After Action Report: Combating Group Violence Abroad with Community-Based Approaches
November 30, 2011
One of the fundamental tenets of counterinsurgency is recognizing that specific problems within specific areas require unique solutions. Despite this, there are several concepts at the core of a community collaborative approach to reducing group-related violence that transcend borders, mainly because criminals, terrorists, and law-abiding citizens alike are all goal-oriented. They have a vision in their minds of â€śhow life is supposed to be for me.â€ť Options made available to them by society typically dictate the means by which people achieve their goals in life. According to Ronald Clarke, the best means by which a society can prevent crime from occurring is to selectively remove those illicit options from the locale, so that the only rational choice for the would-be criminal is one less harmful to themselves and to the community at large. It is up to the community to remove such constraints or â€śforced optionsâ€ť that create inherently negative situations. It is precisely this focused deterrence approach that theaters like Iraq and Afghanistan require. The United States must find and target the specific category of crime that it seeks to remove as an available means to an end.
This article draws on personal experiences from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in a partnered role, and argues that a community-based approach similar to a program that has seen success in Cincinnati, Ohio, may work in any theater of operations, despite economic, social and political differences.
Making Rational Choices
â€śBounded rationalityâ€ť is the topic of Reinhard Seltenâ€™s sociological study of criminal networks and the invocation of rational choice as a crime reduction tool. The bulk of Seltenâ€™s argument is based on the premise that violent offenders usually have no clear, stable objectives, and that their socioeconomic circumstances often cause them to make compulsive, ends-based decisions selected from seemingly fixed sets of alternatives. For a violent crime deterrence program to be successful, it must control this set of alternatives, and present them in a logical, focused manner to a target audience of those most susceptible to violent criminal activity. Focused deterrence initiatives that operate based upon these principles have fostered trust in communities where historically there was tremendous mutual mistrust between security providers and the community. Social scientists have demonstrated that the vast majority of violent crime is perpetrated by a small group of individuals whose actions negatively impact their community-at-large. Strategies that combine community leader buy-in with a more robust social networking capability that both identifies and accurately targets individuals within this small group of active offenders have been empirically demonstrated to successfully reduce violent criminal activity in a variety of U.S. cities.
Gaining the support of community leaders has yielded the greatest domestic success in Cincinnati, a city torn by years of racial tension and group related homicides. The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) is a multiagency community collaborative program initiated in 2007 by Lieutenant Colonel James Whalen of the Cincinnati Police Department, Professor David Kennedy of John Jay Universityâ€™s Center for Crime Prevention and Control, and Dr. Robin Engel of the University of Cincinnati, in response to a 300% increase in Cincinnati homicides during an eight year period from 1998-2006. CIRV precisely targets the cityâ€™s most active violent offenders by putting them on notice that â€śthe rules have changed,â€ť and promises swift and sure consequences for not only them but the entire group with whom they are affiliated should they continue to violate the law, especially laws concerning illegal drug and firearms possession and use. CIRV complements this promise by offering identified violent offenders a chance at reform through pre-packaged employment or education programs. In the five years since its inception, the CIRV strategy reduced group and gang related homicide more than 30% and group and gang related shooting offenses by more than 10%.
Despite the success of CIRV, this author was initially skeptical that the concepts in this domestic program could reduce enemy influence in an active combat zone. Yet in the subsequent months of deployment, it became clear that the enemy thrived off its ability to â€ścreate and maintainâ€ť sectarian violence within a population, and to use those divisions to achieve its own objectives.
Immediately upon deploying in the late summer of 2010 to Sangin district, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as the Civil Affairs Team leader for 3d Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5), I was paired closely with Afghan forces. I met with and mentored the district governor on a daily basis and began to recognize patterns similar to those from my deployment to al-Qaâ€™im, Iraq in 2009. In al-Qaâ€™im, the relative strength of the tribal system had given rise to a fractured law enforcement community and a judiciary unwilling to act in the face of pressure from corrupt shaykhs. Apart from self-interested community leaders, al-Qaâ€™im lacked the economic infrastructure to create enough viable, legal alternatives to smuggling weapons. The primary problems were:
1. The lack of a forceful, legitimate, unified message from the local security forces to the citizens;
2. The lack of a consistent, unified, empathetic, positive message that capitalized on the values and virtues with which Sunni Muslims were able to identify;
3. High unemployment and illicit activity stemming from the lack of licit employment alternatives with comparable salaries.
