Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Too much fighting, not enough talking?

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David Kilcullen knows a thing or two about counter-insurgency.

A former lieutenant-colonel in the Australian army and a senior adviser to U.S. General David Petraeus, he helped shape the “surge” policy that is widely credited with pulling Iraq back from the brink of chaos. He has just written a book entitled “The Accidental Guerrilla: fighting small wars in the midst of a big one” which closely examines insurgencies from Thailand and Indonesia to Afghanistan and Iraq, including what it takes to contain and quell them.

Far from being gung-ho or militaristic, Kilcullen takes an analytical approach, putting a heavy emphasis on the need for cultural and linguistic understanding. Without a deep appreciation of history, politics and anthropology, defeat is all but guaranteed  in complex foreign lands even for the world’s mightiest of armies, he argues.

 Which is why it was particularly notable what he said at a book launch in London this week.

The U.S. military has about 1.6 million personnel all told, from frontline troops to cooks and drivers. But there are just 6,000 foreign service officers in the U.S. State Department, he said. That’s about 260 soldiers to each diplomat, a far higher ratio than in any other major military in the world, according to Kilcullen.

Afghanistan’s civilians caught in the middle

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Reuters correspondent Emma Graham-Harrison has written a moving and disturbing story about an 8-year-old girl badly burned by white phosphorous after being caught in the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan.  Like everything else that happens in Afghanistan, the question of who fired the shell that exploded in her house is in dispute. Her family said the shell was fired by western troops; NATO said it was “very unlikely” the weapon was theirs; and a U.S. spokeswoman suggested the Taliban may have been responsible.

But beyond the dispute, what comes across powerfully in Emma’s account is the story of the girl. 

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