability to deliver on promises, when insurgents draw on global
will be the most difficult challenge particularly regarding their security. grievances. Share out aspects of
of your life.2 In this battlefield, popular percep- the operational area among platoon
But what does all that theory tions and rumor are more influential leaders and noncommissioned offi-
mean, at the company level? How do than the facts and more powerful cers; have each individual develop a
the principles translate into action at than a hundred tanks. personal specialization and brief the
night, with the GPS (global position- Within this context, what follows others. Neglect this knowledge, and
ing system) down, the media criticiz- are observations from collective it will kill you.
ing you, the locals complaining in a experience, the distilled essence of 2. Diagnose the problem. Once
language you don’t understand, and what those who went before you you know your area and its people,
an unseen enemy killing your people learned. They are expressed as com- you can begin to diagnose the prob-
by ones and twos? How does coun- mandments, for clarity, but are really lem. Who are the insurgents? What
terinsurgency actually happen? more like folklore. Apply them drives them? What makes local lead-
There are no universal answers, judiciously and skeptically. ers tick? Counterinsurgency is fun-
and insurgents are among the most damentally a competition between
adaptive opponents you will ever Preparation each side to mobilize the population
face. Countering them will demand Time is short during predeploy- in support of its agenda. So you
every ounce of your intellect. But ment, but you will never have more must understand what motivates the
be comforted: You are not the first time to think than you have now. people and how to mobilize them.
to feel this way. There are tactical Now is your chance to prepare your- You need to know why and how the
fundamentals you can apply to link self and your command. insurgents are getting followers.
the theory with the techniques and 1. Know your turf. Know the This means you need to know your
procedures you already know. people, the topography, economy, real enemy, not a cardboard cut-out.
history, religion, and culture. Know The enemy is adaptive, resource-
What is every village, road, field, population ful, and probably grew up in the
Counterinsurgency? group, tribal leader, and ancient region where you will be operating.
If you have not studied coun- grievance. Your task is to become The locals have known him since
terinsurgency theory, here it is in the world expert on your district. If he was a boy; how long have they
a nutshell: Counterinsurgency is a you don’t know precisely where you known you? Your worst opponent
competition with the insurgent for will be operating, study the general is not the psychopathic terrorist of
the right to win the hearts, minds, area. Read the map like a book: Hollywood; it is the charismatic
and acquiescence of the population. Study it every night before sleep and follow-me warrior who would make
You are being sent in because the redraw it from memory every morn- your best platoon leader. His follow-
insurgents, at their strongest, can ing until you understand its patterns ers are not misled or naïve; much of
defeat anything with less strength intuitively. Develop a mental model his success may be due to bad gov-
than you. But you have more combat of your area, a framework in which ernment policies or security forces
power than you can or should use to fit every new piece of knowledge that alienate the population. Work

Military Review  May-June 2006 103

this problem collectively with your intimidating. Learn how not to scare must be fully aware of the political
platoon and squad leaders. Discuss them. Ask others who come from and cultural dimension, but this is
ideas, explore the problem, under- that country or culture about your a different task. Also, don’t give
stand what you are facing, and seek a ideas. See it through the eyes of a one of your intelligence people this
consensus. If this sounds unmilitary, civilian who knows nothing about role. They can help, but their task is
get over it. Once you are in theater, the military. How would you react to understand the environment. The
situations will arise too quickly for if foreigners came to your neighbor- POLAD’s job is to help shape it.
orders or even commander’s intent. hood and conducted the operations 7. Train the squad leaders—
Corporals and privates will have to you planned? What if somebody then trust them. Counterinsurgency
make snap judgments with strategic came to your mother’s house and is a squad and platoon leader’s war,
impact. The only way to help them is did that? Most importantly, know and often a private soldier’s war.
to give them a shared understanding, that your operations will create a Battles are won or lost in moments:
then trust them to think for them- temporary breathing space, but long- Whoever can bring combat power to
selves on the day. term development and stabilization bear in seconds, on a street corner,
3. Organize for intelligence. by civilian agencies will ultimately will win. The commander on the
In counterinsurgency, killing the win the war. spot controls the fight. You must
enemy is easy. Finding him is often 5. Travel light and harden your train the squad leaders to act intel-
nearly impossible. Intelligence and combat service support (CSS). ligently and independently without
operations are complementary. Your You will be weighed down with orders. If your squad leaders are
operations will be intelligence- body armor, rations, extra ammuni- competent, you can get away with
driven, but intelligence will come tion, communications gear, and a average company or platoon staffs.
