Intelligence: The Afghan Beat


December 26, 2010: The U.S. Army is spending $157 million to hire retired detectives and other police professionals to serve with brigades and battalion in Afghanistan for the next year. This contract covers the services of retired police already in Afghanistan, and more to be hired through next December. The retired police investigators will assist combat troops and intelligence specialists to detect and identify terrorist gangs that specialize in building and placing roadside bombs and mines.

American troops operating in Afghanistan, who have served in Iraq, are not surprised to find retired policemen and detectives serving with them as civilian advisors. Hiring retired cops is somewhat new, but in Iraq, reservists who were police back home, proved to have very useful skills for ferreting out terrorists. The cops had street smarts, the ability to tell, despite the cultural differences, who was likely to be the bad guys, and how to find them.

It was in response to this that, four years ago, the U.S. Army released "Police Intelligence Operations," Field Manual 3-19.5. Back in 2003, the army began changing its intelligence collecting methods, and behaving more like a police precinct. In the old days, troops collected useful intelligence information and passed it back to analysts, who studied it, and, if they found anything useful, passed that analyses back to the troops, who took action. That took too long.

Increasingly, army combat troops function more like a police operation. That is, the intelligence analysts get out in the field with the troops and act more like detectives, collecting their own evidence, and quickly following up. Of course, detectives also depend on street police to provide information as well. Indeed, it's the street cop that usually gets to the scene of a crime before the detectives. Police are trained to carefully examine a crime scene, preserving it for the detectives, while recording key information that is perishable.

Military intelligence troops have found that the "detective" model is much more effective. It's also more dangerous, putting intel people into combat situations. But the payoff has been enormous. Not only is more information collected, and analyzed, more quickly, but the troops have more confidence in the intel people, and are more willing to pass on what they see. The intel units have also been recruiting, and training, troops in the combat units to look for information, and get it back to the intel people as quickly as possible. To help this along, new intel "appliances" (software for laptops, special PDAs or even smart phones) are provided to make it easier for the leaders of infantry patrols to instantly record useful information, and get it transmitted to an intelligence unit. Special intelligence units have also been set up that operate pretty much like a detective squad, living with the troops, and collecting and analyzing battlefield information in order to provide the combat guys with more useful, and immediate, information on what the enemy is up to, and where they are hanging out. Using these mobile teams, and better communications, military intelligence operations are changing more than they have for several generations.

The new FM 2-15.5 is intended to help commanders in future pacification operations, and for any "force protection" (defending your own bases) situations. There were many changes to army and marine intel operations because of the Iraq and Afghanistan experience, and this Field Manual is just one of the many results. The other is the contracts for recruiting retired police detectives and other investigative specialists, and sending them to the combat zones.



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