FORWARD OPERATING BASE SANGIN, Afghanistan --
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SANGIN, Afghanistan – As a squad of Marines walk in a tactical column through a bazaar here in the Helmand Province, they approach a shop with a sign advertising electronic items for sale. The Marines pause and set up security, while the squad leader and interpreter enters the shop to talk to the store owner.
By building a rapport with the store owners and other locals, the Marines hope to saturate every aspect of Afghan society.
“Saturation of the society enables us to know when and how the Taliban are operating, and deny them access to materials they need to build IEDs (improvised explosive devices). We do that by always being present in the marketplaces where the components for the bombs they use are sold,” said Ralph E. Morten, a senior counterinsurgency advisor with Lockheed Martin.
This process of patrolling the bazaars and building rapport with locals is similar to the way the police officers in major cities operate to root out criminal activity.
The Marines of Company E, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, learned the techniques of patrolling like a “Cop on the Beat” from Morten.
A retired Los Angeles police officer with 34 years on the “force,” Morten is a counter-terrorism and counter-IED expert who has also spent time training with the Israeli National Police.
“The Echo Company Marines have been fantastic at adapting to Cop on the Beat patrols, especially after having already been in the area of operations for five months before receiving the training,” Morten said.
Within the first week, Echo Company Marines were able to identify the stores where Taliban bomb makers could acquire the electronics and components to build IEDs.
“Before we learned the Cop on the Beat patrolling system, we would patrol through the bazaar and back without stopping,” said Cpl. Michael A. Brown, Jr., a 2nd platoon squad leader and Bellflower, Calif., native. “Now, we have a reason to go into the shops. We know we’re not going to find the Taliban in the shops, but we now know what to look for.”
The Cop on the Beat patrolling system has been used with great success in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. The same concept was used in Fallujah, and is one of the reasons the province has since become a model city.
“If we can apply the same things in Afghanistan that have been used in Anbar, we’ll see improvements in our ability to deny the enemy the materials they need to attack us,” said 1st Lt. James C. McKendree, 2nd Platoon commander and Pearland, Texas native. “The situation here is more complex than in Iraq, because the networks are harder to track. This is going to be a lengthy process. It’s not something that is going to happen in a week or a month.”
Another critical aspect of using the Cop on the Beat system is to be able to identify people displaying unusually nervous behavior whenever the Marines enter the vicinity. According to Morten, everyone gets a little nervous when a police car pulls in behind them, but not everyone immediately takes off running. Using the system, Marines are taught to become aware of people displaying excessive nervous behavior.
“Patrolling this way is making the Marines focus more on the little things,” said Sgt. Zachary R. Alexander, a 2nd platoon squad leader and Forney, Texas native. “It’s teaching the Marines to look at people more intently to be able to identify the people who might be up to no good.”
The key of the Cop on the Beat system is to identify the problems and take action. It works on the premise that every Marine is a collector of information. Each Marine is also made aware of the components that make up the IEDs they face and suspicious behavior that could lead to the identification of individuals who could pose a threat.