mostly from your own operations, thousand other things. The enemy The reverse is not the case. Training
not as a product prepared and served will carry a rifle or rocket-propelled should focus on basic skills: marks-
up by higher headquarters. So you grenade launcher, a shemagh (head manship, patrolling, security on the
must organize for intelligence. You scarf), and a water bottle if he is move and at the halt, and basic drills.
will need a company S2 and an intel- lucky. Unless you ruthlessly lighten When in doubt, spend less time on
ligence section (including analysts). your load and enforce a culture of company and platoon training, and
You might need platoon S2s and S3s, speed and mobility, the insurgents more time on squads. Ruthlessly
and you will need a reconnaissance will consistently out-run and out- replace leaders who do not make the
and surveillance (R&S) element. maneuver you. But in lightening grade. But once people are trained
You will not have enough lin- your load, make sure you can always and you have a shared operational
guists—you never do—but carefully reach back to call for firepower diagnosis, you must trust them. We
consider where best to use them. or heavy support if needed. Also, talk about this, but few company
Linguists are a battle-winning asset, remember to harden your CSS. The or platoon leaders really trust their
but like any other scarce resource, enemy will attack your weakest people. In counterinsurgency, you
you must have a prioritized “bump points. Most attacks on Coalition have no choice.
plan” in case you lose them. Often forces in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, 8. Rank is nothing; talent is
during predeployment the best use outside preplanned combat actions everything. Not everyone is good
of linguists is to train your command like the two battles of Falluja or at counterinsurgency. Many people
in basic language. You will probably Operation Iron Horse, were against don’t understand the concept, and
not get augmentation for all this, but CSS installations and convoys. You some can’t execute it. It is difficult,
you must still do it. Put the smartest do the math. Ensure your CSS assets and in a conventional force only a
soldiers in the S2 section and the are hardened, have communications, few people will master it. Anyone can
R&S squad. You will have one less and are trained in combat operations. learn the basics, but a few naturals do
rifle squad, but the intelligence sec- They may do more fighting than exist. Learn how to spot these people,
tion will pay for itself in lives and your rifle squads. and put them into positions where
effort saved. 6. Find a political/cultural they can make a difference. Rank
4. Organize for interagency ad­viser. In a force optimized for matters far less than talent—a few
operations. Almost everything in counterinsurgency, you might good men led by a smart junior non-
counterinsurgency is interagency. receive a political-cultural adviser commissioned officer can succeed in
And everything important, from at company level, a diplomat or counterinsurgency, where hundreds
policing to intelligence to civil-mili- military foreign area officer able of well-armed soldiers under a
tary operations to trash collection, to speak the language and navigate mediocre senior officer will fail.
will involve your company working the intricacies of local politics. Back 9. Have a game plan. The final
with civilian actors and local indig- on planet Earth, the corps and divi- preparation task is to develop a game
enous partners you cannot control, sion commander will get a political plan, a mental picture of how you
but whose success is essential for advisor; you will not, so you must see the operation developing. You
yours. Train the company in inter- improvise. Find a POLAD (politi- will be tempted to try and do this too
agency operations: Get a briefing cal-cultural adviser) from among early. But wait, as your knowledge
from the U.S. Department of State, your people—perhaps an officer, improves, you will get a better idea
aid agencies, and the local police or perhaps not (see article 8). Someone of what needs to be done and a fuller
fire brigade. Train point-men in each with people skills and a feel for the understanding of your own limita-
squad to deal with the interagency environment will do better than a tions. Like any plan, this plan will
people. Realize that civilians find political-science graduate. Don’t try change once you hit the ground, and
rifles, helmets, and body armor to be your own cultural adviser: You it may need to be scrapped if there is

104 May-June 2006  Military Review


a major shift in the environment. But strategy; it may be various interest networks, bringing him out into the
you still need a plan, and the process groups fighting it out with each other open to fight you, and letting you
of planning will give you a simple, or settling personal vendettas. Nor- seize the initiative. These networks
robust idea of what to achieve, mality in Kandahar is not the same include local allies, community
even if the methods change. This as in Seattle—you need time to learn leaders, local security forces, non-
is sometimes called “operational what normality looks like. The insur- governmental organizations (NGOs)
design.” One approach is to iden- gent commander wants to goad you and other friendly or neutral nonstate
tify basic stages in your operation, into lashing out at the population or actors in your area, and the media.