These were the same societal problems that existed prior to the implementation of Cincinnatiâ€™s initiative. They also existed in Sangin, and in each venue they desperately needed to be addressed.
Sitting Down With the Enemy in Sangin
The situation in Sangin was bleak. The district center was in a much earlier stage of development than was al-Qaâ€™im; the only prosecutor had fled in August, and no one had ever been brave enough to take a position as judge. There were no means by which to enforce the law locally through the judicial process, and enemy influence seemed omnipresent. Over the past few years, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had poured millions of dollars into Sangin in the form of equipment, supplies and munitions, and had sacrificed dozens of British and U.S. Marines and soldiers in the district, without much to show for it. Extreme instability and volatility was still the rule rather than the exception.
In November 2010, the political situation came to a head when a group of village elders who had been nominated by the Taliban Civil Commission and the senior Taliban command element of an 80 square kilometer area commonly referred to as the Upper Sangin ValleyÂ (USV) traveled to the district center, seeking an audience with the district governor. The USV had recently been the subject of a heavy-handed interdiction campaign by First Recon Battalion, First Marine Division (Forward) the month prior, and the elders knew that certain areas of Sangin that were cooperating more readily with the Afghan government and its Marine counterparts were receiving infrastructural development projects, as well as protection from foreign Taliban forces who had been in the area planting bombs for years. They knew that it was time for them to come to the table.
If we expected to make any progress with this Taliban-nominated delegation, three rules would apply. First, we would have to provide meaningful and predictable consequences for individuals and their associates who continued to perpetrate violence. To accomplish this objective, Sangin would need both a functioning justice system and a unified message from the law enforcement community. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in Sangin would need to come together into a common forum and talk to the senior village leadership with a single voice, as both the leaders of the local Afghan police force and the Afghan Army battalion had shown their corrupt sides that November, when each man publicly demanded to know the identities of the locally-based contractors whom the Marine Civil Affairs team had hired to rebuild the war-torn district, and more importantly how much they were being paid. Both organizational leaders would have to overcome their personal desires for cash before the Alikozai elders would hear them.
Second, whatever the course of action, communicating these consequences to the target audience in a consistent, accurate and direct manner was paramount to success. What the community leaders wanted was to reconcile their differences with a government that would reciprocate by recognizing the legitimate influence they commanded as elders. Working together with the Afghan district governor, the Afghan Army battalion commander and the Sangin district chief of police, we developed a common picture of how to approach the Alikozai delegation and set clear expectations as to what each could anticipate. It is important to note that this common picture was developed mainly from Afghan minds, rather than from American or British doctrine.
The delegation would meet with the â€śpower brokersâ€ť (the Afghan government and security forces leadership in Sangin district) and with Marine leadership considered senior enough to represent Helmand Province. At this meeting, which was similar in its approach to the engagement technique used by Cincinnatiâ€™s program, the Afghan and ISAF representatives would take a balanced approach to reconciliation. Each side would recognize the otherâ€™s perspective: the Alikozai wanted to defend themselves against the Taliban, and they wanted their communities to be left alone by ANSF and ISAF; they also wanted help refurbishing their extensively damaged but vital canal network, which supplied the lifeblood of their agrarian economy. Conversely, ANSF and ISAF wanted to extend Afghan government influence over the entire USV. The latter was going to happen one way or another, whether through discussion or violence. The Marines had already demonstrated their willingness to methodically clear enemy forces from every square inch of any village in Sangin, and this was a harrowing fact in the eyes of the Alikozai, who knew ISAF and ANSF were coming to their backyard next.
