Latest Journal Article

Counterinsurgency Tactics: A Tool For Domestic Policing

By Dominic J. Traina

Since 2014, civil unrest has taken place in Ferguson, Berkeley, Cleveland, New York and most recently in Baltimore. These events have been triggered by incidents that have involved local law enforcement officers and the deaths of members of the local community. These cities along with others in the United States are plagued with similar social issues, such as income inequality, that ferment social and other economic woes that fuel high crime rates and unemployment.

These issues fester in many urban areas throughout the United States. The unemployment rate in Ferguson, Missouri for example is at 26% for African-Americans. Understandably, cities throughout the U.S. should be concerned as civil unrest appears to be on the rise. Saint Augustine once noted in an essay about the elements of peace and war that, "The purpose of all wars is peace." Hopefully, lessons have been learned from the recent events of civil unrest and opportunities for a greater understanding of these complex issues will be addressed. Counterinsurgency (COIN) tactics and strategies learned over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan could be considered useful by many of our local and state law enforcement officials. Future unrest could be thwarted by reviewing some of these lessons in counterinsurgency and incorporating some of the tactics into the widely used community policing that is already a huge part of the policing strategy in many major cities. Through enhanced COIN training, at the police recruit level and through additional advanced training for seasoned officers some civil unrest might be diffused. A question could be posed is; what type of nexus could be made between counterinsurgency tactics and community policing in an effort to stabilize urban disorder and improve relationships with local law enforcement?

I.Summary of Coin

The insurgency that began in Iraq following the invasion in 2003 was not effectively countered for several years until 2007, when General David Petraeus took charge of the Iraq War. The uptick in violence was not even considered an insurgency for some time. Nevertheless, following some major shake ups within the Department of Defense, efforts were soon made to thwart the violence. General Petraeus and staff had created the U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24, which essentially became the blue print for counterinsurgency.

How do we define an insurgency? The U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, explains:

"An insurgency is an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. . . . Stated another way, an insurgency is an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control."

Aspects of counterinsurgency operations.

The definition of a counterinsurgency is: "Counterinsurgency is military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency." In short a counterinsurgency is often perceived as a "low intensity" or "asymmetrical conflict." This type of warfare is nothing new and has been around since the beginning of mankind. Yet, it seems difficult to understand and even more challenging to implement. Counterinsurgency is a unique style of warfare as a greater emphasis is placed on intelligence, security and peace-keeping operations, population control, propaganda, and efforts to gain the trust of the people. Notice that much of this requires human interaction and it is political. An insurgency, takes place when the state fails to meet the needs of its citizenry and no longer seems to be legitimate.

Therefore, "the key in COIN is not to monopolize force but to monopolize legitimate force" In the FM 3-24 it is noted that, "Legitimacy is the main objective." Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, was a commanding officer of an Army regiment in Iraq and once told his soldiers, "Every time you treat an Iraqi disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy." Furthermore, he banned soldiers from using the term "haji" as this was thought of as a derogatory term towards the Iraqis. Some will argue that in many of our cities the police appear to have lost their legitimacy with the local population. If many citizens in urban areas feel as though they have been marginalized or disrespected by the police than it is unlikely that they would actively assist law enforcement.

Demonstration Algerian War, 1960

A reflection upon the Algerian War, from 1954 - 1962, reminds us that the tactics used by the French during the uprising might have been effective at the tactical level. However, they failed miserably at the strategic level. These tactics included blowing up houses in Arab neighborhoods to gather information and terrorize the residents. This failed as it only encouraged more Arabs to join in on the uprising and delegitimized the ruling French government. Rarely, will the native citizens side with what is seen as a foreign invader and occupier. Moreover, hard power tactics inflame the insurgency. The law enforcement community can learn from these failed tactics and strategies in dealing with insurgencies; as the same logic could be considered when citizens in urban communities fail to assist local law enforcement.

The cornerstone of any COIN effort is security for the populace.
Counterinsurgency theorist and practitioners argue that the primary mission of a counterinsurgency force is not to kill the enemy but to secure the population. Legitimate governments generate the popular support required to manage internal problems, change, and conflict.

In domestic policing it is imperative to catch the criminals; however, this is sometimes at a great cost of losing the support from the local population. Members of this community could be thought of as "accidental enablers" not really in support of criminal activity but not on the side of law enforcement, which is considered an external authority to some members of the community. In addition, some of the criminals soon become local folk heroes, similar to the likes of an Al Capone or Robin Hood, as these "accidental enablers" may have more in common with the criminals in their community than with a law enforcement agency in which they believe has lost its legitimacy. II.Similarities Between Community Policing and Counterinsurgency

Recently, a Justice Department investigation revealed that the Cleveland Police Department is considered an occupying force as opposed to a partner and resource for the community it serves. Furthermore, the investigation concluded that a cultural shift should take place in an effort to change a mind-set of an "us-against-them" amongst the Cleveland Division of Police. Cleveland has adopted a new community policing initiative, which will integrate and inculcate community policing principles. Enhanced local engagement by the department will be beneficial to deescalating violence in the future. This is a long-term effort and this commitment must be continuously communicated to the populace.

About the Author

Dominic J. Traina holds an MA in International Relations and National Security from Troy University and a MS from the Naval Postgraduate School in Security Studies. He is employed in the field of global maritime supply-chain security and is an adjunct faculty member in the homeland security studies department at Tulane University.


This is only a partial version of the article published in the latest Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security Int'l.
for the full version of the article and many others like this, please use our IACSP membership form to join the IACSP.

Get one year of magazines and newsletters for the low price of $65 Click Here!

IACSP Mailing List


bullet Special Promotions
bullet Banner Ad Rates
bullet Promotional Graphics

Grab your subscription to the most read, well respected magazine on counterterrorism in the world.
Subscribe Now!