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Kilcullen Returns to SWJ Blog

Dr. Dave Kilcullen begins a COIN series at SWJ Blog:

Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency

Like the Romans, counterinsurgents through history have engaged in road-building as a tool for projecting military force, extending governance and the rule of law, enhancing political communication and bringing economic development, health and education to the population. Clearly, roads that are patrolled by friendly forces or secured by local allies also have the tactical benefit of channeling and restricting insurgent movement and compartmenting terrain across which guerrillas could otherwise move freely. But the political impact of road-building is even more striking than its tactical effect

….But the effects accrue not just from the road itself, but rather from a conscious and well-developed strategy that uses the road as a tool, and seizes the opportunity created by its construction to generate security, economic, governance and political benefits. This is exactly what is happening in Kunar: the road is one component, albeit a key one, in a broader strategy that uses the road as an organizing framework around which to synchronize and coordinate a series of political-military effects. This is a conscious, developed strategy that was first put in place in 2005-6 and has been consistently executed since. Thus, the mere building of a road is not enough: it generates some, but not all of these effects, and may even be used to oppress or harm the population rather than benefit it. Road construction in many parts of the world has had negative security and political effects, especially when executed unthinkingly or in an un-coordinated fashion. What we are seeing here, in contrast, is a coordinated civil-military activity based on a political strategy of separating the insurgent from the people and connecting the people to the government. In short, this is a political maneuver with the road as a means to a political end.

A nice piece, one that reveals the multiple dimensions of connectivity inherent in something so seemingly straightforward as a “road”. The connectivity itself is a weapon against disconnecting, isolating, hyperideological, insurgencies like the Taliban.

Incidentally, this isn’t America’s first foray into road building in Afghanistan; the Eisenhower administration, as a Cold War intrusion into the Soviet sphere of influence, built a modern highway for Zahir Shah that constituted, for many years, Afghanistan’s only paved road outside of Kabul.

20 Responses to “Kilcullen Returns to SWJ Blog”

  1. Fabius Maximus Says:

    One fascinating aspect of Kilcullen’s work is the relative absence of critical review.  Such attention is usually an indicator of significance, and his work is powerful in both an intellectual and operational sense.

    Joshua Foust has posted a review of this essay at Registan.net ("Central Asia news — All central Asia, all the time").

    "The Strange Benefits of Paving Afghanistan"

  2. zen Says:

    Hi FM,

    Thanks for the link.  I think the lack of criticism might be attributed to several factors:
    a) Kilcullen writes authoritatively as he is an academic theorist as well as a practitioner – a rare combination. Mostly it’s one or the other.
    b) Effective critiques require thorough knowledge of a subject. It wasn’t all that long ago that interest in COIN was confined primarily to a small number of military specialists and historians, mainly of the Vietnam War, Napoleonic Spain and similar periods. Most of the ppl most angered by the COIN strategy – politicos and reg Army types – are the least well versed.
    c) Kilcullen’s articles are well constructed and reasonable in tone.
    As the number of thinkers involved with or studying COIN increases, the quality of peer review and potential critics and competitors rises for  everyone.

  3. Selil Says:

    The peer review process will mature as the science of assymetric warfare becomes more well known. There is also a certain lag to the scientific process and much of the current positions will not be reviewed for many years. Consider the time frame between when S.L.A. Marshall published his serialized essay on men in combat (1940’s) and the critical review of his facts by Spiller and Chambers in the 1970s. Outside of military circles neurologist are looking at Nobel prize winning research from the 1950s on neurons  and electrical impulses versus the new (un proven) concept of sound pulses and sonitrons.  Science and discourse moves slowly unfortunately and forgivably.

  4. Fabius Maximus Says:

    Over the past eight years Kilcullen has laid a profound theoretical foundation for COIN on which he has written many articles rich with operational insights and recommendations.  Here is a full archive:
    The Essential 4GW reading list: David Kilcullen

  5. A new article by Dr. Kilcullen, interesting as always « Fabius Maximus Says:

    […] the Zenpundit there were two replies.  First, from the Zenpundit […]

  6. Dave Dilegge Says:


    At your site you ask – too disturbing to the troops, perhaps.

