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Charlie Rose interview with David Kilcullen

Originally printed in International Herald Tribune

From broadcast on October 5, 2007

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST: Welcome to the broadcast. Tonight, insights into Iraq with David Kilcullen. He has been a senior adviser to General Petraeus. He is one of the leading counterterrorist experts in the world.

CHARLIE ROSE: Joining me now is David Kilcullen. He is a reserve lieutenant colonel in the Australian army. He has a doctorate in political anthropology. This year, he was the senior counter insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, the top commander for the United States in Iraq. His ideas are about how to fight Islamic extremism worldwide are changing the way the United States military functions and thinks. He has written a guide for officers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s called “28 Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency.” He is in New York to participate in the annual “New Yorker” festival. I’m pleased to have him here for the first time.

And here I am sitting with a young 40-year-old from the Australian army, who has been advising General Petraeus. Tell me what it is you know that they all want to understand.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I’m not entirely sure what it is, actually, Charlie. I think it’s more about a certain freedom that comes from being a little bit outside the system and the ability to say things that I think everyone is thinking.

CHARLIE ROSE: What is that?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, you know, to look at the environment and to understand what it is that we’re dealing with, and to — to express issues that it’s difficult for somebody inside the system who has a career in the U.S. government, which I don’t .


DAVID KILCULLEN: . to say. Let me say, though, I think being the senior counterinsurgency adviser to General Petraeus is probably a serious misnomer. You know, I mean .

CHARLIE ROSE: He is the senior adviser.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yeah, if anybody ever less needed a counterinsurgency adviser, it’s him. I was more just kind of helping around in the field. And he was — he is the guy, I think, that has really put together what you just described, the new way of thinking about the environment, more so than, you know, anything any of us have done.

CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me what has influenced your thinking the most? What experiences, what books, what conversations?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Let me tell you this sort of — the story of how I came to see this in the way that I see it now, which I think illuminates that a little bit.

I was 20 years in the Australian army. And unlike the American Army, which has conventional forces who do — the general purpose forces do conventional warfare, and the special forces do unconventional warfare.

In the Australian system, it’s a little bit reversed. Most people do low- intensity conflict, irregular warfare, as some people call it in the United States. Our special forces do the type of conventional work. They also are very good at unconventional.

But if you go through the Australian system, you sort of live and breathe counterinsurgency and warfare against non-state actors, if you want to put it that way, throughout your time. And I did the normal training that everybody does in the Australian military, and was selected for language training and was sent to do some work in Indonesia, where I became aware of an insurgency that had been fought in the ’50s and ’60s, a group called Dar al-Islam, which was very comprehensively defeated by the Indonesian military using some very innovative methods in the 1950s and ’60s. Not very well known in the West, when I first started doing this in the mid- 90s.

And people used to say to me, Islamic insurgency, what are you studying that for? It’s of purely historical interest. And I wish I could say that I had some kind of premonition that it would become useful, but I didn’t. I was just kind of following what I was interested in.

After 9/11, in fact, just before 9/11, that particular group that I had studied, and I actually spent about nine months in the field living with villages, talking to people who had been involved in the movement and so on, that organization transformed itself into what is now known as Jemaa Islamiah, which is a terrorist group allied to al Qaeda. And so it rapidly ceased to be an academic pursuit and became highly practical. So, you know, and the rest is kind of history, as they say.

And after 9/11, I think a lot of us who did this before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 felt like suddenly the foundations of the world had shifted a little bit, where the focus on conventional transformation, high technology, rapid maneuver, all these things that were known as the revolution in military affairs, people talked about just before 9/11, seemed to be a little less relevant to the environment than what we’ve seen now. And some people have described this as a counter-revolution in military affairs, led to a certain extent by David Petraeus.

I don’t see it in quite such stark terms. I think we do need powerful and high technology air and maritime forces particularly, but we also need ground forces that can work with diplomats, aid agencies.

CHARLIE ROSE: And we didn’t have that when 9/11 hit us.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think we’re often hard on ourselves. When I say we, I’m speaking as an American, of course. We’re often a little harder.

CHARLIE ROSE: We’ve adopted you.

DAVID KILCULLEN: We’re often a little harder on ourselves than we need to be. You know, if I look now at the capabilities of the American State Department particularly, people like to say, well, it doesn’t pull its weight. You have got to remember, the State Department is about 1/250th the size of the U.S. Department of Defense. It has a very small pool of people, but those people have a very substantial amount of talent. And some of the real expertise in the government on issues like how to deal with the threats in the Middle East and how to work with people from both traditional societies and states with whom we don’t necessarily want to do business, that resides in places like the State Department.

And then there’s the USAID, the Agency for International Development, which has a highly robust field program and it runs all kinds of activities that are very substantially part of the fight in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

So you know, we often say, well, we’re not very good at this. I think no one is very good at it, you know? And we are actually better than often we give ourselves credit for.

CHARLIE ROSE: We, the United States, is better than — or as good as anybody that does this?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes, I think so.

CHARLIE ROSE: When you mentioned State Department versus Defense, I mean, that was taken away from the State Department and put at the Defense Department. That was an early decision. I mean, after Jay Garner, they sort of gave it to Paul Bremer, who didn’t report to the State Department.

DAVID KILCULLEN: You are talking about the CPA, the Coalition Provisional Authority, yes, well, you know.

CHARLIE ROSE: That was the State Department planning this. Their people were supposed to come in there after the fact. Now, we are separating that from counterinsurgency?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, yes. I mean, there were some outstanding Iraq experts involved in that initial phase of planning, guys like Tom Warrick, for example. Tom and I flew into Baghdad together two days after the Samarra bombing the 22nd of February last year.


DAVID KILCULLEN: You know, and one of the most illuminating conversations about Iraq that I’ve ever had with anybody was with Tom in a C-130 flying into Baghdad.

CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me what he said. What was the conversation about?