When the delegation of elders finally arrived in the district center in December, they were ready to talk. The Marine and Afghan leadership knew they had the upper hand in terms of hard power, but the Alikozai knew they had the soft power choice of alliance with either the Quetta shura Taliban or the Afghan district government. Sporadic meetings between the two sides occurred for about three weeks from late December into early January, and eventually our Afghan partners achieved one of the largest security agreements seen in Afghanistan to date. What made the agreement so influential were the concessions made by both sides. There was a period of two weeks in December during which 3d Battalion, 5th Marines took an â€śoperational pause,â€ť halted its patrolling efforts, and put additional constraints on its rules of engagement, all in a gesture of goodwill and faith toward the elders who were risking their lives each time they traveled to the district center to meet with the Afghan government leadership. In exchange, the elders promulgated messages of peace throughout their villages and promised to have local men dig up the previously emplaced IEDs. Further, the two former Taliban commanders who were natives of the USV began meeting with the district governor and the Marines in an effort to register their fighters as local defenders on the side of the Afghan government. Eventually, the Alikozai leadership would send delegates to the district center to represent the USV in the newly formed Interim District Community Council, which was the representative body that would bring them funding for projects like those needed to refurbish their canal networks.
Not About Winning Hearts And Minds
The process of achieving relative social stability in the USV succeeded not because ISAF was pouring money into small-scale â€śhearts and mindsâ€ť projects to dig wells and build schools. Rather, it was the facilitation of sustained, genuine relationship-building between the fledgling government and its citizens, and the constant struggle to achieve the consent of the governed that tookÂ place over several months and several deployments. The same societal problems exist in Sangin as they do in al-Qaâ€™im and Cincinnati. ISAF and ANSF eventually understood that only a small segment of the population was actually bankrolling and directing most of the violent acts in Sangin, and that it would take time and sustained commitment to achieve true partnership with those most at risk for group violence within the community. Development of this level of trust required an unprecedented recognition by the Marines of the real power held by the elders and major landholders within the affected community, and an understanding that the native powerbrokers on both sides were driven by economic interests, especially in this economically depressed country, which meant whatever rational solution we proposed would have to be more advantageous than its illicit alternative.
The cultural and political differences of Afghanistan do not rule out community-based approaches to group violence reduction. As long as self-interest remains the predominant cultural and social bond, the use of honor, shame, employment and education incentives, combined with the allure of gaining political capital, will continue to drive the success of the focused deterrence approach anywhere it is applied.
Captain Karl Kadon served as the Civil Affairs Team leader in charge of the governance and economic development missions in Sangin district, Helmand Province, Afghanistan with 3d Battalion, 5th Marines and 3d Battalion, 7th Marines from September 2010 to March 2011. He worked with the Sangin district governor, village elders, ANSF and ISAF partners to produce the first series of peace talks ever held with the Alikozai tribe, resulting in arguably the largest peace agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. His previous deployment was as an intelligence adviser to the Iraqi Army in al-Qaâ€™im district, Anbar Province, Iraq in 2009, after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. He is currently a captain in the Marine Corps Reserves, and a senior consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.
 The inspiration for this concept came from Captain Daniel Gerard of the Cincinnati Police Department, who proposed the application of the CIRV concept in the Iraqi theater of operations prior to the authorâ€™s deployment to Anbar Province, Iraq in 2009.Â The domestic application of CIRV was the brainchild of Professor David Kennedy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Gretchen Peters contributed to the development of this article by providing extensive advice and more than a decade of subject matter expertise on the Afghan theater of operations.
 Ronald V. Clarke, â€śSituational Crime Prevention,â€ť in Building a Safer Society: Strategic Approaches to Crime Prevention (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).
 David Kennedy, â€śPulling Levers: Getting Deterrence Right,â€ť National Institute of Justice Journal 236 (1998).
 Reinhard Selten, Bounded Rationality: The Adaptive Toolbox (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001).
