Readers of contentions interested in learning more about current military operations in Iraq than what they get from the headlines (which invariably focus on casualties, not on why or how they were incurred) would be well advised to read two Internet postings. The first is a report by Kimberly Kagan, an independent military historian and analyst, on the website of her think tank, the Institute for the Study of War. The second is a blog post written by David Kilcullen, a former officer in the Australian army with a Ph.D. in anthropology who has been serving as General David Petraeus’s chief counterinsurgency adviser. Kilcullen’s item is especially interesting because for the past few months he has had an insider’s perspective on the operations conducted and planned by U.S. forces in Iraq; in fact, he has been helping to shape the very operations that he explains here.
I have little to add except to note the cognitive dissonance I feel reading Kilcullen’s report alongside the news media accounts. The former conveys a sense of purpose and planning behind current operations, while the latter present the news from Iraq as a senseless parade of mayhem. The reality, of course, lies somewhere in between—there is only so much that even the most astute military commanders can control in the heat of battle, and much of what happens is outside their design. But it is important to realize that what we’re seeing in Iraq is not just random, meaningless violence. Both sides—coalition and Iraqi forces, as well as the Sunni and Shiite extremists—put a lot of thought into what they do. This is a war, even if a very decentralized one, and needs to be understood as such. Kilcullen’s post furthers that crucial understanding.