for example “establish dominance, making a mistake. Unless you happen Conduct village and neighborhood
build local networks, marginalize to be on the spot when an incident surveys to identify needs in the com-
the enemy.” Make sure you can occurs, you will have only second- munity, then follow through to meet
easily transition between phases, hand reports and may misunderstand them. Build common interests and
forward and backward, in case of the local context or interpretation. mobilize popular support. This is
setbacks. Just as the insurgent can This fragmentation and “disaggrega- your true main effort; everything else
adapt his activity to yours, so you tion” of the battlefield, particularly in is secondary. Actions that help build
must have a simple enough plan to urban areas, means that first impres- trusted networks serve your cause.
survive setbacks without collapsing. sions are often highly misleading. Actions—even killing high-profile
This plan is the solution that matches Of course, you can’t avoid making targets that undermine trust or disrupt
the shared diagnosis you developed judgments. But if possible, check your networks—help the enemy.
earlier. It must be simple, and known them with an older hand or a trusted 14. Start easy. If you were trained
to everyone. local. If you can, keep one or two in maneuver warfare you know
officers from your predecessor unit about surfaces and gaps. This applies
The Golden Hour for the first part of the tour. Try to to counterinsurgency as much as any
You have deployed, completed avoid a rush to judgment. other form of maneuver. Don’t try
reception and staging, and (if you 12. Prepare for handover from to crack the hardest nut first—don’t
are lucky) attended the in-country day one. Believe it or not, you will go straight for the main insurgent
counterinsurgency school. Now it not resolve the insurgency on your stronghold, try to provoke a deci-
is time to enter your sector and start watch. Your tour will end, and your sive showdown, or focus efforts on
your tour. This is the golden hour. successors will need your corporate villages that support the insurgents.
Mistakes made now will haunt you knowledge. Start handover fold- Instead, start from secure areas and
for the rest of your tour, while early ers, in every platoon and specialist work gradually outwards. Do this by
successes will set the tone for victory. squad, from day one. Ideally, you extending your influence through the
You will look back on your early would have inherited these from locals’ own networks. Go with, not
actions and cringe at your clumsi- your predecessors, but if not you against, the grain of local society.
ness. So be it. But you must act. must start them. The folders should First win the confidence of a few
10. Be there. The most fundamen- include lessons learned, details about villages and see who they trade,
tal rule of counterinsurgency is to be the population, village and patrol intermarry, or do business with. Now
there. You can almost never outrun reports, updated maps, and pho- win these people over. Soon enough
the enemy. If you are not present tographs—anything that will help the showdown with the insurgents
when an incident happens, there is newcomers master the environment. will come. But now you have local
usually little you can do about it. Computerized databases are fine, allies, a mobilized population, and
So your first order of business is to but keep good back-ups and ensure a trusted network at your back. Do
establish presence. If you can’t do you have hard copy of key artifacts it the other way around and no one
this throughout your sector, then do and documents. This is boring and will mourn your failure.
it wherever you can. This demands tedious, but essential. Over time, 15. Seek early victories. In this
a residential approach: living in you will create a corporate memory early phase, your aim is to stamp
your sector, in close proximity to the that keeps your people alive. your dominance in your sector. Do
population rather than raiding into 13. Build trusted networks. Once this by seeking an early victory.
the area from remote, secure bases. you have settled into your sector, This will probably not translate into
Movement on foot, sleeping in local your key task is to build trusted net- a combat victory over the enemy.
