Last year was a 'red year' – massacres and beheadings, fallen cities, collapsed and collapsing states, the unravelling of a decade of foreign policy and military strategy. We saw the rise of ISIS, the splintering of what seemed a viable government in Iraq, and foreign fighters—many from Europe, Australia and Africa— flowing into Syria at a rate ten to twelve times that during the height of the Second Iraq War. In David Kilcullen's words, 'What the hell happened?'
In this essential essay he calls on twenty-five years' experience, as a student, researcher and occasional practitioner of guerrilla warfare and counterterrorism, in an effort to answer that question. He draws on new interviews with war-affected communities and combatants, and data from his own research and that of others. He seeks to make sense of today's crisis within a broader strategic and historical context, and to answer questions such as: What are the roots and causes of the global jihad movement? What is ISIS? Where did it come from? What threats does it pose to Australia? What does the current chaos in the international environment say about the effectiveness of Western counterterrorism strategy since 9/11, and what might a coherent future strategy look like?
About the Author
David Kilcullen is the award-winning author of Accidental Guerrilla (2009) and Counterinsurgency (2010) and now Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla (2013).
His newest book takes us away from the remote, rural guerrilla warfare of Afghanistan, and into the marginalized slums and complex security threats of the world's coastal cities. Scrutinizing major environmental trends -- population growth, coastal urbanization, and increasing digital connectivity-- he projects a future of feral cities, urban systems under stress, and increasing overlaps between crime and war, internal and external threats, and the real and virtual worlds.
'My driver pulls up to a luxury resort in the Empty Quarter. It's early morning. We've been driving fast since well before dawn, from Abu Dhabi. Now we're very near the Saudi border, and the dunes have been getting bigger all the way: by now, they're hundreds of feet tall. Over the last mile we've been penetrating a series of security layers. Helicopters come and go from a landing zone over the crest, sniffer teams are crawling over the complex, and you can hear attack dogs barking from the checkpoint, half a mile out, where police search your car and luggage. The resort has been chosen because its remoteness makes it possible to isolate the place …'—David Kilcullen