DAVID KILCULLEN: You know, I don’t want to talk on his behalf, but I think the point that most of us would make, who are not in the military, and most — which most of us made in 2003, the points we made, were that this is not necessarily going to play out in such a neat and conventional fashion as we might like to think. And therefore, we need to remain agile and remember that the society that we are dealing with in Iraq was fundamentally corroded and damaged by 35 years of tyranny. And so, there’s a certain psychological or cultural effect that that has on people. And you can’t expect a society to sort of drop that and become a sort of Jeffersonian democracy within a reasonably short period of time, particularly when there’s an enemy out there.

And I think this is one of the things, you know, that we need to remember, that this is a two-way street. There is an enemy. This stuff that is happening in Iraq didn’t happen just because made mistakes. You know, we don’t want to be narcissistic about this. This isn’t, you know, all our fault. There’s two sides here. The enemy deliberately provoked this. If you talk to Iraqis.

CHARLIE ROSE: What do you mean by the enemy deliberately? The enemy being those former Baathists who did not — who were planning to join the insurgency once they knew the invasion was on and they were not going to be able to withstand it?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, it’s complicated, and there’s a lot of work done on this. But let me just kind of lay it out for you the way that the Iraqis tell it to me. And I’ve spent a lot of time with the Iraqis in the field over the last seven months or so. And you tend to hear a common theme from them.

And the sort of point of view that they tend to suggest is that the regime made a number of major miscalculations and expected to do better in the initial phase of the fighting than they did. But they always expected that they would ultimately lose the conventional phase and would need to run some kind of guerrilla fight.

And my impression from talking to guys who were there, Iraqis, is that the intention was that Saddam would run that from either a position of exile or sort of hidden headquarters. And he would use Special Republican Guard, Saddam Fedayeen, a variety of other organizations to control the population in different areas and sort of run this against us as an insurgency.

When the regime collapsed suddenly, a lot of those plans didn’t come to fruition. And as a consequence, it became, if you like, a headless hydra. You know, a hydra has lots of heads. A headless beast of some kind that just was thrashing around wildly, and eventually disintegrated into lots of local groups that wanted to work to their own interest. And the Iraqis talk about how the — rapidly, people converted from sort of a Baathist way of looking at the problem to more of a radical Islamist way or a nationalist way. Or.

CHARLIE ROSE: Who precipitated that?

DAVID KILCULLEN: It was a natural falling out of just losing control. And I think what that tells you is that focusing the campaign on how to defeat one particular enemy is perhaps not the best way to approach it.

Conventional warfare is binary. Right? It has two sides. And its enemy- centric. What you’re trying to do is figure out what the enemy is trying to do and defeat the enemy by, you know, outmaneuvering them or removing their war-making power, basically.

Counterinsurgency is not like that. It’s not enemy-centric. It’s actually population-centric. And I think we have found over the last three or four years of evolution of the conflict in Iraq that the more we focus on the population and protecting them, the easier it is to deal with the enemy. The more we focus on the enemy, the harder it is to actually get anything done with the population.

Would you like me to expand on that? Because you’re frowning.

CHARLIE ROSE: No, no, I’m fascinated by it and I’m trying to — I’m asking all questions, as you say, like, you know, is the surge about getting at the population?


CHARLIE ROSE: Is that what the surge is about?

DAVID KILCULLEN: That’s fundamentally what the surge is about. And I know you had General Petraeus on the program recently.


DAVID KILCULLEN: So I don’t think I need to go over what he said in detail, but the point is, we have 28,500 extra troops in country. That is a tool. That’s not the strategy. Once getting them in, the strategy was to start protecting the population and focusing on marginalizing the enemy from the population

CHARLIE ROSE: Because the population would eject the insurgents, the Islamists?

DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s actually — yes. It’s actually a function of the nature of guerrilla warfare, and it’s actually rather independent of whether you are talking about Islamists or communists or, you know, it’s a functional thing. And the reason is that in counterinsurgency, the enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed, right? So when you fight a conventional enemy, you have to go in there and sort of attack something that he must defend. And then you use that as a fulcrum around which to maneuver. That’s how we do conventional warfare, amongst other — it’s a caricature.

But in counterinsurgency, you can’t do that, because there’s nothing the enemy has to defend. They can just run away if you push them too hard. And if you get there and you’re doing things that are just making it too hard for them, they can just go quiet and stay in the environment.

CHARLIE ROSE: You know that’s one of the arguments made against the surge.


CHARLIE ROSE: That’s all you were going to do, is push them somewhere else. They’ll go somewhere else and they’ll wait.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Right. Making that argument against the surge, this speaks a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of what the surge is trying to do. And let me sort of expand on this issue.

The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed. OK? That’s the key point. The enemy can run away. The population can’t. They have houses, relatives, businesses. They live there. They can’t move. And so you can’t defeat an insurgency by fighting the insurgents, because they’ll just run away and you chase the guy around. And it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, but you’re actually destroying the haystack to find the needle. So you do this damage to the population, which alienates the population, creates a recruitment base for the insurgents, and it just creates a cycle of destruction.

The way to do it — and you know, we’ve been doing this for a long time and there’s a very solid body of understanding on how to do it — is, if you like, to comb the flees out of the dog. OK? So you get in there and you work with the population. You drive the enemy off, and then you focus on the population and you try to restructure the environment so that the insurgent can’t come back when you leave.

And that involves things like counterintelligence work, where you look for those little sleeper cells that stayed behind when you left. It involves most importantly partnering in a real partnership with the local community, where they feel their needs are being met. They make choices that they then are required to stick to, in terms of driving out extremism, or — in the case of Iraq particularly — and in terms of defending themselves. You make the population self-defending, so that the terrorists can’t or the insurgents can’t intimidate them.

