The Right Tool for the Job: An Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Counterinsurgency Principles against Criminal Insurgency

A PDF version of this thesis can be downloaded here.


Powerful criminal groups are developing into serious threats to nation states. Increasingly intense violence in Mexico is of particular interest to the United States.  Coming on the heels of insurgency experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is predisposed to apply its tested counterinsurgency doctrine to the problem. This study addresses the effectiveness of counterinsurgency principles against criminal insurgencies through a case study analysis of Colombia’s fight against the Medellin and Cali Cartels and Rio de Janeiro’s efforts against favela gangs. U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine proved to be highly effective against Rio’s gangs, however, the campaign against the Medellin and Cali Cartels indicates that an enemy focused approach may be more appropriate against a drug trafficking organization. The results of this study show that while much of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine is applicable to criminal threats, several adjustments to campaign planning and threat analysis tools will be required to ensure its effectiveness against emerging criminal national security threats.

Mexico is currently engulfed by rampant violence that has taken over 40,000 lives since 2006.[1] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to the drug fueled violence as an “insurgency,” while others have called it a “criminal insurgency.”[2] Criminal threats to state stability are becoming more common; Japanese Yakuza, Chinese Triads, Italian mafia, Russian mafia, and Colombian Bandas Criminales all represent dangerous evolving criminal organizations.[3] These unique apolitical security threats are not a new phenomenon, but they are rapidly developing into one of the most dangerous challenges in the globalized world. One of the greatest national security threats facing the United States today is the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Mexico where Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO)[4] and enforcer gangs have ignited a countrywide war.[5]

Mexican criminal organizations have evolved into existential threats to the Mexican state and are now growing in the United States.[6] Initially transportation elements subordinate to the powerful Colombian cartels, Mexican DTOs capitalized on effective interdiction in the Caribbean and the demise of the Medellin and Cali Cartels to increase their control of the drug trade. This increase in criminal power coincided with an equally important political upheaval in Mexico.

The election of President Vicente Fox of the PAN party in 2000 effectively ended the one party system throwing long standing arrangements between PRI leaders and DTOs into chaos. Institutionalized corruption and government control of the illicit economy collapsed into violence as DTOs went to war with each other and the state to increase their control of territory and lucrative drug routes.[7] Following his election in 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón embarked upon a campaign against organized crime employing the “full force of the state in order to safeguard the liberty and security of its citizens.”[8] However, there remains no end to the violence in sight; 2010 was the most violent year yet with 15,273 homicides.[9] Calderon’s strategy has been applauded and criticized in both Mexico and the United States. Equally, the U.S. response to the crisis has been the subject of intense policy debate. Much of the frustration with the government response stems from confusion regarding the nature of the conflict.

Carl Von Clausewitz warns that “the first, the supreme, the most far reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish…the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.”[10] Coming on the heels of the development of a robust counterinsurgency doctrine, many U.S. defense and law enforcement scholars have designated the Mexican conflict an insurgency.[11] Accordingly, counterinsurgency methodologies have been recommended as the proper response.[12] Conversely, other scholars like David Shirk and former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration Robert Bonner have called for a law enforcement response.[13] Far more than a mere academic semantic debate, the term insurgency impacts which agencies and methodologies government forces employ against the problem. These types of “wicked problems” are defined by “one’s idea for solving it.”[14] An incorrect diagnosis of the problem and its solution can have far reaching repercussions.

Whatever its nature, the United States has vital interests in Mexico. The United States has spent 90 billion dollars on border security since 2001[15] and spends over 15 billion dollars annually on drug control.[16] Mexico is the United States’ third largest trading partner with 393 billion dollars in trade in 2010.[17] The United States appropriated 1.5 billion dollars to support the Mérida Initiative, a multinational security agreement that focuses on operational support to law enforcement and institutional professionalization.[18] Given the importance of Mexico to the United States and the scope of the conflict, it is imperative that the U.S. strategy fit the problem.

