Blood Year

Islamic State and the Failures of the War on Terror

February 2016 9781849045551 256pp


Blood Year is an unsparingly honest, self-critical analysis of the collapse of western counterterrorism strategy, by one of its original architects. As a soldier, counterterrorism official, and Chief Strategist in the US State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, David Kilcullen was one of the key designers of US and allied counterterrorism policy. His insights helped to shape the strategy, known as ‘Disaggregation’, which crippled Al-Qaeda and prevented a follow-up to the 9/11 attacks. He served in Iraq at the height of the conflict there, and found himself in harm’s way in Southeast Asia, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. So Kilcullen’s frank assessment — that the strategy he helped design has failed, that it has not made us safer, and has contributed to new threats, including ISIS — makes this short book mandatory reading for anyone interested in how terrorism is confronted. The most startling part of his analysis is that there may be worse dangers than ISIS incubating in various parts of the world.

Kilcullen’s prescription for change, for a thorough reimagining of the threat, and for an open public debate on how to deal with it, will be a massive challenge. But if western democracies are to avoid more years of blood, it will be essential.


‘This is a lucid story, humanely told and utterly chilling, in which the author wears his experience and erudition lightly. It should be read by those who still cling to the debris of the fences they sat on over Iraq and Syria.’ — David Gardner, The Financial Times

‘Such an important book…What makes Blood Year particularly valuable is that Kilcullen manages to recount the events of 2014 and 2015 without succumbing to the pull of political correctness or the push of conventional wisdom. In a world where extreme views garner all the attention, and everyone is an instant expert, it is a genuine pleasure to get a practitioner’s perspective from someone who knows what they are talking about yet still manages to tell it like it is.’ — The Sunday Times

‘Mr Kilcullen gives an unflinching insider’s account of how mistakes and missed opportunities led inexorably to the events of 2014 … wise and important book.’ The Economist

‘Kilcullen explains superbly the multiple paths to jihadism, the numerous ways in which terrorists can strike, the plentiful targets urban societies offer, and antediluvian ISIS’ savvy use of the Internet and social media to attract and train acolytes.’ — The New York Times Book Review

‘David Kilcullen, an Australian military officer and academic, was deeply involved in the US counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. His engrossing book combines personal reminiscence with non-partisan analysis of what went wrong — and warns of the risk of further deterioration.’ — Gideon Rachman, Summer Reading, Financial Times

‘Kilcullen’s book is a tour de force. With telling details and personal reminiscences, he seeks to make sense of how the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq ultimately fell apart.’ Foreign Affairs

‘A timely primer to the story of countering asymmetric and terrorist threats across much of the world since 2001 – in this it is one of the best, and most accessible, of its kind.’ — Robert Fox, The World Today

‘Kilcullen is a legendary figure in the world of counterterrorism … his book is a frank and revealing exposé of all the military and political missteps that the West has made since 2001.’ — Literary Review

‘David Kilcullen is one of the world’s leading theorists of counterinsurgency; his comprehensive experience in the field, in Iraq and elsewhere, makes him uniquely qualified to analyse the emergence of ISIS. Blood Year combines elements of memoir, reportage, and trenchant analysis to provide a highly accessible, vividly written account that is a model of both clarity and rigour.’ — Peter Bergen, author of United States of Jihad, Manhunt, and The Longest War

Blood Year is a scintillating reflection on the rapidly evolving wars in and around the Middle East. Crisply written and forcefully argued, Kilcullen’s book challenges all sides in the contentious debate over America’s role in the region and the world.’ — Marc Lynch, Professor of Political Science, George Washington University and author of The New Arab Wars: Uprisings and Anarchy in the Middle East

‘A dispassionate, discouraging analysis of how the Western counterterrorism effort has gone so terribly wrong. … Kilcullen pulls no punches in describing the current security situation. … This brief work packs an analytical wallop. … Kilcullen’s personal familiarity with the territory and many major players adds elements of vivid color to the well-informed discussions of history and policy, and the narrative is refreshingly nonpartisan. … Direct, insightful, and frightening, this book will prepare readers to see through the misguided, simplistic solutions to the problems of Middle Eastern policy and Islamic terror so common in this election year.’ — Kirkus starred review


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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