That’s the fundamental activity of counterinsurgency. Because the insurgents require the enemy. The insurgents require the population to act in a certain way — support, sympathy, intimidation, sometimes just reaction to provocation, you know? And if you can take that reaction of the population away from them, it’s extremely difficult for them to achieve anything.

That’s why the surge is not only a matter of putting extra troops into the country, it’s what they do when they get there. And what they’re doing is going into areas and not leaving. And they sit with the population, partner with them, help them defend themselves. Keep the enemy away. Prevent them from coming back. And if you like, restructure the environment to hard-wire the insurgent out of it.

CHARLIE ROSE: This begs two questions. One is the future. If you want to do that, how many years does it take to go neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community, city by city, province by province, region by region?

DAVID KILCULLEN: The way you lay that out, it’s not exactly how it works. But.

CHARLIE ROSE: How does it work?

DAVID KILCULLEN: . there’s two issues. One is a territorial issue. The other one is time. Let me talk time. There has never been a successful counterinsurgency that took less than 10 years.

CHARLIE ROSE: Less than 10 years?


CHARLIE ROSE: Name the most successful ones.

DAVID KILCULLEN: The one that people quote fundamentally is usually the Malayan insurgency.


DAVID KILCULLEN: That’s a slightly atypical example, though, for a variety of reasons.

Northern Ireland took 30 years.

CHARLIE ROSE: And in the end, it was a political settlement.

DAVID KILCULLEN: All counterinsurgency solutions are political.


DAVID KILCULLEN: The role of the military in counterinsurgency is to hold the ring and create space that allows the political process to take place. Again, people talk about that with regard to the surge.

Politics is alchemy. It’s not an engineering project. You can’t build it step by step, through benchmarks to a solution. It takes people to feel comfortable and be able to work together and to build confidence. And we all know this from domestic politics.

And so what the military tries to do is to create, if you like, enough calmness and enough population security to allow political leadership to go forward, and that takes a long time.

CHARLIE ROSE: OK. So should then the goal of the United States to be — its leadership is to say to its public, which is financing and giving its sons and daughters to this effort, should it be to say, this is going to take 10 years? There’s never been a counterinsurgency that has worked in less than 10 years. And so, we believe these stakes demand that of us. And therefore, you need to understand what the goal is, how long it’s going to take, what the sacrifice is, and why the results are so important.

DAVID KILCULLEN: That is a factor. I think it’s worth pointing out that just because it’s going to take 10 years doesn’t mean we’re going to be there for 10 years.

CHARLIE ROSE: Explain that.


CHARLIE ROSE: So in other words, as they stand up, we stand down? Is that the idea?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, that’s rather a simple way of describing it than I would say. What I would say is that.

CHARLIE ROSE: It wasn’t original with me.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I have no opinion about that. The rate at which you build local capacity drives your exit strategy. OK? The faster you can stand up effective forces and effective governance structures, particularly, then the faster you can exit from the campaign.

As an example, let’s take Malaya. When you talk about Malaya — and you know, my friend John Nagl wrote probably one of the most outstanding studies of adaptation in counterinsurgency, using Malaya as his first case study. And he, of course, was a key player in putting the manual together. So if you ever get him on the show, you should probably ask him this question as well.

But the — that counterinsurgency, the emergency period took from 1948 to 1960. The Malayan Communist Party didn’t actually surrender until 1989. OK? So the British ran the thing for 12 years. There was another 30 years after that where the insurgents were still out in the environment, still threatening from the Thai-Malay border, and yet reduced to a level where they couldn’t threaten the existence of the Malayan state.

CHARLIE ROSE: And they finally gave up?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes. In fact, Chin Peng, the leader of the Malayan Communist Party, surrendered in 1989 as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Nothing to do with him, and it happened inside Malaya.

So I think we have to understand how insurgencies end. They don’t end like conventional warfare. You don’t defeat the enemy, there’s a victory parade and everybody goes home. What you do is you drive the threat down to the point at which the local government and society can handle it, and then they handle it.

CHARLIE ROSE: OK. This other question comes at the same time. Should we have known all this when we went in there, and should we have been able to implement strategies that take all that into consideration when we went in there? And if we didn’t, why?

DAVID KILCULLEN: We did know all this back then. People like the Rand Corporation, I mean, Steve Hosmer, who has just published a piece at Rand is probably certainly one of the most venerable, but also one of the most insightful counterinsurgency experts in the world. And I think he was actually at the meeting in 1958 at Rand, where they invented the term counterinsurgency. So we have this knowledge sitting in the U.S. government, or accessible..

CHARLIE ROSE: Was it sitting on the table of the people who planned, executed the war?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I’m wasn’t there. So I’m not sure.

CHARLIE ROSE: That’s evasive, isn’t it?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, I mean, it’s just a fact.

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, but you know. You’ve talked to Petraeus how many hours? You’ve talked to all the people who had been involved in trying to make some sense out of this, and win.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I’ll tell you what I think, watching it from my position and what I went through, through the Afghanistan and Iraq period. I think that we — there was certainly a feeling after the Afghan war that we had changed the nature of conflict in some way, because of the rapid success against the Taliban.


DAVID KILCULLEN: If you remember what we.

CHARLIE ROSE: Oh, I remember.

DAVID KILCULLEN: . people were talking about the Afghan winter, and talking about the British retreating from Kabul in 1841.

CHARLIE ROSE: Three weeks later, it was over.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, eight weeks or something, yes. And it was, you know. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we did not — we couldn’t get conventional U.S. military forces into Afghanistan.

CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, but we what, 300, or 110 CIA and 200 special forces, the combination of that. But we had the Northern Alliance troops too.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Exactly. And my old boss, Hank Crumpton, who was a key player in that campaign, often says that, you know, the Afghans won against the Taliban. All we did was to enable them, using very flexible, agile approach, with small numbers of troops on the ground, and linking that to the (inaudible) system.