villages, night patrolling—all these works. This is the true meaning of Looking for such a victory can be
seem more dangerous than they are. the phrase hearts and minds, which overly aggressive and create collat-
They establish links with the locals, comprises two separate components. eral damage—especially since you
who see you as real people they can Hearts means persuading people really do not yet understand your
trust and do business with, not as their best interests are served by your sector. Also, such a combat victory
aliens who descend from an armored success; minds means convincing depends on the enemy being stupid
box. Driving around in an armored them that you can protect them, and enough to present you with a clear-
convoy, day-tripping like a tourist in that resisting you is pointless. Note cut target, which is a rare windfall
hell, degrades situational awareness, that neither concept has anything to in counterinsurgency. Instead, you
makes you a target, and is ultimately do with whether people like you. may achieve a victory by resolving
more dangerous. Calculated self-interest, not emotion, long-standing issues your predeces-
11. Avoid knee-jerk responses to is what counts. Over time, if you sors have failed to address, or by
first impressions. Don’t act rashly; successfully build networks of trust, co-opting a key local leader who
get the facts first. The violence you these will grow like roots into the has resisted cooperation with our
see may be part of the insurgent population, displacing the enemy’s forces. Like any other form of armed

Military Review  May-June 2006 105

propaganda, achieving even a small reporters; and others are monitor- insurgents there were to start with,
victory early in the tour sets the tone ing and reporting your every move. how many moved into the area, how
for what comes later and helps seize When the insurgents ambush your many transferred from supporter to
the initiative, which you have prob- patrols or set off a car bomb, they do combatant status, or how many new
ably lost due to the inevitable hiatus so not to destroy one more track, but fighters the conflict has created. But
entailed by the handover-takeover because they want graphic images of you still need to develop metrics
with your predecessor. a burning vehicle and dead bodies early in the tour and refine them
16. Practice deterrent patrol- for the evening news. Beware of the as the operation progresses. They
ling. Establish patrolling methods scripted enemy who plays to a global should cover a range of social, infor-
that deter the enemy from attacking audience and seeks to defeat you in mational, military, and economic
you. Often our patrolling approach the court of global public opinion. issues. Use metrics intelligently
seems designed to provoke, then You counter this by training people to form an overall impression of
defeat, enemy attacks. This is coun- to always bear in mind the global progress—not in a mechanistic
terproductive; it leads to a raiding, audience, to assume that everything traffic-light fashion. Typical metrics
day-tripping mindset or, worse, a they say or do will be publicized, and include percentage of engagements
bunker mentality. Instead, practice to befriend the media. Get the press initiated by our forces versus those
deterrent patrolling. There are many on-side—help them get their story, initiated by insurgents; longevity of
methods for this, including multiple and trade information with them. friendly local leaders in positions
patrolling in which you flood an Good relationships with nonembed- of authority; number and quality of
area with numerous small patrols ded media, especially indigenous tip-offs on insurgent activity that
working together. Each is too small media, dramatically increase your originate spontaneously from the
to be a worthwhile target, and the situational awareness and help get population; and economic activity
insurgents never know where all the your message across to the global at markets and shops. These mean
patrols are—making an attack on and local audience. virtually nothing as a snapshot; it is
any one patrol extremely risky. Other 19. Engage the women, beware trends over time that help you track
methods include so-called blue-green of the children. Most insurgent progress in your sector.
patrolling, where you mount daylight, fighters are men. But in traditional
overt humanitarian patrols, which societies, women are hugely influen- Groundhog Day
go covert at night and hunt specific tial in forming the social networks Now you are in “steady state.”
targets. Again, the aim is to keep the that insurgents use for support. Co- You are established in your sector,
enemy off balance, and the popula- opting neutral or friendly women, and people are settling into that
tion reassured through constant and through targeted social and eco- “groundhog day” mentality that hits
unpredictable activity which, over nomic programs, builds networks of every unit at some stage during every
time, deters attacks and creates a enlightened self-interest that eventu- tour. It will probably take you at least
more permissive environment. A rea- ally undermine the insurgents. You the first third of your tour to become
sonable rule of thumb is that one- to need your own female counterin- effective in your new environment, if
two-thirds of your force should be on surgents, including interagency not longer. Then in the last period you
patrol at any time, day or night. people, to do this effectively. Win will struggle against the short-timer
17. Be prepared for setbacks. the women, and you own the family mentality. So this middle part of the
Setbacks are normal in counterin- unit. Own the family, and you take tour is the most productive—but
surgency, as in every other form of a big step forward in mobilizing the keeping the flame alive, and bringing
war. You will make mistakes, lose population. Conversely, though, stop the local population along with you,
people, or occasionally kill or detain your people from fraternizing with takes immense leadership.
