Blood Year | David Kilcullen

Summary of: Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism
By: David Kilcullen


In Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism, author David Kilcullen delves into the United States’ highly contested War on Terrorism since September 11, 2001, and its detrimental consequences on global stability. The book examines the misconceptions and strategic blunders by two successive US administrations and highlights the complexity, dangers, and future trajectory of evolving terror groups. In the following summary, grasp the origins and failures of counterterrorism in the Middle East, the destabilizing activities of ISIS, and how fractured terrorist attacks perpetually challenge the safety and security of the Western world.

The Unforeseen Consequences

The book explores how the rise of ISIS offers insight into the aftermath of the War on Terror. The US, with little understanding of the region, hastily invaded Iraq under false pretenses and sold the idea of democracy to the Muslim world. The hope for progress towards a democratic society diminished as ISIS took over Mosul in 2014 and spread chaos and bloodshed. The event marked the beginning of the “blood year” and led to the unraveling of Western warfare in the Middle East with civil wars and governments falling apart in Yemen, Syria, and Libya.

Bush’s Counterterrorism Strategy

The book discusses how US President Bush’s strategy to fight al-Qaeda by proclaiming the “axis of evil” proved risky and ill-conceived. In 2002, an al-Qaeda bombing in Indonesia killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, prompting Australia to ramp up its counterterrorism efforts. However, officials found Bush’s rhetoric “strategically counterproductive” as it turned the specific threat of al-Qaeda terrorism into a broader effort. Washington’s approach led to waging wars on multiple fronts and creating new enemies. Iran, which had been cooperating with US efforts to fight al-Qaeda, was alienated by the axis of evil proclamation.

The US War in Iraq: A Flawed Policy

The US war in Iraq was plagued by a series of flaws that undermined its effectiveness. The Bush administration’s claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was a false pretense for invasion and left the US reluctant to act when Syria’s Bashar al-Assad deployed chemical weapons against his people. The flawed policy in Iraq was caused by poor decisions by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who ignored Pentagon experts’ advice that 400,000 soldiers were needed to stabilize Iraq. Instead, he insisted that only 75,000 troops could do the job, which proved criminally inadequate. Internal sectarian violence erupted in Iraq, and the country failed to become secure despite billions of dollars and several years of bloodshed. The US policy in Iraq shows the collapse of Western counterterrorism as we’ve known it since 2001. US credibility was marred, and potential allies France and Germany were alienated. Even though many people in the US chain of command were concerned about US strategy, they remained unwilling to voice their criticism.

Bush’s Strategic Blunder

In 2001, the US fought the Battle of Tora Bora and sought to secure Afghanistan. However, Bush’s administration was already preparing to invade Iraq, leading to a two-front war similar to Hitler’s mistake in 1940. By waging war in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the US committed “the greatest strategic screw-up since Hitler’s invasion of Russia” and faced massive costs in money and lives. Osama bin Laden was amazed by the misstep, and one of his deputies described the Americans as “between two fires.” The wars were complex and demanded extensive logistical resources.

Ignored Predictions Lead to Devastation

Bush and Rumsfeld’s willful ignorance of expert predictions led to the chaos that engulfed Iraq after Saddam’s fall. Analysts from various organizations warned of a guerrilla uprising. Saddam’s dictatorship had devastated Iraq’s social fabric, rendering it unprepared for democracy. In the early days of the US occupation, Iraqis experienced revenge killings; their society had no frame of reference for life after Saddam. The Iraqi military was plagued with corruption and dysfunction. The US withdrawal left behind an unprepared Iraqi military, leading to the rise of ISIS.

Sectarian Violence in Iraq

The rise of AQI and ISIS in Iraq produced a wave of sectarian violence characterized by victimizing children, trafficking, and snuff videos. A tit-for-tat sectarian slaughter claimed lives until President George W. Bush changed tactics in 2007. The “Surge,” a much-needed troop increase, led to declining violence.

Obama’s Approach to Iraq War and Bin Laden’s Irrelevance

President Barack Obama’s strategy towards Iraq was to withdraw troops as fast as possible without considering winning the war. Although credited with eliminating public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, Obama did not recognize that the al-Qaeda leader had become marginalized, and his hierarchical organization rendered ineffective in a world of remote radicalization. The book suggests that bin Laden had kept the hyperviolent factions under control, and charismatic leaders were becoming less relevant in jihadist recruitment.

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