CHARLIE ROSE: And how much air power?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, air power — there is a fascinating debate going on right now in the counterinsurgency community about the role of air power in counterinsurgency. Let me just — we can talk about that later if you like. But let me just kick off that topic by saying that one of the things that Hank says is the most useful air asset they had in that period was, in fact, the C-130, that could deliver — they could talk to a tribal leader or.

DAVID KILCULLEN: . and say, hey, what do you need? Well, people or assistance of various kinds, or food, medical supplies.

CHARLIE ROSE: And the Taliban had no means to shoot them down?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yeah, well, they did, but we had air superiority. I mean, this is the thing. And I’m sure we’re going to get into this. A lot of Army guys say, you can’t solve complicated social and political problems from a flight level of 20,000 feet using guided bombs, and therefore the Air Force doesn’t have a big role in counterinsurgency. OK?

That is so not true. For a start, the armies of the Western world haven’t shown ourselves particularly good at solving those problems either. So it’s not an air power-land power thing. It’s about how we adapt to a very complicated environment.

But secondly, everything is easy if you assume air superiority. You don’t need an air force to deny air superiority to a modern joint force. And you know, guys.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Sorry. Guys who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan will tell you that one of the most fundamental elements in that campaign was working out the system that allowed the Soviets to maneuver and operate in the hinterland of Afghanistan, and overstressing that system, particularly the air system, by the introduction of high-tech surface-to-air weapons that allowed us to essentially overstress the Soviets

CHARLIE ROSE: Which we provided for the mujahideen?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes. And so you know, there’s this assumption that if air power doesn’t have a role in counterinsurgency. If air is doing its job right — and you need a big air force and a powerful air force to do that — if it’s doing its job right, the ground guys shouldn’t really notice it. What they should notice is the air support, the close air support for them when they are fighting the enemy. They should notice the ability to move troops around. They should notice the logistic support. But that sits under a bubble of air superiority, and I’m not — we ignore that factor at our peril, because any smart insurgent knows that we require that, and will turn against us.

CHARLIE ROSE: Are these insurgents pretty smart?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Very much so.

CHARLIE ROSE: Very much so. How come they got so smart?

DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s evolution. You know, we kill the stupid ones.

If you think about what has happened to the average Iraqi insurgent group since 2003, some of them had a personnel turnover in excess of 1,500 percent, right?


DAVID KILCULLEN: So we’ve — we’ve killed the stupid ones by now. And those that weren’t killed have learned. And I think adaptation is perhaps one of their most salient characteristics.

CHARLIE ROSE: You seem to be saying that — that Afghan — Afghanistan was an exception to everything .

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, I think .

CHARLIE ROSE: . and we got — whatever happened to us, we didn’t find the same situation when we got to Iraq.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Let me tell you what I think the two main lessons out of Afghanistan should have been — should have been.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Firstly, you need a reliable and solid local ally. Right? Northern Alliance .


DAVID KILCULLEN: . they did most of the fighting, in fact.

CHARLIE ROSE: Even though their leader had been assassinated two weeks before.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, why do you think that al Qaeda assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud? Because they knew that the national — the Northern Alliance would be one (ph) of the key (ph) players.

CHARLIE ROSE: Right, right.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Secondly — so the first one is a strong local ally with roots in the society, local support, and you know, willing to get the job done. And the second, I think, think key issue in Afghanistan was that they crafted — we crafted — a very solid political strategy right from the outset, which we then implemented. So Hamid Karzai, very capable leader, with a solid tribal base, but also wider respect in the Pashtun community, was essentially chosen in the Loya Jirga, to become the interim leader. He then did a good job in that role. He was confirmed by the democratic national election, which observers said was very well-conducted. He’s got the support of the international community via the Bonn process and allied partners. And so what you have is a solid political framework on which to craft the security programs, the economic programs, governance programs that you need to conduct a solid counterinsurgency. And we lack that in Iraq. And we lacked, past tense, we didn’t have a Karzai.

CHARLIE ROSE: The reality today is that Afghanistan is looking worse rather than better.

DAVID KILCULLEN: It depends who you talk to.

CHARLIE ROSE: But then tell me who you talk to.

DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s a complicated — a lot of Afghans that I talk to — and I got — just let me caveat this by saying, I haven’t been in Afghanistan since the end of last year.


DAVID KILCULLEN: So — that’s seven months ago. So it’s a little.



DAVID KILCULLEN: So, you know, I think we do see the Taliban losing support in a lot of parts of Afghanistan. They’ve almost gone in a similar path to al Qaeda, in that they’ve outworn their welcome to a certain extent.

CHARLIE ROSE: This is the same thing that happened in Anbar province.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes, that’s right. That was one of the things that happened in Anbar, yes.

CHARLIE ROSE: All right, so here now, we have the surge, you know, and you’ll have 160,000 troops there, 5,000 will be coming out before the end of the year, and then by April you have another 25,000 probably coming out. Correct?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I wouldn’t like to .

CHARLIE ROSE: OK, fair enough.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Certainly, we’re pulling out a Marine expeditionary unit and a brigade by the end of the year. We’re rotating them out not to be replaced at this point.

CHARLIE ROSE: Right, exactly. All right. I mean, the question everybody has is so, do you think this thing is winnable without — in less than 10 years? What does it mean for the United States commitment there?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, let’s back up again. It will take 10 years. That doesn’t mean we’ll be committed there with 160,000 troops.

CHARLIE ROSE: I understand that.

DAVID KILCULLEN: And that’s very important, because a lot of the debate in the States is all about, you know, how many troops should we pull out, when should they come out, where should they come from.

The real question we need to be asking ourselves is what do we want Iraq to look like when we don’t have 160,000 troops there? And is that achievable? And then we should be working back from that. You see what I’m saying?

CHARLIE ROSE: OK, well, tell us what do we want Iraq to look like as far as you know, from you and General Petraeus and everybody else? What do we want Iraq to look like?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, I’m speaking only on my own here.