the wrong person. You may fail in the local children. Your troops are 21. Exploit a “single narra-
building or expanding networks. homesick; they want to drop their tive.” Since counterinsurgency is
If this happens, don’t lose heart, guard with the kids, but children a competition to mobilize popular
simply drop back to the previous are sharp-eyed, lacking in empathy, support, it pays to know how people
phase of your game plan and recover and willing to commit atrocities are mobilized. In most societies
your balance. It is normal in com- their elders would shrink from. The there are opinion makers—local
pany counterinsurgency operations insurgents are watching: They will leaders, pillars of the community,
for some platoons to be doing well notice a growing friendship between religious figures, media personali-
while others do badly. This is not one of your people and a local child, ties, and others who set trends and
necessarily evidence of failure. Give and either harm the child as punish- influence public perceptions. This
local commanders the freedom to ment, or use them against you. Simi- influence, including the pernicious
adjust their posture to local condi- larly, stop people throwing candies influence of the insurgents, often
tions. This creates elasticity that or presents to children. It attracts takes the form of a “single narra-
helps you survive setbacks. them to our vehicles, creates crowds tive”: a simple, unifying, easily
18. Remember the global audi- the enemy can exploit, and leads expressed story or explanation that
ence. One of the biggest differences to children being run over. Harden organizes people’s experience and
between the counterinsurgencies our your heart and keep the children at provides a framework for under-
fathers fought and those we face arm’s length. standing events. Nationalist and
today is the omnipresence of global- 20. Take stock regularly. You ethnic historical myths, or sectarian
ized media. Most houses in Iraq have probably already know that a body creeds, provide such a narrative. The
one or more satellite dishes. Web count tells you little, because you Iraqi insurgents have one, as do Al-
bloggers; print, radio, and television usually can’t know how many Qaeda and the Taliban. To undercut

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their influence you must exploit an 23. Practice armed civil affairs. low-key, and (importantly) recover-
alternative narrative, or better yet, Counterinsurgency is armed social able if they fail. You can add new
tap into an existing narrative that work, an attempt to redress basic programs—also small, cheap and
excludes the insurgents. This narra- social and political problems while tailored to local conditions—as the
tive is often worked out for you by being shot at. This makes civil situation allows.
higher headquarters—but only you affairs a central counterinsurgency 25. Fight the enemy’s strategy,
have the detailed knowledge to tailor activity, not an afterthought. It is not his forces. At this stage, if things
the narrative to local conditions how you restructure the environ- are proceeding well, the insurgents
and generate leverage from it. For ment to displace the enemy from it. will go over to the offensive. Yes,
example, you might use a national- In your company sector, civil affairs the offensive, because you have
ist narrative to marginalize foreign must focus on meeting basic needs created a situation so dangerous
fighters in your area or a narrative first, then progress up Maslow’s to the insurgents (by threatening
of national redemption to undermine hierarchy as each successive need to displace them from the environ-
former regime elements that have is met. You need intimate coop- ment) that they have to attack you
been terrorizing the population. At eration with interagency partners and the population to get back into
the company level, you do this in here—national, international, and the game. Thus it is normal, even in
baby steps by getting to know local local. You will not be able to con- the most successful operations, to
opinion-makers, winning their trust, trol these partners—many NGOs, have spikes of offensive insurgent
learning what motivates them, and for example, do not want to be too activity late in the campaign. This
building on this to find a single nar- closely associated with you because does not necessarily mean you have
rative that emphasizes the inevitabil- they need to preserve their perceived done something wrong (though it
ity and rightness of your ultimate neutrality. Instead, you need to may, it depends on whether you have
success. This is art, not science. work on a shared diagnosis of the successfully mobilized the popula-
22. Local forces should mirror problem, building a consensus that tion). At this point the tendency is
the enemy, not the Americans. helps you self-synchronize. Your to go for the jugular and seek to
By this stage, you will be working role is to provide protection, identify destroy the enemy’s forces in open
closely with local forces, training needs, facilitate civil affairs, and use battle. This is rarely the best choice
or supporting them and building improvements in social conditions at company level, because provok-
indigenous capability. The natural as leverage to build networks and ing major combat usually plays into
tendency is to build forces in the mobilize the population. Thus, there the enemy’s hands by undermining
U.S. image, with the aim of eventu- is no such thing as impartial humani- the population’s confidence. Instead,
ally handing our role over to them. tarian assistance or civil affairs in attack the enemy’s strategy. If he is
This is a mistake. Instead, local counterinsurgency. Every time you seeking to recapture the allegiance
indigenous forces need to mirror help someone, you hurt someone of a segment of the local population,
the enemy’s capabilities and seek else—not least the insurgents—so then co-opt them against him. If
to supplant the insurgent’s role. This civil and humanitarian assistance he is trying to provoke a sectarian
does not mean they should be irregu- personnel will be targeted. Protect- conflict, go over to peace-enforce-
lar in the sense of being brutal or ing them is a matter not only of ment mode. The permutations are
outside proper control. Rather, they close-in defense, but also of creating endless, but the principle is the
should move, equip, and organize a permissive operating environment same: Fight the enemy’s strategy,
like the insurgents, but have access by co-opting the beneficiaries of aid not his forces.