    I reply – no, and having spent my entire adult life with "troops" I think it might take much more to disturb them than your self-indulgence.

    I always delete self-promotion in our comments section.  If you would have left some commentary rather than "come to my site" or "go to this site" postings then they might have remained untouched.
    I use this as an SWJ "industry" standard: A work of intellectual analysis stands on its own logic, supported only by the author’s track record.

    Your posts fell well short of that standard.

    I revoked your posting rights on SWJ – will reinstate if you give me a reason to or pay me for advertising.


  7. Fabius Maximus Says:

    The second post was to Joshua Foust’s review at Registan.net — no "self-promotion" involved.  He has some knowledge of these issues, and goes into considerable detail.  It’s out of my area of knowledge, so I made no comment on it.

    The first linked to an archive of Kilcullen’s work, strictly a library function.  You are welcomed to copy it over to SWC (no link necessary, just a credit please).  His body of work is imo important.  All you did was prevent your reader’s seeing this resource.

    FYI — I have cross-posted your reply over to the post in question.

  8. Fabius Maximus Says:

    FYI — the comments in question posted at the SWC are the same as you see in this thread. 
    The first goes to Foust’s review; the 2nd to an archive of Kilcullen’s works (35 articles by or about Kilcullen, 2 backgrounders to his work, 7 mainstream media articles about him).

  9. Dave Dilegge Says:

    Two items FM and a challenge to step up like a man,

    1. I’d like to think we hold the definitive archive of Dr. Kilcullen’s works, so there is no need to take you up on your kind offer to “copy”.  No link necessary – and no credit from you is desired. 2.  You have an invitation to guest blog at SWJ.  Here are the ground rules – under your given-name.  It is time to hold the ‘anonymous’ bleacher snipers accountable.  Are you willing to stand on your own?  It gets quite tiresome for me and, as you well know, those on the Small Wars Council, to conduct serious debate with a Cunctator wannabe. What say you?

  10. zen Says:

    Wow! Go away for some youth league soccer games and all hell breaks loose in the comments section! LOL!
    A good proposition as SWJ Blog is a high visibility platform – high traffic and quality of readership.

  11. Fabius Maximus Says:

    I am glad to learn that you have the *definitive* archive of Dr. Kilcullen.  Please share the URL with us! 
    The "Dave Kilcullen Archives" page at SWJ has only 13 of his publications, omiting many of his major works.  There are no listings for the reviews of his articles — which provide valuable insights to them and their impact on COIN debates.   Nor did I see listings to his writings in the debate about the role of social sciences — and scientists — in COIN. 
    As for your schoolyard challenge, I regret to say at my age I no long find such things compelling.  Since I have not posted any articles at SWC for some time (other than links), and infrequently for far longer, no action is necessary for you to be spared "tiresome" discussions. 
    The meaning of "standing on my own" is not clear to me.  I post 3 – 5 times per week, usually about 1,000 words each, and respond to most comments at some length.  Often with new posts.  Other than pistols at dawn, one can do little more in such debates.  Unlike SWC, all guests are welcomed to comment.
    You have your very successful site, I have my tiny corner of the blogosphere.  Per your request, I will not post SWC.  You however are welcomed to comment at the FM blog.
    A note:  "Cunctator wannabe" … You say that as if it is a bad thing.  A long and successful life as a Roman aristocrat, hero and stateman.  A man can have few better aspirations. 
    With this I believe we have abused our host’s patience enough.  Thank you, Zenpundit, for allowing this little exchange — off-topic as it is.  I will reply to futher comments at the FM blog, or by email.

  12. Dave Dilegge Says:

    See my e-mail response FM.  Your public cop-out is just that.  Have fun in Fantasy Maximus land.  Out here until you stand up and are counted like a man.

  13. Joshua Foust Says:

    I’m a bit surprised at the venom of Mr. Dilegge’s response. In my correspondence with Fabius, in which we’ve discussed several topics about which we are at odds with each other, such as the continued worth of the mission in Afghanistan, he has been nothing but respectful.