CHARLIE ROSE: OK, fair enough.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Let me just say that I think what we’re after here is sustainable security. We’re after stability that doesn’t require the coalition in a loop (ph) to make it happen. It doesn’t require us to be there. It’s self-sustaining. And if you can achieve self-sustaining security, then you create the basis for political confidence-building measures, possibly moving to a — some kind of power-sharing agreement, or possibly not.

And that’s the point about when we back off and let the Iraqis run it, they will run it. It’s not the 51st state. This isn’t a neocolonial project. You know, our aim has always been to get out of Iraq as soon as we could under stable circumstances.

CHARLIE ROSE: It doesn’t seem to me that it’s the wrong question to ask, is — you need to have some level of expectation when they’ll be able to run it. And you are saying if we back out now, they’ll be left to run it. But if they’re left to run it now, we hear horror stories about what the circumstances would look like. But I mean, how — you’ve got to have some basis, I think, in political leadership to ask people what you are requiring — what you’re expecting of them.

DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s a very difficult political sell. You know, that’s why counterinsurgents adopt their sort of four favorite strategies that we talked about once before.


DAVID KILCULLEN: And one of which is protraction and the other is exhaustion. And what they are trying to do is draw the thing out and exhaust us and our political will.

CHARLIE ROSE: The political will here and.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yeah. And the will — the will to compromise and the will to talk to each other amongst Iraqi groups.

You know, again, back to what the Iraqis say. A lot of Iraqis say in the first year, the goal of the insurgents was to split the coalition from the people, and when they had achieved that, then they focused on splitting different groups in the people away from each other. So .

CHARLIE ROSE: That would be Sunni, Shia or that’d be .

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes, Sunni, Shia, also Turkmen and Kurds from Arabs .


DAVID KILCULLEN: . just — just trying to fragment society. And I think we can probably date from probably as sure as 2004, the start of an al Qaeda campaign to provoke a sectarian civil war and to change the terms of the conflict, if you like, in Iraq. And I think we can say that that succeeded on the 22nd of February 2006, with the Samarra bombing.

So, you know, again, just to illustrate the point, it’s not an engineering problem. It’s a form of extreme sport, you know. It’s two sides here, multiple sides, all trying to maximize their own interests and maneuvering against each other. So we can have a good plan that, just because the trend lines are upward now or downward now, doesn’t mean that it’s going to play out in a particular way. There’s another — there’s another series of actors here. I mean, we maneuver against them.

CHARLIE ROSE: If I say something like is this winnable, what would you say? Define winnable?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I would say that to ask that — to ask it that way is a bit of a copout. And I know that you didn’t come up with the concept is it winnable.


DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s like — you know, you are climbing a mountain. And you’re having difficulty getting up the mountain. So you say the mountain is not climbable. The mountain is climbable. Maybe you can’t climb it, but it’s climbable. Counterinsurgency is winnable. About 80 percent of counterinsurgency campaigns have been won. It’s a bit of a myth to think that we can’t win against insurgents. Insurgents usually lose. But the difference between a successful and a failed counterinsurgency often resides in the political activity.

CHARLIE ROSE: As you know, everybody will look at the same — will listen to you with admiration, and they’ll say we created the counterinsurgency. We created this battle against the counterinsurgents. We have put ourselves in a very bad place, and it doesn’t look like there’s a way out.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think it’s .

CHARLIE ROSE: . without a lot of time .

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think it’s very tough and I think it will be messy, and it won’t be — it won’t look necessarily the way we want — we think it’s going to look now.

CHARLIE ROSE: And the end results won’t be what we intended in the beginning.

DAVID KILCULLEN: But I don’t think that means that it’s not winnable. I think that — I actually have — I’m a little bit Zen about this, you know. I think it’s going to — it’s going to play out as it’s going to play out. And the Iraqis — the ones I’ve worked with anyway — have shown me, you know, that they do understand the environment. I mean, imagine we went to — imagine the Iraqis coming to L.A. and trying to police Los Angeles. How well do you think they would do?

CHARLIE ROSE: Not so well.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Not so well. And this is the environment — this is their environment, and getting them .

CHARLIE ROSE:. I wouldn’t think it’d work so well in Baghdad either, the way things are looking.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, yeah. But my point is, you know, you’ve got to have a local solution to a local problem. And at some point, we transition from being the lead partner to being a supporting partner and letting them do it their way.

Now, I said 10 years for the overall campaign. I would suspect that we won’t be able to substantially downsize in the next three to five years. You know, we’re not talking about a 10-year U.S. (inaudible) combat commitment .

CHARLIE ROSE: I understand.

DAVID KILCULLEN: What we’re talking about is thinking in a timeframe of 10 years and working back from that.

CHARLIE ROSE: And being there for a long time, though.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yes, long-term.

CHARLIE ROSE: In one way or the other. Long-term commitment.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Because the fundamental advantage that the insurgents have is what I call the longevity advantage. They will be there in the environment when we leave. So, for example, when we went into Diyala, the enemy said to the population, you know what? The Americans are coming in, and we have to leave, but we live here, we’re going to come back when the Americans are gone.

CHARLIE ROSE: And we’re going to find out who was good and who was bad.

DAVID KILCULLEN: And we’ll find out who was — that’s right. Making a list, checking it twice, right?


DAVID KILCULLEN: One of their fundamental activities therefore in moving into Diyala was to demonstrate to the population that the enemy is not coming back. That in partnership with the Iraqi government and with the Iraqi local security element, we will be able to protect you so the enemy can’t come back. And killing the enemy, killing the insurgents is one of the best ways of convincing the population they are not going to come back, right? So, there’s a certain amount of killing involved in this. So, I don’t want to give the impression that’s it’s just fancy footwork.

But it’s actually fundamentally about political maneuver; it’s about demonstrating longevity to the population so that they feel confident to actually work with the government.

CHARLIE ROSE: People have come and sat exactly where you are. Smart people.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Many people much smarter than me.


