A tough-talking, muscular Los Angeles police sergeant steadily rattled off tips to a young Marine riding shotgun as they raced in a patrol car to a drug bust: Be aware of your surroundings. Watch people’s body language. Build rapport.
Marine Lt. Andrew Abbott, 23, took it all in as he peered out at the graffiti-covered buildings, knowing that the lessons he learned recently in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods could help him soon in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“People are the center of gravity and if you do everything you can to protect them, then they’ll protect you,” he said. “That’s something true here and pretty much everywhere.”
Abbott was among 70 Camp Pendleton Marines in a training exercise that aims to adapt the investigative techniques the LAPD has used for decades against violent street gangs to take on the Taliban more as a powerful drug-trafficking mob than an insurgency.
Counter-insurgency warfare is often low-intensity conflict. Very rarely do the Taliban attempt to decisively engage our forces. More often, they attempt to inflict casualties, and melt away. The purpose is to show not that they are in control, but rather that our forces are not and cannot be in control. That’s classic guerrilla warfare.
The key to defeating that type of warfare is intelligence. And the key to generating that intelligence is the local population. The local population is the base of support for the insurgents. They either provide support willingly, or they are coerced into it. Until our forces can provide services and security that convince the local population that the benefits of cooperation with us outweighs the risks of it, they will continue to provide some level of support to the insurgents.
The LAPD is well accustomed to patrolling in areas with less than, shall we say, whole-hearted support for them. They have made good inroads in convincing the local folks to support them, and curtail their support for criminal elements. And while there are obviously huge cultural differences between SouthCentral, and Khandahar, there is an even larger cultural gulf between the normal light infantry warrior culture and that of a police department. Giving these Marines a practical exposure to how they think can only help them as they turn to their duties in Afghanistan. Here’s hoping this program becomes more widespread.