For 20 years, Kilcullen was an officer in the Australian SAS, with combat experience in East Timor and periods as a counter-insurgency adviser in Indonesia and southern Thailand. His speciality is lone insertion to acquire deep anthropological background on what he dubs hybrid conflicts. In these, what Kilcullen calls international Islamist "heretics" (takfiri) merge with "accidental guerrillas", engaged in essentially local conflicts, so as to provide the necessary cover from which to attack the West.
Such a background led to Kilcullen being invited to help write Australia's counter-terrorism policy. He was then seconded to the US State Department as Condoleezza Rice's special adviser on counter-insurgency, followed by his appointment as senior adviser to General David Petraeus. Kilcullen helped devise, and implement, the US "surge" to rectify the ill-effects of an invasion to which Kilcullen was emphatically opposed. Along with the US Army's Colonel H. R. McMasters, whose brigade-level experiences at Tal Afar also impressed Petraeus, Kilcullen is probably one of the most influential soldier-intellectuals of our time.
The essential argument of this dense but always readable book is that "it is crystal clear that our traditional paradigms of industrial interstate war, elite-based diplomacy, and state-focused intelligence — the paradigms that were so shaken by 9/11 and the campaigns that followed it — can no longer explain the environment or provide conceptual keys to overcoming today's threats of hybrid warfare and a transnational enemy exploiting local, accidental guerrillas." Kilcullen has observed any number of traditional, tribal societies where men are prepared to jettison their hoes and rakes in order to make common cause with foreign jihadists, who, by embedding themselves through marriage, seem less alien than heavily armoured Western forces who resemble Martians, not to speak of central governments that often seem to be merely doing the Martians' bidding.