CHARLIE ROSE: I’m not making that point. But I’m saying smart people come here.


CHARLIE ROSE: And they’ve characterized this as the worst foreign policy decision in American history. And if not the worst, at least the top three or four. What do you think history is going to say about this?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, I would say that, again, that’s a fascinating historical debate. I don’t want to sound glib, but I have other problems to deal with right now, which is to play the hand we’ve been dealt in the best possible fashion. And you can argue the rights and wrongs of decisions made in 2002 for a long time. The only practical value of that for a guy like me is to think about some of the mistakes we made in 2002 and 2003 and try to avoid them coming out.

CHARLIE ROSE: Have we just been playing the best hand the best possible way since Petraeus went back and created the idea of the surge? Is it fair to say that if we had done this earlier, we would be in a better place? Did we get smart late?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think that’s a bit unfair, particularly to General Casey. And, you know, it’s not my place to comment on U.S. general officers. So let me just comment on the environment. General Petraeus ran a conference in February 2006 to actually review the counterinsurgency manual. It was down at Fort Leavenworth. It was a three-day conference. And it was unique, and we had .

CHARLIE ROSE: What year was this?



DAVID KILCULLEN: We had — we had human rights people, Sarah Sewall from the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard was one of the key players. We had Human Rights Watch. We had lawyers working the problem with us. We had a variety of social scientists, military experts, intelligence people all sitting down in a room and sort of workshopping a draft version of the manual, to try and make it the best we possibly could.

I was at that conference with a number of my colleagues. I left the conference a day early because of the Samarra bombing. Samarra bombing happened in the middle of that conference.

CHARLIE ROSE: Which created the sectarian violence that.

DAVID KILCULLEN: You know, 48 hours later, I’m on the ground in Baghdad. And the Iraqis were saying, what has happened here fundamentally changes the terms of the conflict. We’ve gone from being — from being in fundamentally an insurgency situation to being in a sectarian conflict, where the requirements will be different moving forward.

Now, as it happens, and probably not accidentally on the part of the enemy, we were in the process of forming the Iraqi government. That was exactly the same five-month period when guys like Tom Warrick were working extremely hard to put together the Iraqi cabinet of the Maliki government, which we have now. And so, we were tied up with trying to put together the Iraqi political structure that is now in place. And the insurgents sort of had a time window there to expand their influence.

And enormous numbers of people died. You know, between the 22nd of February and the end of March 6,000 bodies turned up in the streets of Baghdad. You know, people were just being — getting killed all over the place. And it was just fundamentally destructive to the social fabric of Iraq.

So, what I would say is not that General Casey did it wrong and General Petraeus did it right, it’s that it’s a two-sided .

CHARLIE ROSE: Things change.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Things change. When — why did they transform the war? Because we were winning. Right? Also, in 2005, we had improvements in the security situation. We had two very well-attended elections, where lots of people came out and voted. We had progress towards a political solution. You know, it was all, you know, obviously, there were still problems and challenges, but we were moving on a broadly positive path. The enemy saw that, so they transformed the .

CHARLIE ROSE: But is the situation on the ground today — and I got to leave almost with this question — is the circumstance on the ground today, essentially the sectarian conflict, rather than, you know, the al Qaeda and the counterinsurgency conflict?

DAVID KILCULLEN: You’re going to — well, there’s a very important sectarian component to the fight in Iraq.

This is not unique to Iraq. Northern Ireland, Malaya, a variety of classical insurgencies had a very strong sectarian component. Also, drawing a distinction between civil war and counterinsurgency is a little bit false. An insurgency is a form of civil war.

CHARLIE ROSE: Right. Right.


CHARLIE ROSE: And insurgencies latch on to, or .

DAVID KILCULLEN: Right. They super-infect an existing issue. What we — what I think we — is different with this is that the role of al Qaeda is as an accelerant. And you’ve probably heard us talk about — about that, where there’s a cycle of violence, which al Qaeda provokes and seeks to accelerate.

They are not the only ones who do it. The Shia death squads, belonging to various organizations, in the past have been very active in that area, too. And so, what people do is they move in and try to provoke a sectarian backlash against a particular community. They carry out an atrocity. That then leads the people in the other part of the community to retaliate, and that provokes violence and instability, and that keeps the thing boiling.

And that’s kind of why we treat al Qaeda as a key accelerant and try to remove them from the equation.

But that doesn’t make it enemy-centric, because that’s the start, not the end of the operation. What you then have to do is go in there and work with the population and make them secure and bring governance down to the level of the people, so that they can be integrated into the Iraqi system. And that’s fundamentally not a military activity, in fact.

CHARLIE ROSE: What has the impact of Iran been on this?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think the Iranians have always had a very close interest in what happens in Iraq, and — understandably and probably legitimately, as a regional power. But I think their behavior to date has been fundamentally unhelpful. And I .

CHARLIE ROSE: Because they are doing what? Providing .

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, you — I mean, I know you asked General Petraeus this exact question last week. So rather than sort of give you the same dish (ph) of it that he gave you about what they are doing, which was accurate, of course — what I think we should do is step back a little bit from that, and say what is the role of Iran in the region? And say, well, you know, it’s a complicated security picture not only in Iraq. Iraq is not an island. It’s part of a very complex regional tapestry of security issues.

I believe that the Iranians are probably not willing to help us stay in Iraq. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to fight or be in conflict with them, because we don’t want to stay in Iraq. What we want to do is stabilize it, and then, you know, downsize.

And once we leave Iraq, as the region moves forward, the Iranians are always going to have a valued and legitimate role. I don’t think this is an issue about Iran as a nation. It’s more about the way that a particular regime in Tehran, with a very particular ideological slant, has been exploiting the situation in Iraq for its own advantage, not the advantage of the Iranian people.

If you survey populations across the Middle East, the population in the Middle East that is most pro-American is the Iranian population.

