General John Allen (Ret., USMC), who led the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, penned at op-ed over at the Washington Post encouraging state and military officials to prepare the National Guard to back fill U.S. law enforcement.

Pointing out that 10,000 National Guard troops are already deployed, he and others write that preparing the National Guard for a law enforcement role “might be the most prudent thing we can do to reduce the risk of deteriorating social stability and security.”

Allen warns that COVID-19 outbreaks in law enforcement organizations are already lowering available police forces in hard-hit areas like New York City, which causes “the risk to social stability [to] increase quickly.”

“[C]ommunities might soon need major assistance with patrolling streets, enforcing restrictions on movement, deterring crime and other tasks,” they write. Using the National Guard soldiers would sidestep restrictions imposed by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

Further, they describe the National Guard as a force that needs to be trained to handle domestic policing:

“True, many of today’s Guard previously deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, where U.S. doctrine emphasized protection of the local population as a core part of the mission. However, there is an enormous difference between sniffing out al-Qaeda fighters on the streets of Ramadi or Baghdad and talking down, or if necessary properly arresting, fellow Americans who have had too much to drink, or thrown a punch, or even pulled a gun. Or who, frustrated with life in the time of the coronavirus, are simply blowing off steam.”

Allen and others recommend that National Guard troops join an “apprentice-like training” alongside domestic law enforcement, so that police officers can teach “standard police operations” and provide “on-the-job [training] and mentoring”. They also recommend that local, state, and federal governments provide funding for this mission, along with “full moral and rhetorical support” in situations where “civic institutions would be teetering.” You can read the WaPo piece here.

After the Watts Riots of 1965, the U.S. Army drafted a domestic security plan for the Defense Department, codenamed Operation GARDEN PLOT. Since then, U.S. Presidents have authorized both regular army and national guard troops to take part in GARDEN PLOT during the 1992 LA Riots, as well as after 9/11. The GARDEN PLOT document notes that:

During domestic civil disturbance operations, federal military forces will confront members of the civil populace participating in group acts of violence antagonistic to authority. These acts can fall anywhere along a broad spectrum of violence that encompasses individual acts of terrorism, riots, and insurrection.

Part of our jobs in using intelligence to support SHTF community security is identifying potential scenarios and describing how they could impact our security. It’s not enough to just be aware that Military Assistance to Civil Disturbances (MACDIS) is an available course of action. We need to run this scenario through the Intelligence Cycle so that we can identify early warning indicators and be able to forecast realistic expectations of the future. We can be best prepared when we can achieve early warning of what to expect. That’s your job as the Neighborhood S2.

Military Assistance to Civil Disturbances is about restoration of order.  Even if we don’t see this during COVID-19, you should be aware of potential activities, which include:

  • Dispersing unlawful assemblies, where we can expect less-lethal weapons like tear gas, rubber bullets, and skirmish lines.  As quickly as possible during an emergency where MACDIS could be authorized, we need to start mapping out which areas are affected by the disturbance and drawing conclusions about the use of force. Beyond that, we need to identify how the presence and escalation of force will affect our community; will homes in the area be placed on lock down, preventing you from bugging out, or could you experience mobs or rioters being pushed from a nearby area into your community?
  • Patrolling disturbed areas is another activity we’d expect during MACDIS, hence the importance of mapping out known locations where there are ongoing disruptions.  We should have generated intelligence requirements by now and we should begin satisfying those requirements: strength, disposition, weapons, equipment, and vehicles (to name a few) in use by the military force. The more we know about what’s out there, both in terms of troops and rioters, the more prepared we can be.
  • Preventing the commission of unlawful acts is standard practice in responses to civil disturbances. Keep in mind that law enforcement and military forces are unlikely to be concerned about protecting commercial or private property. As an intelligence guy, that’s one thing I’m interested in: what are the boundaries of their operations?  What’s their standard operating procedure, or what orders have they been given that define what they can or can’t do?
  • Providing a quick reaction force (QRF) might be necessary where a disturbance has an element of mobility. For instance, if rioters avoid areas where troops are present, a QRF consisting of National Guard troops may be required to have a very quick response to an overwhelming force. When we battle tracked the Ferguson riots, we located where additional tactical teams were staged. Knowing that information could have been very useful if we lived in Ferguson, MO.
  • Distributing essential goods and providing aid to the populace is a common practice we’ve seen, especially overseas. These aid distribution locations are places we need to have on our map, so that we can maintain an accurate security picture. These are places that might incur high traffic and potentially violence, so we may need to avoid these areas if we’re going to bug out.
  • Maintaining essential services can include guarding critical infrastructure or otherwise ensuring that essential services help keep the peace. One of the worst ways to compound a civil disturbance is the disruption of essential services, like water and electricity, thus creating more unrest.
  • Establishing traffic control points (TCPs) and cordons is a frequent practice to control the flow of traffic in an area. We saw numerous TCPs when battle tracking the Ferguson riots, and we were able to map them. Identifying and mapping these TCP locations is a must, and keep in mind that TCPs may not always be static. We employed 10-15 minute snap TCPs in Iraq to moderate effect when trying to screen the populace for contraband and weapons.

Doctrinally, these are the activities we can expect under MACDIS operations. Knowing what to expect is half the intelligence battle, and it’s incumbent on you as the Neighborhood S2 to continue to develop local intelligence for community security.

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