Gangs and insurgencies – the final chapter

I figured I had said all there was to about this subject and then David Kilcullen had to go and appear on The Colbert Report.  Check it out (sorry, I can’t seem to embed it).

Here’s the relevant exchange (forgive any errors in the transcription but this is really close if not exact):

Colbert:  …[You say] people in poor communities turn to gangs for protection, for services when the government can’t do it for them…

Kilcullen:  Exactly right…There’s actually a huge amount of similarity between basic police work and the sort of stuff that happens with gangs and so on and what happens in this [insurgency] environment.

So, first, it’s nice to know that David obviously reads this blog but he really should credit me for these ideas [I'm just kidding Mr. Kilcullen.  Call me! ]

More seriously, I’d make a slight tweak to his observation.  There is a huge similarity to the challenges in police work and insurgencies but I’d argue that most American police departments have been trying to approach those problems from a mindset that more closely hews to traditional military thinking that counterinsurgency doctrine.

Current anti-crime measures are almost exclusively reactive and suppression based.  You wait for a crime to occur, you find the suspect and you arrest him/her.  There’s no identification or addressing of underlying factors.

This video really struck a cord with me since I had virtually the same conversation with my command which I was in Afghanistan in 2003.  My command could not get their heads around the idea of insurgency and could only conceive of conventional military threats.  Hence, I was tasked to do an Intelligence Preperation of the Battlefield so that they could plan what to do if the Taliban attempted to overrun Bagram airfield.  Now, Bagram had over 10,000 soldiers at the time, in addition to a sizable number of attack helicopters and aircraft and yet, the only threat scenario these guys could come up with was a Taliban motorized rifle division coming over the Koh-i-Safi mountains.  IEDs?  Rocket attacks?  Nah…”This isn’t Iraq” I was told or “C’mon…who does that?”

As a side note, my repeated attempts to convince them that such a scenario was highly unlikely and that other threats should have a higher priority went unheeded, setting off an unfortunate string of increasingly dysfunctional exchanges which ended with me telling the S-3 that he was full of bulls*it at a very full shift change brief.  (Not a particularly wise move for a mid-level NCO although, miraculously, I avoided any repercussions).

We had a number of soldiers with civilian law enforcement experience and I recommended dragooning them, on a part time basis, to assist in intelligence gathering and developing a decent view of our new operating environment.  Command couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t get all the information we needed from the internet.  Needless to say, that didn’t happen and 2003-2004 in Afghanistan (at least in the Bagram area) can best be thought of as a year of lethargy.

Still, it is encouraging to hear that the military was inspired in part by the academic/research work done in law enforcement and people who understood the issue made it to the top.   Hopefully the military can return the favor to the law enforcement community.

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