to your support and be under the (local communities and leaders) to 26. Build your own solution—
firm control of their parent societ- help you help them. only attack the enemy when he
ies. Combined with a mobilized 24. Small is beautiful. Another gets in the way. Try not to be
population and trusted networks, natural tendency is to go for large- distracted or forced into a series
this allows local forces to hard-wire scale, mass programs. In particular, of reactive moves by a desire to
the enemy out of the environment, we have a tendency to template kill or capture the insurgents. Your
under top-cover from you. At the ideas that succeed in one area and aim should be to implement your
company level, this means that rais- transplant them into another, and own solution, the game plan you
ing, training, and employing local we tend to take small programs that developed early in the campaign
indigenous auxiliary forces (police work and try to replicate them on a and then refined through interaction
and military) are valid tasks. This larger scale. Again, this is usually a with local partners. Your approach
requires high-level clearance, of mistake: Often programs succeed must be environment-centric (based
course, but if support is given, you because of specific local conditions on dominating the whole district
should establish a company training of which we are unaware, or because and implementing a solution to
cell. Platoons should aim to train their very smallness kept them below its systemic problems) rather than
one local squad, then use that squad the enemy’s radar and helped them enemy-centric. This means that
as a nucleus for a partner platoon. flourish unmolested. At the company particularly late in the campaign
Company headquarters should train level, programs that succeed in one you may need to learn to negotiate
an indigenous leadership team. district often also succeed in another with the enemy. Members of the
This mirrors the growth process of (because the overall company sector population that supports you also
other trusted networks and tends to is small), but small-scale projects know the enemy’s leaders. They may
emerge naturally as you win local rarely proceed smoothly into large have grown up together in the small
allies who want to take up arms in programs. Keep programs small; district that is now your company
their own defense. this makes them cheap, sustainable, sector, and valid negotiating partners

Military Review  May-June 2006 107

sometimes emerge as the campaign mental structure and can focus on the situation allows. But see article
progresses. Again, you need close what is different. The same applies 28: If you cede the initiative, you
interagency relationships to exploit if you get moved frequently within must regain it as soon as the situation
opportunities to co-opt segments a battalion or brigade area. allows, or you will eventually lose.
