- Colombia. The AUC blunted the spread of the FARC and other revolutionary groups.
- Sao Paulo, Brazil. Neighborhood militias have purged neighborhoods of the PCC (a criminal drug gang).
- Iraq. Anbar awakening and other militias have radically diminished al Qaeda's operational sphere.
Open Source MilitiasIn each case, militias developed organically based on local loyalties that have nothing to do with the central government. Their emergence is spontaneous and a surprise to the government or the foreign military occupation. They develop according to a now familiar pattern:
- Expansion. Guerrillas or criminal gangs move into a new area in which they have no organic support. They impose their own form of governance which is at odds with local needs.
- Reaction. These external guerrillas/gangs intimidate/kill local leaders. A militia is formed to force the encroaching groups out.
- Domination. The local militia begins to run the neighborhoods/area. Soon, they tend to adopt many of the same financial systems of the guerrillas/gangs (from drugs to extortion) and enforcement measures (assassination, torture, etc.). However, they remain less hostile to the government and commercial interests than the guerrillas/gangs.
An Expansible Strategy?The rapid emergence of these local militias in Anbar came as a surprise to both the Iraqi government and the US military. Despite the lack of loyalty these groups have to the Iraqi government (and the previous involvement of many of these groups in killing US troops), the US military embraced them -- in that have been given a degree of autonomy as well as arms and training. The result has been the return to a slow burning war, a status quo of sorts, that will continue to operate at levels of violence not seen since early 2006. The success of this approach, as opposed to the boondoggles we've experienced in conventional operations, has led the US Special Operations Command to recommend in a new briefing (leaked to the press), that the US replicate the "militia strategy" in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the report makes the following errors:
- The wrong militia. The US, due to political restrictions, wants to focus its efforts on the Frontier corps (which is actually more of a paramilitary). This militia is too tightly connected to the government and has a record of atrocity that makes it unlikely to generate any meaningful form of local loyalty.
- Bad timing. This process works according to its own rules, it cannot be forced. The guerrillas (a combination of different flavors of Taliban, tribes, and al Qaeda) will eventually overreach. This process is in motion, but the reaction that forms local militias will not occur until much later (the government and the US are still considered the primary enemy).
- Government opposition. The organic rise of local militias will be an affront to the Pakistani government since it represents a near permanent loss of control over these regions. They will resist it (despite their preoccupation with oppressing Pakistani civil society). Unlike the Iraqi government, they will not roll over on this.