Applying Kilcullen’s ideas to urban regeneration

What do you do if you’re fighting a counterinsurgency campaign and you run out of troops, western troops that is?

According to David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (pp 269-71), the answer is to enlist villagers in “local security forces such as neighborhood watch organizations, concerned citizens groups, local security guard forces, auxiliary police and the like”. Use these local security units to do the vital but labour intensive work of protecting communities from insurgents, with support and backup from western troops.

Kilcullen uses the Iraq “surge” of 2007-08 to support this argument. The success of the surge was due to the large number of Iraqis (“mostly former Sunni insurgents or former members of local community or tribal militias”) who were recruited to local security units. This approach put a large number of people, who had expert local knowledge, to work patrolling their communities. There was no need for large headquarters and forward operating bases, line of communication troops and logistics support “since all these recruits live and work out on the ground”. And recruiting Iraqis to the government’s cause had a major impact on the insurgents’ ability to recruit and field fighters.

This is an idea that could be adapted to countering criminal gangs in rundown parts of western cities. I agree with Dean at Travels with Shiloh that…

“The first priority must be to restore order and not with the ‘drive by policing’ system we have now.  In many communities the public safety sector is viewed as indifferent (at best) to hostile (at worst) and trust can be non-existent.

Law enforcement and emergency services therefore should be permanently stationed (and adequately staffed) in the worst areas and not just drive through on patrol.”

Why not take this a step further? Give trusted local partners in local communities the training, resources, backup and legal authority to provide their own basic security – as community patrols, neighbourhood watches, special constables?  Free up law enforcement agencies for specialist tasks, like emergency response, investigations, surveillance, and intelligence collecting and analysis. Build this on a foundation of urban regeneration programmes that, for example…

  • buttress the authority of grassroots leaders and community groups;
  • create jobs through, as Dean suggests, microfinancing for small businesses, tax subsidies for industry, and intensive local food, water and energy production;
  • provide education opportunities to local people, especially youth, through inter alia ICT hubs and ‘computers in homes’ initiatives.

To paraphrase Kilcullen (p260), the main aim would be to gradually restructure the social, economic and political environment so as to deny the gangs a role in it.

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About Peter Hodge

Peter Hodge is a New Zealander. He blogs about global affairs at The Strategist. Peter has served in government (in national security, nation and community building fields) and the army, and worked in the mining industry in Western Australia. His childhood was spent in New Zealand and Malaysia. He has travelled and worked in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North and South America, Australia, and the South Pacific.