The Accidental Guerrilla

Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One

Part of the Conflict Classics series
August 2017 9781849047111 392pp


This landmark book—a Washington Post bestseller—transformed the theory and practice of counterinsurgency.

Colouring his account with gripping battlefield experience from the highlands of Southeast Asia, the mountains of the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, and the dusty towns of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, David Kilcullen argues that neither counterterrorism nor traditional counterinsurgency is the appropriate framework to fight the enemy we now face. Traditional counterinsurgency is more effective than counterterrorism when it comes to entities like Al-Qaeda, but, as Kilcullen contends, our current focus is far too narrow, concentrating on only one geographical region and one state.

Today’s wars present a very different situation: stateless insurgents and terrorists operating across a large number of countries and only loosely affiliated with each other. Western armies have done a poor job of applying different tactics to different situations, continually misidentifying insurgents with limited aims and legitimate grievances as part of a coordinated worldwide network. The Accidental Guerrilla identifies the problem and suggests workable solutions.

This highly readable and closely argued book is essential for all those thinking about and fighting wars today.


‘For a wider perspective on the lessons drawn over the past seven years of the ‘war on terror’, the reader can do no better than turn to Mr Kilcullen’s excellent book.’ — The Economist

‘At the heart of this significant book is the author’s declaration that terrorism cannot be addressed by military means alone: that for American or British soldiers merely to kill insurgents is meaningless. … [Kilcullen’s] work reflects wisdom purchased by eight years of western military and political folly.’ — Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

‘This book should be required reading for anyone involved in the war on terror. Kilcullen’s central concept of the “accidental guerrilla” is brilliant and the policy prescriptions that flow from it important. And that’s not all; the book has many more insights drawn from various battlefields. — Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

‘David Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla is a richly reported and well written account of the new way of war of the twenty-first century … Analytically very sharp and also an engrossing read, Kilcullen’s book is destined to become a classic study of warfare in our new century.’ — Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst and author of Holy War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know

‘Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerrilla is a perceptive, argumentative handbook on how to fix a problem. … His strength is in knowledge of the different enemies and their motivation, and it is his case that without understanding those subtleties, the battle is lost.’ — The Times

‘This book is essential…. Kilcullen skillfully interprets the future of counterinsurgency, the proper use of military force and what we must learn from our losses and mistakes. After reading The Accidental Guerrilla, one is left to wonder why the pentagon did not listen to his sage advice back in 2003.’ — New York Times Book Review

‘Kilcullen’s influence on how the U.S. military thought about counterinsurgency campaigning cannot be overstated.’ — Thomas E. Ricks, author of The Gamble and Fiasco

‘There are some standard texts on [counterinsurgency]. The Accidental Guerrilla is sure to become one.’ — The Wall Street Journal


David Kilcullen is an author, an expert on unconventional and guerrilla warfare, and a former soldier and diplomat. He was a senior counterinsurgency adviser during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His previous books with Hurst include The Accidental Guerrilla; Blood Year; and Out of the Mountains.

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