Before the United States embarks on an expensive counterinsurgency campaign or advises foreign governments on their own campaigns, the efficacy of counterinsurgency principles against economic or criminal groups should be evaluated. Criminal insurgency is a unique type of threat.  This study addresses the question to what extent counterinsurgency principles, as outlined in Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency, are effective against criminal insurgencies; specifically, in Colombia’s fight against the Medellin and Cali Cartels and Rio de Janeiro’s efforts against favela gangs?  

This study argues that the analysis of powerful criminal organizations using an insurgency framework is useful and that the Colombian cartels and Rio’s favela gangs can be appropriately described as criminal insurgencies. Several counterinsurgency principles listed in FM 3-24 were effective in both case studies including understanding the environment, intelligence driven operations, long term commitment, small unit empowerment, learning and adapting, and supporting the host nation. In addition, counterinsurgency methodologies, as found in U.S. doctrine, were highly effective against Rio’s favela gangs. However, the methodology employed in the case of the Medellin and Cali Cartels indicates that an enemy focused approach can be effective against a DTO. Furthermore, a DTO’s financial center of gravity seriously degrades the effectiveness of some of the principles found in COIN doctrine. Finally, several factors and techniques not specifically referenced in COIN doctrine can be critical in the case of a criminal insurgency, such as vetted units, anticorruption measures, financial targeting, divide and conquer approaches, and social and cultural root causes. This study will briefly review the evolution of the concept of criminal insurgency. The study will then examine the Medellin and Cali Cartels followed by Rio’s favela gangs. Each case will include a brief historical summary, an analysis using an insurgency lens, and an examination of the government response based on COIN principles. Finally, implications for security policy and recommendations will be provided.

This study is “policy-evaluative” and will examine the implicit theoretical assumption that criminal insurgencies can be defeated by current counterinsurgency doctrine.[19] Given the importance of the security threats involved, it is important to ask “will the policy produce the results that its proponents promise?”[20] Investigations such as RAND’s recent counterinsurgency report[21] and the Fishel-Manwaring SWORD model have scientifically evaluated the effectiveness of counterinsurgency strategies; however, current literature has not adequately addressed the use of counterinsurgency doctrine against criminal threats.[22]

This project uses a structured comparison of case studies with the goal of identifying the value of current counterinsurgency principles in the unique circumstances of a criminal insurgency.[23] Political scientist, Stephen Van Evra notes that when working with policy prescriptive studies, researchers should study cases whose background characteristics parallel the characteristics of the current or future policy problems.”[24] As such, two cases were selected that closely resemble current security concerns in Mexico: the Colombian defeat of the Cali and Medellin Cartels and the Brazilian fight against favela gangs.

Both of these cases were considered government victories because the threats to national security were defeated. This study assumes that both of these cases are government victories and focuses on the methodologies utilized. In Colombia, the powerful Medellin and Cali Cartels were dismantled leaving residual criminal groups. This study does not expand its time horizon to include efforts at community policing in Colombia after the fall of the Medellin and Cali Cartels. Expanding the case to include these initiatives would result in difficulty managing the distinction between criminal insurgency and crime as well as between counterinsurgency and normal governance. Furthermore, the security problems in Cali and Medellin after the fall of the major DTOs closely resemble the characteristics of the Rio case study.

The Rio case study, however, is a more defined phenomenon with less possibility of intervening variables arising from traditional insurgent groups like the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army) present in Colombia. In Rio, gangs that had successfully succeeded from government control were displaced and control was reestablished.[25] Since 2008, the government has cleared some 25 communities and reasserted state control over 280,000 citizens.[26]

To maintain a disciplined configurative approach the cases are evaluated using an insurgency analysis framework outlined by insurgency expert Bard O’Neill and the 13 principles and imperatives of counterinsurgency as found in Field Manual 3-24. One of the strengths of utilizing a case study methodology is that it serves “the heuristic purpose of inductively identifying additional variables and generating hypotheses.”[27] The detailed case study approach allows this study to go beyond O’Neill’s framework and the 13 principles to identify other factors that are important to the problem.

