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Article published Apr 12, 2007

Kilcullen leads counterinsurgency

God bless the Australians. Through almost five and a half years of war now, they have been a steady, stalwart ally while others have wavered. The Australian armed forces are small but very effective in what they do, and they do it with little fuss and lots of professionalism.

One of Australia's quiet professionals has had a big impact on United States counterinsurgency strategy. He is Lt. Col. David Kilcullen, who through various turns of fate is now a part of Gen. Petreaus' "brain trust" in Iraq. Kilcullen served 21 years as an Australian Army infantry officer and still maintains his reserve. He led counterinsurgency operations in East Timor, advised Indonesian Special Forces, taught the British Army, advised the U.S. State Department, and earned a PhD in anthropology along the way.

As our military has struggled to learn (or relearn) the principles for successfully fighting a counterinsurgency war, Kilcullen's ideas have gained currency in the right circles - particularly among U.S. Army and Marine officers formulating a new manual for counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. In March of 2006, Kilcullen authored an 11-page memo in which he outlined his lessons learned and counterinsurgency best practices. It has become known as "Kilcullen's 28 points," and you can find it on the web with a quick Google search on that phrase.

He starts off by describing counterinsurgency as, "a competition with the insurgent for the right and the ability to win the hearts, minds and acquiescence of the population." He goes on to assert that, "People do not have to like you but they must respect you," however "injudicious use of firepower creates blood feuds, homeless people and societal disruption that fuels and perpetuates the insurgency. The most beneficial actions are often local politics, civic action, and beat-cop behaviors."

There's no room here to capture all 28 points, but these are the key ones with the most relevance in Iraq right now:

Fight the enemy's strategy, not his forces. Instead of seeking open battle (the tendency of good commanders), secure the populace and counter the insurgents' message. They will eventually be forced to fight.

Practice armed civil affairs.

In this kind of war, the engineers, area specialists and project managers of civil affairs may be the most important combat asset.

Small is beautiful.

Avoid the mega-projects in favor of localized programs that will yield tangible results and jobs in weeks and months, not years.

Train the squad leaders - then trust them. Counterinsurgency is a small-unit fight, waged by young sergeants and lieutenants - not generals.

Organize for intelligence. Counterinsurgency operations are very intel-focused. Without knowledge of who the enemy is, and where he is, ops cannot succeed.

Be there.

To accomplish anything worthwhile, troops need to live among the populace, not in fortress bases isolated from them. This is being carried out now as dozens of Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts are established in neighborhoods across Baghdad.

Keep the initiative.

Even if you win every tactical engagement and kill many insurgents, a reactive strategy will eventually lose. Focus on solutions and proactively carry them out.

Build trusted networks.

Success requires cooperative relationships with many players, including host-country forces, local leaders, religious figures, other government agencies, the media and humanitarian organizations.

In a separate published piece he summarized the recipe for waging a successful counterinsurgency campaign as "the agile integration of civil and military measures across security, economic, political and information tracks." And if you watch and read astutely, you'll see the Coalition led by Gen. Petreaus In Iraq trying to implement this advice and many of Kilcullen's 28 points.

Tad Trueblood has more than 20 years of experience as an officer in the U.S. Air Force and as an analyst in the national security community. He resides in Santa Clara.