Monday, November 16, 2009

Police and Counterinsurgency, Home and Abroad

Yesterday's Washington Post had an interesting article on page A3 about students (military officers) from my alma mater, the "elite" Naval Postgraduate School, teaching police in Salinas, California "counterinsurgency strategy, bringing lessons from the battlefield to the meanest streets in an American city" in order to combat Salinas' gang problems.
I'm all for increased civilian-military interaction and sharing of lessons learned. And I certainly don't count myself as an expert in counterinsurgency tactics or operations. But here's the thing: police are supposed to be good at counterinsurgency. The military has adapted to doing counterinsurgency out of necessity, but they are unsuited to it and would prefer to go back to force-on-force operations. Police officers, both in Salinas and in Iraq and Afghanistan, ideally come from the community, live in the community, are committed long-term, know and win the respect of the local population, and can spot people or events that are out of place and a potential threat. Hopefully that's what the article is trying to say: "The thrust of the plan relies on winning the trust of people. In Salinas, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, the uniformed forces patrolling 'are still viewed as an occupying force,' said Police Chief Louis Fetherolf."
Even the much-maligned (by me) Michael O'Hanlon seems to recognize that in his Post op-ed today (that IS his point, right? That we need the police to be better in Afghanistan?).
So I hope what my former NPS colleagues are telling the Salinas police force is to learn Spanish, hire more Latino police officers, and involve the community. More firepower is not what's needed, in Salinas or Kandahar.

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