This interview with military strategist David Kilcullen launches The Strategist Six, a new feature that will provide a glimpse into the thinking of prominent academics, reporters, government officials, military officers and discipline leaders from around the world.
1. Is the US-led military intervention in Iraq starting to produce the desired results?
Yes. We are starting to see slow but significant improvement on the ground in Iraq. The remaining key problems are primarily political, but it’s a slow process of trying to roll back a really resilient and dangerous enemy.
2. When do you think the Iraqi Army will be in a position to retake Mosul?
Best case, not before about September or October. More likely, into the new year.
3. Has Russian intervention saved the Assad regime?
Yes. Russian intervention stopped the rot last September. The Assad regime was losing ground all through last year and looked like it might collapse. Now there’s really very little chance that the Assad regime will collapse. Whether the Russians can roll that back and improve the Assad regime’s control, that’s a different question. They’ve certainly staved off the fall of the regime, and now it’s a question of what happens next, and everyone’s hoping that what will happen next is peace talks.
4. What is the future for the Kurds, given they’ve done most of the hard fighting against ISIS? Do you foresee the emergence of a Kurdish state?
Iraqis would dispute that the Kurds have done most of the hard fighting, I think the Kurds would agree with you. There certainly is already a de facto Kurdish state in the north, the question is what is the extent of that state, and how does it relate to other regional players. So there certainly is a move for the Kurdish state to expand into Syria, and there are elements within Iraqi Kurdistan that would love to see a closer relationship with, say, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, but it’s not a unified organisation. So you’ve got the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party increasingly at each other’s throats. I think it’s quite likely that we will see at the end of this process a de facto Kurdistan that is not actually particularly unified, and is very well armed compared to now, and may have territorial ambitions more broadly. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s just the symptom of the general breakdown of the geopolitical structure of the Middle East.
5. Is ISIS serious about extending its reach to Southeast Asia?
Yes. Absolutely. We’re going to see the emergence of a fully-fledged wilayah in Southeast Asia in the coming year, almost certainly. That doesn’t mean necessarily that existing jihadist groups in the region are going to welcome ISIS, necessarily, there’s likely to be competition. Unfortunately, that competition may take the form of each of them seeing how much damage they can do to regional governments in the west, so it may actually increase the terrorism threat. But certainly, ISIS has an agenda of creating these regional territorial possessions which they call provinces or wilayahs, and there certainly will be one, possibly more, within Southeast Asia in the next few years.
6. What do you think is the most significant threat to global security currently?
Right now, I would say it is the state-on-state conflict in the Middle East that’s generating population outflow in the shape of migrants to Europe and elsewhere that’s really doing significant damage to the geopolitical stability of the Middle East and North Africa. It’s contributing to this general set of economic problems including low oil prices and lack of state capacity that we’re seeing more broadly. So I would say that’s the biggest threat right now. Long term, it’s probably not the biggest threat, and certainly the terrorist element of ISIS is not the biggest threat, but the state-on-state conflict is pretty dangerous.