  14. zen Says:

    Hi Joshua,
    I have had pleasant exchanges with FM as well; however, many sparks have flown over at The SWC/SWJ where FM is not as popular as he is at DNI. As White House spokesman are wont to say, the exchange of views were " frank". Interesting reading if you have the time ( these are some of the longer threads at SWC) which provides some backstory for the above.

  15. Joshua Foust Says:

    That’s fair, and I can see how a long-standing personality conflict can play itself out (I’ve had those as well, and having my name attached to them is not always pleasant). However, the anonymous are normally only called cowards when they use their anonymity to mask either unfair or vicious commentary and accusations; to the best of my knowledge, this does not reflect Fabius’ body of work (I’m unfamiliar with the SWC forums, so this might not matter). Hence my confusion at the instant fury.

  16. Fabius Maximus Says:

    How strange to look back at the wild carefee days of one’s youth!  Since then I have learned to speak with a milder voice.
    To be positive:  To be mistaken at the top of one’s voice.
      (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary)
    Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.   (William Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet,’ Act I, Scene iii) 
    A loud voice cannot compete with a clear voice, even if it’s a whisper.   (
    Barry Neil Kaufman)

  17. Caroline Jaine Says:

    I like the idea of "connectivity being a weapon against disconnecting" – being in the business of weapons of mass persuasion myself, its something I am sure to use….thanks.  Meanwhile consider the British colonial railway building for a moment.

  18. zen Says:

    Hi Caroline,
    Thank you, I think Tom Barnett’s influence is showing  there, on my disconnectivity statement.
    Very good point.  From what I (now dimly) recall, much of British railway investment in, say, India went far beyond what made economic sense in terms of short term, maximization of profits with short sections of line subsidizing much of the rest. But the RR brought communication, logistical capacity, personal mobility, material goods, social opportunities unimaginable a few decades earlier as well as being a symbol of British prestige and power. I’m sure the " Cape to Cairo" project was viewed in such terms at the time as well.
    Nice blog you have, BTW.

  19. Caroline Jaine Says:

    Thanks for pointing me towards Barnett’s blog – a wealth of resources tucked away in there.  And thanks for the encouragement on my blog.  It is new.  I plan to take over the world with it at some stage.  Or something.
    Yes, obsessed us British were with building railways.  And going far beyond what made economic sense is an understatement (not that I am an expert). 
    Interesting Registan is also blogging on Roads – http://www.registan.net/

  20. DE Teodoru Says:

    When we took Iraq it had lots of roads. We used them to move our teeth with vital supply tail following. Saddam’s forces cut off pieces of our tail and almost stopped us, remember? The Iraqi cities had lots of roads too. But because we were too few, we sought to "show presence" by mechanized patrol that were easy pickings. We went in inel blind, language deaf and culture dumb. And, we went in extremely casualties and supplies sensitive. Like a blind warrior we ended up slashing with out sword in all directions repeating the blows that seem to hit meat. THAT’S HOW WE CREATED THE INSURGENCY FROM NOTHING, turning from liberator to mechanized occupier. Bush replaced the Saddam welfare state with unfetered free-enterprise for crooked US corporations that imported cheap labor from Bangladesh. 80% of Iraqis were unemployed and unable to feed familes. Saudi/Kuweiti $$$ created a Sunni resistance; Iran got nervous and created Shia militias, including Baghdad Gov. We were arresting, humiliating and killing to keep down our losses.  Kilcullen can’t face that COIN is not a job for MILITARY, only police. We should have taken 30,000 Iraqi policemen and their familes to parents to US; trained them in police work, techniques etc and sent them back 3 years later, keeping their familes safe in US for at least 3 more years. COIN is police work, not blind warriors who kill in fear of being killed. MAT/CAP teams in Vietnam enabled village militias to resist the NVA regualrs. Our guys coordinated, trained and supported self-defense. In Iraq and Afghanistan we sent in killer "star whores" and crooked civilians. We raped our own assets and killed people needlessly. It’s time for US to leave and turn Afghanistan to the Shaghai Accord of which all reginal states are members or informal members. 9/11 would never have happened if airlines obeyed the law and kept the pilot’s cabin impenetrable. They never did and four airliners were taken over in 10 minutes. It was our fault, not binLaden’s– we were stupid, not him.

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