The Evolution of Criminal Insurgency

The scope and intensity of criminal intrastate violence has forced governments to apply both law enforcement and military assets in the fight to establish stability. While criminals, brigands, pirates, and organized crime are not new, the power and reach associated with these groups has forced security scholars to reassess the nature of these threats. Due to the uniqueness of large scale criminal violence, five fields of security studies converge in the analysis of the phenomenon: gang studies, organized crime studies, terrorism studies, future warfare studies, and insurgency studies.[28] Insurgency doctrine and methodology have taken a leading role in the debate largely due to U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The criminal insurgency concept was derived from a questioning of classic insurgency literature.  Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Ernesto Che Guevara established the theoretical foundations of twentieth century insurgency. However, security scholars like Steve Metz have challenged the validity of the classical insurgency model in recent internal conflicts. Finally, law enforcement expert John Sullivan expanded upon Metz’s investigation to create the concept of criminal insurgency.  Each will be examined in turn.

The advent of international communism and the wave of decolonization following World War II led to a renaissance in unconventional warfare theory. One of the most influential thinkers was the leader of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin. Gang and insurgency expert Max Manwaring labels Lenin’s methods “political-psychological war” designed to “erode the effective sovereignty and legitimacy” of the state.[29] Lenin’s use of revolutionary cells and militias to whittle away at the state would be modified by perhaps the most influential thinker in insurgency theory, Mao Tse-Tung. Mao’s methodology differs from Lenin’s in that the primary tool is the use of military force that expands from insurgent controlled territories.[30] Mao’s model was replicated in several countries and its influence can be seen in the Cuban Revolution where Che Guevara developed his own adaptation. Guevara’s foco method utilizes a small determined cadre and relies initially on a mobile military campaign. Guevara also calls for the “final stage” which includes “urban guerrilla warfare.” This combination of conventional warfare in the rural areas and urban violence leads to the collapse of the state.[31]

These three classic insurgency theorists have significant differences in their revolutionary strategies. They are, however united in their understanding of insurgency as a battle for popular support. All three thinkers depend on a communist ideology and political vision to motivate their followers. In addition, they all recognize the population’s importance in providing logistics and intelligence. However, Post-Cold War era scholars have challenged the concept that insurgency is organized, unified in purpose, and dependent on popular support.

Steven Metz’s “Rethinking Insurgency” argues effectively that Post-Cold War insurgencies differ from those during the Cold War and more closely resemble a “violent and competitive market.”[32] Metz asserts that Cold War insurgencies typically included “clear and discrete combatants” that enjoyed outside sponsors.[33] Modern insurgencies, in contrast, lack a state sponsor and are a more complex mix of non-state armed and unarmed forces with varying motivations. Metz contends that the complexity of modern insurgencies leads actors to pursue a “market” type strategy in which they try to obtain more limited goals rather than full control of the state.[34] Most importantly to criminal insurgency, Metz draws from the work of Paul Collier,[35] to show that often “profitability” is more important than political goals.[36]

“Rethinking Insurgency” is a cornerstone of the debate regarding insurgency’s evolution and it establishes a new lens through which to view internal conflicts. Metz breaks free from politically motivated communist revolutionary movements and examines the complex interaction of armed groups in modern intrastate violence, thereby opening the door for others to create subclasses of insurgency to describe current conflicts.

A leading scholar in the field of organized crime, John P. Sullivan, has expanded upon the ideas expounded by Metz by creating the concept of “criminal insurgency.” Sullivan defines the parameters of criminal insurgency:

Criminal insurgency is different from classic terrorism and insurgency because the criminal insurgents’ overarching political motive is to gain autonomous economic control over territory…not all insurgencies conform to the classic Leninist or Maoist models. Not all insurgents seek to take over the government or have an ideological foundation. Some seek a free-range to develop parallel structures for profit and power. Nevertheless, they have a political dimension, using political maneuvering and instrumental violence to accomplish their economic goals. As such they are insurgents—albeit of a criminal variety.[37]

Sullivan, working with other prominent thinkers in security studies, like Adam Elkus and Robert Bunker, is leading the discussion on criminal insurgency.[38] In his brief article “Criminal Insurgency in the Americas,” Sullivan provides his most thorough definition of the phenomenon and gives several brief examples: intra-cartel violence in Mexico, Central American gangs, and Brazilian favela gangs.

