Aussies On Board Mercy
Operation Redwing anniversary

Gangland Counterinsurgency

I am aware of no more nimble organization than the US Military. Now the attendant bureaucracy is a shameless nightmare, but I am speaking of the fighting part of the force. When we invaded Iraq our entire military philosophy revolved around mobility and firepower, backed up with awesome technology. 5 years later we have completely adapted to new transportation systems and are fighting a hearts and minds, COIN battle. This take a completely different skill set and one that values knowledge about who is in your battlespace. A shift this profound would be like GM changing from a car manufacturer to a furniture company. Our commanders and troops can work this out and always do.

Marine commanders were also looking for ways to overcome a key advantage insurgents have: They can easily hide among civilians.

"Finding is the problem," Mattis says. "Our soldiers, SEALs and Marines are quite capable of killing these guys. It's how do you find them."

Commanders turned to cops for advice, but they also looked within their own ranks — to Marines who grew up in inner cities.

"The inner-city kid has a unique perspective," says Greg Williams, a retired Detroit area police officer who was recruited by the military to help develop the program. "They have a stronger urban survival instinct. The inner city kid … will see the world a little differently, a little more opportunistically."

To assist with building the training, Williams said he relied on a couple Marine sergeants who grew up in the city and chose the Marine Corps over a life of gangs.

It may be the first time the military has considered growing up in a poor neighborhood as an asset. Some of the colonels and retired officers were initially skeptical that they would learn war fighting skills from young Marines who grew up in the inner city, Lethin says.

During a conference at Camp Pendleton last year, Williams and a sergeant took a group of skeptical senior officers for a walk in a nearby town. The sergeant pointed out dangerous neighborhoods based on where cars were parked, whether there were toys in the yards and other signs that they noticed but the older officers did not.

"When they came back, all the naysayers were thoroughly convinced we were on to something," Lethin says.

Marines can be taught to pick out criminals and insurgents trying to blend into a crowd, if they know what to look for, Williams says.

Well now that is just brilliant. Situational awareness is a vital tool in the non-kinetic portion of the battle and now this includes deciding which civilians are on which team. Since the invasion we have attempted to meet and treat with local Iraqi leaders. Our lack of knowledge about their culture, coupled with language issues left us unable to tell who were good and bad actors. This program will help use a whole range of situational clues to help identify the power structure and the bad guys. Picture this situation.

Sipping chai with a couple dozen of local poobahs in an area that has had insurgent activity. Everyone claims there are no insurgents in their neighborhoods. There is one gentleman who doesn't speak but sits defiantly. As you watch some of the sheiks glance in his direction before answering. Now that is a simple example but much information can be gained by someone trained to look at a armed gang style situation. Obviously the defiant one represents the terrorists, but what are the other allegiances, tribal, neighborhood, etc. A kid who has been in rooms where gangbangers were arguing about drug turf or profits or what ever is going to have an expert eye in this room which is essentially the same dynamic. They will see subtle postures, deferences given, threats implied and many other tells that identify who plays what role in the game.

I've been in a number of situations where armed belligerents were gathered in close proximity, and no one was quite sure who was who. Whoever sorts that out first has the tactical advantage and that is vital. COIN is a different game and the more adaptations we make like this, the more effective we become. Well done Marines.