CHARLIE ROSE: But they are not in power.

DAVID KILCULLEN: You know, Ahmadinejad, the president, was elected as a reform candidate because people weren’t happy with the regime.

CHARLIE ROSE: Economic reform primarily.

DAVID KILCULLEN: And some social, too.


DAVID KILCULLEN: You know. So, you know, my point is it’s a complex picture, and, you know, the military role of Iran is well documented. My boss spoke about that a couple of weeks ago. I’m not going to rehash that. But the political issue is broader than just the Quds Force supporting activity and using .

CHARLIE ROSE: Well, can you speak as to whether it will be productive for the United States to try to take out the Quds Force?

DAVID KILCULLEN: We already are. I mean, we’ve done a huge damage to them. And I think you are aware of the head of the secret cells, which is not Quds Force, but — was killed. We did a lot of work against various networks that bring particular types of explosive devices into Iraq. So there’s work going on.

But fundamentally, I think what we have to recognize is that Iran always was, is and always will be a factor in Iraq. What we want to do is make sure it’s a constructive factor.

CHARLIE ROSE: Are you still advising General Petraeus?

DAVID KILCULLEN: He and I talk from time to time, but I’ve moved on from that particular task.

CHARLIE ROSE: To do what?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Still between jobs at the moment. Doing a variety of things for different people in in the alliance.

CHARLIE ROSE: Is he a different general because he seems to want to reach out to people with, for the lack of a better word, academic pedigree?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, you know, a lot of us have been characterized as sort of guys with Ph.Ds.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Most of us – I mean, I have 20 years of field experience here. Most of the other guys who have been talked about as Dr. So and So are guys who are field guys. You know, we just happen to have studied the subject. So I don’t think we’re fundamentally academics.

But your question was about him.


DAVID KILCULLEN: He is just an incredibly respected practitioner and person who understands this type of conflict. I don’t think you could possibly have a better leader for the situation that we have now. He’s — as I said, he is not a guy who needs a lot of coaching on counterinsurgency. He wrote the book. So, if you are going to have a team on the ground doing this at this stage of the war, he is the guy that you want in charge.

I think that he does have a very sort of almost a unique level of understanding of this particular kind of warfare, and that’s what we need right now.

So I think we — there’s been a sort of a focus on the surge and the numbers of troops and the, you know, the sort of battlefield geometry of who goes where in the battle space. Actually, what is knew here is the idea and the leader that’s implementing that idea. And I think that has — that makes it winnable.

CHARLIE ROSE: Where is al Qaeda getting its support and where are those people who are fighting for them coming from?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, at the unclassified level, I think one of the most interesting things with support to al Qaeda recently has been a very substantial drop in foreign fighters coming into Iraq.

CHARLIE ROSE: Because they had an impact on the borders or they .

DAVID KILCULLEN: Partly. Also, the Syrians are doing — through some very substantial diplomatic work, in fact, by the State Department, we have a regional partnership which is working to prevent the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq. Also, I think .

CHARLIE ROSE: Through Syria.

DAVID KILCULLEN: It was one of their places .

CHARLIE ROSE: Because General Petraeus, in the conversation, as you know because you’ve seen it, indicated that, you know, there were some interesting things going on with Syria.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I’m not a Syria expert, so I wouldn’t want to comment on Syria in detail. But let me say with regard to the flow of foreign fighters, one of the things that has really, I think, contributed to the drop in the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq is the way that al Qaeda and some of the other groups used them. They simply burn them off as.


DAVID KILCULLEN: . fodder and as suicide bombers. And you can understand that. I mean, if you are a network that has lots of foreigners coming in, you don’t want to be taken over by the foreigners. And so you try to, you know, put them in jobs where they can’t control it. And I guess suicide bombers is a pretty short-lived .

CHARLIE ROSE: You mean the leaders of the insurgency are using the al Qaeda as fodder.


CHARLIE ROSE: Cannon fodder.

DAVID KILCULLEN: The leaders of al-Qaeda ..


DAVID KILCULLEN: . are using local volunteers from other countries .

CHARLIE ROSE: As fodder.

DAVID KILCULLEN: . as fodder. And most people are now aware of that, and .

CHARLIE ROSE: But the leaders of al Qaeda in Iran — I mean in Iraq are not Iraqis, are they?

DAVID KILCULLEN: The organization is about 95 percent Iraqis.

CHARLIE ROSE: It is. So, the leadership of Iraqi — of al Qaeda in Iraq is 95 percent..

DAVID KILCULLEN: No, the organization overall is 95 percent Iraqi, but the leadership is very heavily foreign. You’re quite right. So, you know, you think about the guys who were recently killed or captured, al-Masri .


DAVID KILCULLEN: Oh, he’s not recently killed, but the Egyptian, that’s what that means.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Al-Tunisi, al-Turki — they’re are all foreigners.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Not all, but predominantly. And I think what has happened, particularly in Anbar and other places, is people have realized they are being exploited by a bunch of guys who don’t have the interests of the Iraqi people at heart. And I think also the foreign fighters coming in have realized that if you want to — if you want to contribute and you want to be part of the Iraqi resistance, going with the al Qaeda way is just a ticket to, you know, you’ll make a two-second, two-nanosecond contribution, and then you’ll be a flash and you’ll be gone. So I think people are realizing that, you know, al Qaeda’s approach is not the way to go.

CHARLIE ROSE: General Petraeus, the president, everybody talks about Anbar. It’s almost like they want to say, if you say to them, as I have, the political reconciliation is not taking place, as I said to you, in Baghdad — they all want to say, but, you know, the new news is Anbar.


CHARLIE ROSE: How significant is it? I mean, and how .

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, I think Anbar is shorthand.

CHARLIE ROSE: . portable is it?