The main strength of Sullivan’s work is his creation of a typology within Metz’s framework that can be studied and separated from other subclasses of modern insurgencies. Sullivan’s use of the term criminal insurgency has ignited debate within the security studies community and brought considerable academic consideration to the phenomenon.  Based on an understanding of the threat described by Sullivan, other scholars have attempted to identify ways to counter the phenomenon.

Counterinsurgency Principles

Whereas Metz and Sullivan focus on identifying and classifying the changing nature of insurgency, Bob Killebrew and Jennifer Bernal of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) devote their energies to the development of policy solutions to criminal insurgencies. In the CNAS report, Crime Wars: Gangs, Cartels and U.S. National Security, Killebrew and Bernal suggest that “the United States see the problem [criminal violence in the Western Hemisphere] for what it is – a criminal insurgency against the foundations of its own society and those of states like Mexico, Colombia and others in between.”[39] Killebrew furthermore asserts that “Mexican cartels …constitute a classic case of insurgency…and it has to be treated like an insurgency.”[40] Working from the basis of insurgency, the CNAS report offers recommendations that include the hallmarks of a counterinsurgency approach like legitimate governance, direct action, and intelligence driven operations.[41]

The CNAS report’s great strength is that it goes beyond the simple description of criminal insurgency and attempts to provide actionable solutions. Killebrew and Bernal accept the criminal insurgency paradigm and apply both operational and strategic counterinsurgency methodologies to the problem. The CNAS report does an excellent job creating dialogue on the important security threats posed by criminal insurgencies. Building upon Killebrew and Bernal’s work, this study aims to identify nuances and differences that may complicate the use of counterinsurgency methodologies against criminal insurgencies.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency provides the basis for U.S. operational methodology when confronting an insurgency. The manual draws heavily from French army officer and veteran of counterinsurgency efforts in Indochina and Algeria, David Galula. The central tenant of Galula’s seminal work, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, is that the population is the center of gravity.[42] Robert Thompson, a British veteran of the Burma Campaign and the Malayan Emergency as well as the head of the British advisory mission to Vietnam, is also highly influential in U.S. doctrine. In his book, Defeating Communist Insurgency, Thompson, like Galula, recognizes the primacy of the population and political goals as components of any successful counterinsurgency strategy.[43] When Killebrew states that criminal insurgency “has to be treated like an insurgency,” the implication is that the U.S. government will apply the doctrine found in FM 3-24 to the problem.[44]

FM 3-24 evolved from the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the military’s struggle with counterinsurgency operations. Arguably, following its implementation, FM 3-24 created a change in strategy and mindset in both Iraq and Afghanistan that led to a vast improvement in both conflicts. The manual does an excellent job of creating a perspective through which to understand insurgency and develop operational methodologies to defeat it. The SWORD model developed by John T. Fishel and Max Manwaring[45] and the RAND study Victory has a Thousand Fathers[46] apply scientific rigor to insurgencies and both models support the principles found in FM 3-24. Critics however, argue that FM 3-24 is too heavily based upon Cold War insurgencies and that its focus on the population has not been proven to be effective.[47]

Unlike much doctrine, FM 3-24 utilizes principles allowing practitioners to adapt within a counterinsurgency framework. Contributing author John Nagl argues that the manual is a “catalyst in the process of making the Army and Marine Corps more effective learning organizations that are better able to adapt to the rapidly changing nature of modern counterinsurgency campaigns.”[48] If the manual is adaptable to criminal insurgencies, the solutions lie within its 13 principles and imperatives.

  1. Legitimacy is the main objective
  2. Unity of effort is essential
  3. Political factors are primary
  4. Counterinsurgents must understand the environment
  5. Intelligence drives operations
  6. Insurgents must be isolated from their cause and support
  7. Security under the rule of law is essential
  8. Counterinsurgents must prepare for a long term commitment
  9. Manage information and expectations
  10. Use the appropriate level of force
  11. Learn and adapt
  12. Empower the lowest levels
  13. Support the host nation[49]

Scholars like Bunker and Sullivan argue that criminal insurgencies are an emerging “new form of warfare” that constitutes a “modal warfare shift.”[50] Given the growing number of large scale organized crime threats, it is imperative to ascertain if FM 3-24 is adaptable to a criminal insurgency through systematic case study analysis.

