David Kilcullen: The Australian helping to shape a new Afghanistan strategy

Author: By Kim Sengupta, Defence Correspondent

The name would not have meant much to people outside the closed world of the
military, diplomats and politicians. But, away from the limelight,
Kilcullen, an Australian army colonel has been hugely influential in shaping
policies in the later chapters of the ?war on terror?. He will play a part
in shaping how the new strategy in Afghanistan, described as a defining
moment in the conflict, is played out.

Kilcullen was counter-insurgency advisor to both Condoleeza Rice when she was
US Secretary of State, and General David Petraeus, helping the American
commander plan the ?surge? which reduced the level of carnage in Iraq. He
ended up with the grand and rather convoluted title of Chief Strategist in
the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. A book he has recently
written, The Accidental Guerilla, is being avidly studied by British and
American military bound for the battlefield of Afghanistan.

Kilcullen, who holds a Phd in anthropology, was ?borrowed? in 2004 by Paul
Wolfowitz, then Deputy Defence Secretary and one of the architects of the
Iraq war to join his staff. However, during his subsequent rise through the
US hierarchy the Australian has paid little lip service to neo-con tenets.
On one occasion he was quoted in a magazine, the American Independent,
saying the Iraq war was ?fucking stupid?. Unsurprisingly he received a
telephone call from his boss, Condoleeza Rice, stressing that people like
Dick Cheney were most displeased, and a public clarification must be issued
as soon as possible. This duly came with Kilcullen saying ? I can
categorically state that the word ?fucking? was said off the record?.
Another phone call from Ms Rice ?David, David this is not what we meant at
all??.?

Afghanistan, Lt Col Kilcullen points out, is a very different war morally,
historically and logistically. ? Perhaps the most stupid thing about Iraq
was invading the country in the first place? he said over dinner during a
visit to London. ? But we were where we were in Iraq and what we tried to do
was try and end the terrible bloodshed which was going on, protect the
people. This was Gen Petraeus?s plan and I think it worked to a large
extent,?

Kilcullen, who has now left US government service, had taken part in
fact-finding missions to Afghanistan and had held meetings with Gen
McChrystal. He insists that although Western forces were on borrowed time
there was still a hope of turning the war around.

He believes, however, that Nato is making major mistakes in Afghanistan with
one of the most serious being the use of unmanned Drones to carry out
targeted killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Independent revealed this
week that Lord Bingham, a former senior Law Lord, called the legality of
these attacks into question.

Kilcullen said ? These strikes are totally counter-productive. It is a
strategic error to personalise the conflict in this way, it?ll strengthen
the enemy and weaken our friends. How can one expect the civilian population
to support us if we kill their families and destroy their homes.?

What the West risks throwing away is the ? support of the vast majority of the
people. They may not like some of the things we do, but they do not want the
Taliban back. But let?s not be complacent, in the three years since 2005 we
have seen a 500 per cent increase in violence in the country, support for
the legitimacy of the government of [President Hamid] Karzai is pretty weak.
It is no exaggeration to say this is a critical year in Afghanistan. If we
don?t get it right this year then we may not succeed. But the good thing is
that the American?s are now focusing on Afghanistan. It may be late, but
they are focusing.?

One example of the American focus on Afghanistan, Barack Obama?s war, was the
appointment of Gen McChrystal, a former special forces officer and one of
Petraeus?s team in Iraq. He replaced Gen David McKiernan who, in the
process, became the first American commander to be relieved of his post
since General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.

Kilcullen, another one of Petraeus? boys from Baghdad, declares that
McChrystal is the ideal man for such a difficult mission. ?He realises that
this is not just a military matter, it is a matter of governance and
reconstruction. We now have more troops in south in Helmand and Kandahar.
This gives us the opportunity to build, to some constructive, on our
military gains. I really don?t think that Nato can afford to miss this
opportunity.?

Kilcullen was among those who persuaded the US administration that one cannot
hope to solve the situation in Afghanistan without getting involved in
Pakistan. ?What will happen in Pakistan is absolutely critical. There are
sections of the military and the security apparatus which are a rogue state
within a state. They have a long history of supporting the Taliban, we have
an elected government in Pakistan but they have no control over these
elements?.

And the future? ?We are looking at ten years at least in Afghanistan, and
that is the best case scenario and at least half of that will be pretty
major combat. This is the commitment needed, and this is what people in
America and Britain should be told, and they should be told that there will
be a cost involved.?

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