of the enemy. This helps you wind ● What if higher headquarters This, then, is the tribal wisdom,
down the insurgency without alien- doesn’t “get” counterinsurgency? the folklore that those who went
ating potential local allies who have Higher headquarters is telling you before you have learned. Like any
relatives or friends in the insurgent the mission is to “kill terrorists,” folklore it needs interpretation and
movement. At this stage, a defection or pushing for high-speed armored contains seemingly contradictory
is better than a surrender, a surrender patrols and a base-camp mentality. advice. Over time, as you apply
is better than a capture, and a capture They just don’t seem to understand unremitting intellectual effort to
is better than a kill. counterinsurgency. This is not study your sector, you will learn to
uncommon, since company-grade apply these ideas in your own way
Getting Short officers today often have more and will add to this store of wisdom
Time is short, and the tour is combat experience than senior offi- from your own observations and
drawing to a close. The key problem cers. In this case, just do what you experience. So only one article
now is keeping your people focused, can. Try not to create expectations remains, and if you remember noth-
maintaining the rage on all the mul- that higher headquarters will not let ing else, remember this:
tifarious programs, projects, and you meet. Apply the adage “first do 28. Whatever else you do, keep
operations that you have started, and no harm.” Over time, you will find the initiative. In counterinsurgency,
preventing your people from drop- ways to do what you have to do. the initiative is everything. If the
ping their guard. In this final phase, But never lie to higher headquar- enemy is reacting to you, you con-
the previous articles still stand, but ters about your locations or activi- trol the environment. Provided you
there is an important new one. ties—they own the indirect fires. mobilize the population, you will
27. Keep your extraction plan ● What if you have no resources? win. If you are reacting to the enemy,
secret. The temptation to talk about You have no linguists, the aid agen- even if you are killing or capturing
home becomes almost unbearable cies have no money for projects in him in large numbers, then he is
toward the end of a tour. The locals your area, and you have a low prior- controlling the environment and you
know you are leaving, and probably ity for civil affairs. You can still get will eventually lose. In counterin-
have a better idea than you of the things done, but you need to focus on surgency, the enemy initiates most
generic extraction plan. Remember, self-reliance: Keep things small and attacks, targets you unexpectedly,
they have seen units come and go. sustainable and ruthlessly prioritize and withdraws too fast for you to
But you must protect the specific effort. The local population are your react. Do not be drawn into purely
details of the extraction plan, or the allies in this: They know what mat- reactive operations: Focus on the
enemy will use this as an opportunity ters to them more than you do. Be population, build your own solu-
to score a high-profile hit, recapture honest with them; discuss possible tion, further your game plan, and
the population’s allegiance by scare projects and options with commu- fight the enemy only when he gets
tactics that convince them they will nity leaders; get them to choose what in the way. This gains and keeps the
not be protected once you leave, or their priorities are. Often they will initiative. MR
persuade them that your successor find the translators, building sup-
unit will be oppressive or incompe- plies, or expertise that you need, and
tent. Keep the details secret within will only expect your support and NOTES
a tightly controlled compartment in protection in making their projects 1. Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency Opera-
your headquarters. work. And the process of negotiation tions (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing
and consultation will help mobilize Office, 2006).
2. Black Hawk Down (Los Angeles, CA: Scott Free
Four “What Ifs” their support and strengthen their Productions, 2002); The Battle of Algiers (Casbah Film
The articles above describe what social cohesion. If you set your and Igor Film, 1967).
should happen, but we all know that sights on what is achievable, the
things go wrong. Here are some situation can still work.
what ifs to consider: ● What if the theater situation David Kilcullen, Ph.D., served 21 years in the Aus-
● What if you get moved to a shifts under your feet? It is your tralian Army. He commanded an infantry company
during counterinsurgency operations in East Timor,
different area? You prepared for ar- worst nightmare: Everything has
taught counterinsurgency tactics as an exchange
Ramadi and studied Dulaim tribal gone well in your sector, but the
instructor at the British School of Infantry, and
structures and Sunni beliefs. Now whole theater situation has changed served as a military adviser to Indonesian Special
you are going to Najaf and will be and invalidates your efforts. Think Forces. He has worked in several Middle Eastern
surrounded by al-Hassani tribes and of the first battle of Falluja, the countries with regular and irregular police and mili-
Shi’a communities. But that work Askariya shrine bombing, or the tary forces since 9/11, and was a special adviser
was not wasted. In mastering your Sadr uprising. What do you do? Here for irregular warfare during the 2005 U.S. Quadren-
first area, you learned techniques is where having a flexible, adaptive nial Defense Review. He is currently seconded to
you can apply: how to “case” an game plan comes in. Just as the insur- the U.S. State Department as Chief Strategist in
operational area and how to decide gents drop down to a lower posture the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
what matters in the local societal when things go wrong, now is the and remains a Reserve Lieutenant Colonel in the
structure. Do the same again, and time for you to drop back a stage, Australian Army. His doctoral dissertation is a study
this time the process is easier and consolidate, regain your balance, of Indonesian insurgent and terrorist groups and
faster, since you have an existing and prepare to expand again when counterinsurgency methods.

108 May-June 2006  Military Review