 Anthony A. Braga, â€śSerious Youth Gun Offenders and the Epidemic of Youth Violence in Boston,â€ť Journal of Quantitative Criminology 19:1 (2003); Anthony A. Braga, Glenn L. Pierce, Jack McDevitt et al., â€śThe Strategic Prevention of Gun Violence Among Gang-Involved Offenders,â€ť Justice Quarterly 25:1 (2008); Anthony A. Braga, David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring et al., â€śProblem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Bostonâ€™s Operation Ceasefire,â€ť Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38:3 (2001); Anthony A. Braga, David L. Weisburd, Elin J. Waring et al., â€śProblem-Oriented Policing in Violent Crime Places: A Randomized Controlled Experiment,â€ť Criminology 37:3 (1999); David M. Kennedy, Deterrence and Crime Prevention: Reconsidering the Prospect of Sanction (New York: Routledge, 2008); David M. Kennedy, â€śPulling Levers: Chronic Offenders, High-Crime Settings, and a Theory of Prevention,â€ťÂ Valparaiso University Law Review 31:2 (1997); Andrew W. Papachristos, Tracey L. Meares, Jeffrey Fagan, â€śAttention Felons: Evaluating Project Safe Neighborhoods in Chicago,â€ť Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 4:2 (2007); Lawrence W. Sherman, Patrick R. Gartin, and Michael E. Buerger, â€śHot Spots of Predatory Crime: Routine Activities and the Criminology of Place,â€ť Criminology 27:1 (1989); David Weisburd, Nancy A. Morris, and Elizabeth R. Groff, â€śHot Spots of Juvenile Crime: A Longitudinal Study of Arrest Incidents at Street Segments in Seattle, Washington,â€ť Journal of Quantitative Criminology 25:4Â (2009); David Weisburd and Lorraine Green Mazerolle, â€śCrime and Disorder in Drug Hot Spots: Implications for Theory and Practice in Policing,â€ť Police Quarterly 3:3 (2000).
 Robin S. Engel, Marie Skubak Tillyer and Nicholas Corsaro, â€śReducing Gang Violence Using Focused Deterrence: Evaluating the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV),â€ť University of Cincinnati Policing Institute, 2011.
 Although the previous Iraqi government had built and maintained several state-owned entities in the al-Qaâ€™im region, the current government of Iraq lacked the economic resources to allocate funding to these major sources of legitimate employment in the rural Western Euphrates River Valley. Phosphate plants, textile plants, and mineral mines had all been major sources of employment, but when presented with a lack of licit alternatives, the primary source of area illicit income became an international weapons smuggling ring.
 Robin Engel, S. Gregory Baker, Marie Tillyer et al., â€śImplementation of the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV): Year 1 Report,â€ť University of Cincinnati Policing Institute, April 14, 2008.
 The Alikozai tribe is one of three major tribes in Sangin district, the other two being the Ishaqzai and Noorzai, and one of several more in northern Helmand Province. While Ishaqzai outnumbered the other two tribes in Sangin, the Alikozai had held the majority of political power in the region for several years, as they held close ties with the former district governor, Helmand provincial governor, and the provincial chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistanâ€™s federal law enforcement and intelligence collection agency. Since the unseating of the former Alikozai district governor of Sangin, the tribe had turned to illicit narcotics trafficking and production, following in the footsteps of the other two subordinate tribes. The Ishaqzai and Noorzai had closer ties to the Quetta shura Taliban, due to their lack of political leverage in the district, and so the Alikozai were the best positioned for reconciliation with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in late 2010.
 For years, the uniquely fertile Sangin Valley, which is fed by a dense network of canals, has been prime ground for drug cartels to grow poppy and marijuana. With the highest density of poppy production in Helmand, Mullah Omarâ€™s Quetta shura Taliban likely finances a substantial portion of its criminal activity with money earned from the heroin that originated from the poppy that abounds in Helmand Province, particularly in the fertile fields of Sangin. U.S. General Stanley McChrystal highlighted the influence of the Quetta shura Taliban in 2009, focusing on their active subversion of the government of Afghanistan through the financing and direction of several shadow governments in the country. One of the reasons for the extensive level of violence witnessed by the British military from 2006-2010, and by the U.S. Marines since July 2010, is likely the Quetta shura Talibanâ€™s interest in maintaining control over this critical component of its illicit income.