“Criminal Insurgency” is becoming a preferred term of art to describe entities like the Narco-cartels of Mexico that have evolved from transnational criminal organizations into groups with paramilitary and intelligence capabilities or Colombia’s FARC which formerly was a model Marxist insurgency but devolved downward into a drug trafficking army. The term is used partly to placate doctrinaire purists among defense intellectuals who see insurgency definitively as armed political movements following Mao’s three stages or bust. After all, they have only had since the late 80’s and early 90’s, when Bill Lind and Martin van Creveld warned them this was coming, to get used to the idea.
….Essentially, the United States faces external and internal challenges in reorienting to more effectively fight the cartels and their allies. Refocusing U.S. policy from a “war on drugs” to a more comprehensive fight against the cartels and gangs is essential if the United States and its allies are to prevail. Since the basis of the cartels’ survival lies in the control of regions where governmental control is nonexistent and populations may be impoverished and alienated, successful counter-cartel strategies are fundamentally counterinsurgency strategies developed by the concerned states themselves and supported by the United States. Counter-cartel strategies must first be political strategies, integrating military and police activity into a broader political approach that emphasizes the rule of law as an alternative to the rule of force. Four aspects of a Western Hemisphere counter-cartel strategy follow.
First, step up the direct attacks on the cartels. Over the past decades, U.S. law enforcement professionals have developed successful operational techniques that cartel leaders fear: partnerships with effective local police (often with U.S. training), expertise with judicially approved wiretaps and electronic surveillance, rewards programs that make criminal bosses vulnerable to betrayal, and, above all, when local laws permit, extradition to U.S. courts and prisons. The United States and its allies should increase the capability for multiagency field operations in all these dimensions, as well as the professionalization of host country military forces for operations requiring holding ground while the rule of law is reinstituted by other national agencies. DEA already operates throughout the region and has solid relationships with counterpart agencies; additionally, the agency has worked closely with U.S. combatant commands, notably U.S. Southern Command, where its powerful extraterritorial jurisdiction authority supplemented the military’s own programs to help U.S. allies in the region. DEA should continue to advise and assist host country police and counternarcotics forces, but the size of the agency must be greatly increased. With 5,500 agents spread over the hemisphere-including the United States-the agency that plays such a key role in the ongoing war with the cartels is spread too thin.
Second, the U.S. and its allies must continue to attack the cartels’ financial networks and money-laundering capabilities-a key strategy that requires more resourcing at Treasury. Cartel leaders fear U.S. indictments and extradition to American courts; extradition, exposure, and seizure of “dirty” money from criminal operations are all effective strategies that identify kingpins and threaten them with trials in U.S. courts and long terms in U.S. prisons. The United States has learned to use financial analysis and indictments as weapons against the cartels, even when they are beyond the immediate reach of U.S. law. Their use should be expanded.
Third, help our neighbors build more functional state institutions, particularly courts, and stimulate economic growth. In terms of the U.S. role and our assistance to allies, our understanding of security assistance must be broadened to include effective assistance to police and courts. For example, as part of Plan Colombia-a Colombian-developed counter-cartel strategy-the United States provided the Colombian National Police (CNP) with telecommunications-intercept equipment and, working through the Department of Justice, helped the CNP build a judicial process to support wiretap investigations. The result was a powerful tool that assisted indictments against cartel leadership and extraditions to the United States for prosecution. Likewise, assisting host nations to build strong, noncorrupt judicial systems is critical to assisting or restoring stable governments in areas threatened by cartel or other insurgent violence; courts, appellate courts, and efficient prisons are key pieces. Other U.S. agencies and contractors can provide other materiel assistance, training, partnership, and, when authorized, direct help in specified areas such as the collection of certain kinds of strategic intelligence. The U.S. Department of Defense can provide advisors and trainers on the Colombia model to supplement local military and law enforcement efforts, and occasionally direct aid in the form of helicopter transportation and naval support.61