DAVID KILCULLEN: It’s shorthand. Right now, the phenomenon that you are talking about is not in Anbar; it’s in about 45 percent of the country. It’s in Anbar; it’s in Diyala; it’s in Babel. It’s in Baghdad. Even down in Nasiriyah with Shia tribes, we’re seeing a similar kind of phenomenon.

CHARLIE ROSE: Where they are turning against al Qaeda.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Jaish al-Mahdi in the case of the Shias. But, so, there’s a — there’s a much wider geographical and demographic spread to this thing than just al-Anbar. And what has happened in other parts of the country is not exactly the same as what happened in Anbar. And what happened in Baghdad was driven by local community leaders, who are often religious leaders.


DAVID KILCULLEN: So, it is a — it’s different in different parts of the country, but it’s a very substantial phenomenon. And it’s not something that we started, it’s not something we really predicted. But it’s certainly making an enormous difference.

CHARLIE ROSE: The best news we’ve had, is it not, or not?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, yeah. Well, it’s fraught with — I mean, there is dangers in it.

CHARLIE ROSE: Which are?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, you know, I mean, these guys are not Jeffersonian democrats. These guys are .

CHARLIE ROSE: Sunni tribesmen.

DAVID KILCULLEN: And they are motivated by self-interest. But, you know, that’s a reliable .

CHARLIE ROSE: And they might change their mind again?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I would be surprised. I mean, you remember when Sheikh Sattar tragically was killed.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Some people said, well, that’s the end of the uprising, but it wasn’t. In fact, it .

CHARLIE ROSE: They used his funeral as a rallying cry almost.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Well, people — people started the uprising because al Qaeda was killing sheikhs.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Killing another sheikh just reinforced the point that you can’t trust al Qaeda.

So, I think what we’re seeing is people are realizing that — that al Qaeda have treated them as idiots and exploited them. And they are turning away from that and trying to say, all right, what can our role be in the future Iraq, by turning against al Qaeda and beginning to cooperate with the government and bringing local security.

CHARLIE ROSE: This is not your primary expertise, but I want you — because you do talk to a lot of people, as you said, an interesting conversation you had was on a transport plane going over to Iraq about Iraq.

Suppose you believe this is a fundamental mistake by the United States to go into Iraq. What do you do if that’s your belief and that’s your fundamental conclusion about this?

DAVID KILCULLEN: You mean as an American .


DAVID KILCULLEN: Here, in America .

CHARLIE ROSE: Well, and you are looking for a policy. You are looking for something smart to do, because you believe this is a fundamental mistake. Damaged American credibility. Hurt America in the region. Hurt America with the Arab friends. Hurt America in terms of we lost of first, lives; second, missed opportunities in other places; third, treasure.

DAVID KILCULLEN: People say to me, you know, we want to end the war. We want to stop the war.



CHARLIE ROSE: That’s my point.

DAVID KILCULLEN: And I say, I’m all for that. That’s what we’re trying to do. You know, but you mean stop it, right? You don’t mean just leave halfway through? That’s the point, right?

CHARLIE ROSE: No, (inaudible) what I mean, I’m asking the question. The point is, that people who believe all of this was a bad idea gone worse, and they are saying, I want to do something else?

DAVID KILCULLEN: Whether or not you believe it was a good idea in 2002 .


DAVID KILCULLEN: . is not — doesn’t necessarily imply a particular answer about what we should do next. Right? There are people who didn’t support the war in 2002 or 2003, who know say, well, actually, leaving would make things substantially worse, and therefore we need to, you know, stick it out. There are other people who did support the war in 2002 who are now saying the opposite.

So, I think what you’ve got to say is you’ve got to look at the situation that exists now, and we’ve got to figure out what to do next. And what happened in 2002 and 2003 is relevant only insofar as there are some lessons to be drawn from that, to avoid mistakes going forward. But it doesn’t — that particular .

CHARLIE ROSE: That doesn’t get us out of our present place.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Yeah, doesn’t get us — you know, it’s a fascinating historical debate, like I said. But that’s what it is. It’s an historical debate. And the practical policy question is what to do next, and how to craft a consensus or a bipartisan approach that will actually allow us to pursue a longer-term strategy that can be sustainable.

CHARLIE ROSE: And it can be done without adding more troops?

DAVID KILCULLEN: I think we’ve got to be very careful about linking all this debate to how many — how many American troops .


CHARLIE ROSE: (inaudible) playing that game.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I know, I am not trying to — but let me give you an example. If we were to add 50,000 troops, just hypothetically, that would give us an extra 50,000 people to feed, people to move around, people to support. It would probably give us 10,000 extra bayonets on the ground. So, an advantage of 10,000. If we win 50,000 Iraqis from al Qaeda, it gives us an advantage not of 50,000, but of 100,000, because we get 50 and they lose 50.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Right? So, it is all about partnering with the population and convincing the population to swing away from the enemy and towards us.

Troops that we put in and out, that’s a marginal consideration in terms of numbers, just straight, you know, operations research data will tell you that, you know, 10 Iraqis fighting for us is worth, you know, a battalion’s worth of guys coming in and trying to impose something on them. So, it’s all about partnering with the Iraqis.

And, you know, the Iraqis that we work with, many of them are strong supporters of a secular, democratic, nationalist Iraq. They — yes, they have a particular confessional orientation, but, you know, some of the best Iraqi generals that I’ve worked with, you know, Shia, but you wouldn’t call them sectarian by any stretch.


DAVID KILCULLEN: Those people are out there. And, you know, we have to remember that what you see in a 30-second news segment is not necessarily the reality of the other, you know, 23 hours of the day when people are out there working and trying to get things done.

CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you for coming. It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

DAVID KILCULLEN: I know — we haven’t — you know, we’ve kicked around a lot of different issues. So, it’s nice to — nice to kind of sit down and think about it for a change, instead of being out there running.

CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you. I hope we can do it again.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Thanks, Charlie.

CHARLIE ROSE: David Kilcullen.

Thank you for joining us. See you next time.

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