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David Kilcullen On The Age Of The Urban Guerrilla

In the wake of Nairobi’s terror, top counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen looks at the age of the urban guerrilla.

Armed police from the General Service Unit take cover behind a wall during a bout of gunfire, outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. (AP)

Armed police from the General Service Unit take cover behind a wall during a bout of gunfire, outside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. (AP)

Wartime makes sudden surges to prominence.  In the years of Iraq and Afghan war, Australian military man David Kilcullen rocketed to prominence in tip-top US power circles.  He was a top strategist at the elbow of General David Petraeus.  At the elbow of Condoleezza Rice.  At the heart of the Iraq surge and the Afghan struggle.  Now Kilcullen is looking onward.  Out of the mountains of Afghanistan and into exploding global cities.  Asking how they absorb billions more people and new conflicts without what we saw in Nairobi last week.  Up next On Point:  keeping the peace in the age of megacities.

– Tom Ashbrook


David Kilcullen, counter-insurgency expert and former soldier, diplomat, and policy adviser for the Australian and U.S. governments. Founder and CEO of Caerus Associates. His new book is “Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla.”

Mark Bowden, national correspondent for The Atlantic and bestselling author. Author of “Black Hawk Down” and “The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: Somali Militants Mixing Business and Terror – “Illicit ivory, kidnappings, piracy ransoms, smuggled charcoal, extorted payments from aid organizations and even fake charity drives pretending to collect money for the poor — the Shabab militant group has shifted from one illegal business to another, drawing money from East Africa’s underworld to finance attacks like the recent deadly siege at a Nairobi shopping mall.”

CNN: How Al-Shabaab picks its targets – “For Al-Shabaab, the mall was an attractive target because Westerners, including Americans, frequented it. The mall is also in the capital of Kenya, a country that Al-Shabaab has good reason to dislike, as the Kenyan military played a major role in handing their forces a defeat last year when they liberated the key Somali port of Kismayo from their control.”

The Guardian: Al-Shabaab will emerge stronger after Nairobi mall attack, warns analyst – “The Somalia-based Islamist group known as al-Shabaab will emerge stronger and more unified after its terrorist attack in Nairobi, and could provide other extreme groups with an example to follow, counter-insurgency analysts warned on Tuesday. Al-Shabaab’s message is that it is ‘down but not out’, it is ‘losing territory but not peopl’”, said David Kilcullen, a former adviser to David Petraeus, then US commander in Iraq, and of Nato forces in Afghanistan.”

Excerpt: ‘Out of the Mountains’ by David Kilcullen

Reprinted from Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen with permission from Oxford University Press USA, ©by David Kilcullen, 2013.

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  • 2Gary2

    fing muslims. Islam is the greatest curse to mankind.

  • Shag_Wevera

    Yes indeed. We need to start thinking about how to subdue the disaffected poor, because sooner or later it is going to start happening here. Maybe it will be when we can’t afford medicine any more. Maybe it will be when millions recognize their catfood retirement. Gotta start thinking ahead…

    • fun bobby

      ammunition has an indefinite shelf life if stored properly

  • YesMan11

    Always remember:
    Counter-terrorism = Terrorism we do.

  • AC

    i’m going to read this book

  • AC

    how far do you think camera drones will be employed as aid in some policing? do you think all countries will accept this?

  • truegangsteroflove

    This discussion is typical of Western approaches to problem solving. Because of the intellectual tradition we evolved over the centuries, scientists of all types follow a reductionist model – look at phenomena in isolation, so you can analyze cause and effect independent of other phenomena.

    The world doesn’t work that way. We live in a system – ecological, meteorological, biological, chemical, geographic, psychological, spiritual, economic and social. All these factors interact and affect the other factors.

    A good example is that income inequality results in faster population growth. Rampant overpopulation is a direct result of widespread poverty. As we can see right here in the USA, widening income disparity is something the wealthy believe in as a religion, and for them the wider the better.

    Another factor is the need for unending growth in economic output in mass economies. Without growth, they collapse. With it, the planet’s ecosystem is stressed. As we are seeing with climate disruptions, a stressed ecosystem fights back.

    It could also be argued that what is going on in Washington is a direct result of the interaction of many factors. As a time factor, a convergence of systemic problems that aren’t being addressed will necessarily result in demagogic, hysterical pretend solutions.

    The guests presented themselves as calm, sober-minded, deliberative problem-solvers. Good luck. With their reductionist approach they are about as likely to succeed as Ted Cruz and his fanatical approach.

    • ToyYoda

      Inequality results in faster population growth. I don’t know about that. Inequality has increased in America, but the birth rate has been falling. In fact, 2013 marks the 5th year in a row that birth rates have fallen in America.

      If you want to slow down population growth, raise the standard of living. Increase of standard of living is the main reason that demographers give for declining birth rates in the Western World. Indeed, I remember reading about this stuff in an ecology book published in the ’70s.

      I think the increase in population growth, has importation of medical advances to poor nations without the same commensurate increase in living standards, it’s not inequality that drove that.

      • truegangsteroflove

        I could have used standard of living. Inequality is corollary to standard of living. As for the U.S., birth rates among the poor are still high, but are offset by social factors within the more affluent sectors. Young, highly educated people of the Occupy generation are postponing marriage and family due to uncertainty about the future.

        For better and uncomplicated analysis, the problems of poor countries are best confined to evidence in poor countries. They tend to have authoritarian regimes of one kind or another, and reward is skewed heavily to the few.

        As with anything, further study is warranted. It remains to be seen if our academic elite is capable of studying from a systems perspective, the point I was hoping to make.

  • fun bobby

    al shebab is fun to say. it makes me think of some sort of cross between shishkabob and alibaba

  • Andrew Page

    I didn’t hear anything about the problem of ‘corruption’. Mega Cities can evolve into thriving cultural and economic centers like New York, Los Angeles, London but the city infrastructure has to function to at least some minimal level: power, water, SEWER, communications. Or they can devolve into petri dishes for radicalism like Mogadishu, Lahore, Mumbai

    If funding for construction and maintenance of these systems is siphoned off by bad actors and end up in Swiss bank accounts you have a double whammy effect.

    1) You degrade the quality of life for all the citizens of the city, especially those at the bottom.

    2) You decrease trust in the government opening up the lower echelons of society to a message of “we can do better, help us kill them”

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