It's not that we haven't fought the war in Iraq before, argues David Kilcullen. We have - the U.S. and its allies have dealt with similar conflicts in post-war Germany, in Vietnam, in the Balkans, and even against the IRA. The difference is that, back then, we weren't fighting all of those wars at the same time, on top of each other, tied together at the wrists and kicking.
Kilcullen has worked as an officer and military advisor on the ground in hotspots ranging from East Africa to the jungles of the Philippines. In 2007, he served as Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to Gen. David Petraeus during the planning and implementation of the Iraq troop "surge". The Accidental Guerrilla describes the situation in Iraq as Kilcullen sees it: a hybrid war that combines the insurgency of the Viet Cong, the challenge of nation-building after years of dictatorship in post-war Germany, the sectarian strife in the Balkans, and the domestic terrorism of the IRA.
The "accidental guerillas" of the title are people who fight not because they hate the West or have any desire to see it overthrown, but because their space has been invaded by a large outside force as it tries to deal with a small, extremist element like al Qaeda - which then manipulates and exploits the backlash against the larger force, thereby creating the "accidental guerillas" and turning them into a loosely cooperative group.
Drawing from his experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and lesser-known conflicts in West Java, East Timor, Pakistan, and southern Thailand, Kilcullen describes a maddening state of affairs where solutions to some problems only deepen others, and the military prowess of the U.S. in high-tech conventional warfare is virtually no help at all. In his final estimation, there are no across-the-board answers to counter-insurgency - only to adapt to the unique challenges of each one, and devote focus to securing the population along with defeating the enemy.
Kilcullen is a contributor to Small Wars Journal and Military Review. He retired from the Australian Army as a lieutenant colonel after twenty years of service. He is currently a counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency advisor to NATO and several governments, including the United States, and a senior fellow at the EastWest Institute.