The Medellin and Cali Cartels

Historical Background

By the 1980s, Colombia had been suffering from internal violence for over thirty years.  Guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN arose from La Violencia, a ten year conflict that left over 200,000 dead. The Colombian government’s battle with leftist guerrillas was complicated by a skyrocketing demand for cocaine. Coca was historically produced in Peru; however, enterprising international criminals realized that Colombia’s similar climate and dearth of government control made it an ideal location for cocaine production.[51] Illicit profits flooded the country finding their way to guerrillas, corrupt officials, and a new class of cocaine barons. Two powerful drug trafficking organizations, the Medellin and Cali Cartels, emerged from the chaos to dominate the drug trade and threaten the state itself.

The Medellin Cartel, centered in the city of Medellin in Antioquia, was led by the infamous Pablo Escobar. Escobar grew up surrounded by violence and became an accomplished thief, kidnapper, and murderer. Mark Bowden, author of Killing Pablo, notes “crime was already Pablo’s element. He was violent and unprincipled, and a determined climber. He wasn’t an entrepreneur, and he wasn’t even an especially talented businessman. He was just ruthless.”[52] Escobar is believed to have killed Fabio Restrepo, the leading trafficker from Medellin in 1975, and appropriated his drug running organization which included the Ochoa brothers. Escobar consolidated his power and quickly adopted a tactic called “plata o plomo,” (bullet or a bribe) to cow the local authorities. Escobar’s success, built upon violence, grew along with his own ambition.[53]

Escobar, not content with his status as a criminal, sought to legitimize his position. He purchased his own newspaper and used his wealth to provide housing and soccer fields for the poor of Medellin. Escobar became active in politics because of his fear of extradition to the United States. He was elected as an alternate to Congress in 1982; however, his sordid history resulted in his expulsion from the New Liberal Party and his withdrawal from politics two years later. Escobar put aside his political ambition and pursued a terrorist campaign against the Colombian government culminating with the assassination of presidential candidate Luis Galán and the bombing of Avianca flight 203. The Colombian government launched a major effort to destroy the Medellin cartel aided by U.S. government support and a shadowy vigilante group called Los Pepes (People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar). In the end, these elements dismantled the cartel and eventually killed Escobar in 1993.[54]

Located in the Valle de Cauca, the Cali Cartel’s development and methods differed from its Medellin competitor. Law enforcement scholar Ron Chepesuik notes “never were the styles of two major criminal organizations operating in the same space so different. While the Medellin Cartel tried to bully and bribe the state, the Cali Cartel worked quietly behind the scenes to corrupt it.”[55] The cartel leadership – Jose Santacruz Londoño and the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, Gilberto and Miguel – developed their cartel like a modern multinational corporation complete with a franchising system of cells and regional managers. They utilized the latest telecommunications technologies to coordinate their operations and manage sophisticated counterintelligence.[56]

Initially, the Cali and Medellin Cartels coexisted and even cooperated, but by the 1990s competition became fierce. The Cali Cartel is widely believed to have coordinated with the government in their pursuit of Escobar. Cali members are also believed to have been members of Los Pepes. After the death of Escobar, the Colombian government turned its sights on the Cali Cartel. In spite of intense corruption that reached every level of the Colombian government, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and their local partners were able to dismantle the Cali Cartel, arresting the major leaders in 1995 and 1996.[57]

Medellin and Cali as Insurgency

Chinese strategist Sun Tzu counsels that “one who knows the enemy and knows himself will not be endangered in a hundred engagements.”[58] Similarly, insurgency scholar Bard O’Neill believes that determining the nature of an insurgency has “vital practical implications.”[59]  O’Neill’s book Insurgency and Terrorism provides a detailed framework for insurgency analysis. O’Neill evaluates six factors that make up the nature of an insurgency: the type of insurgency, forms of warfare adopted, the strategic approach, popular support, organization, and external support.[60]

The Medellin and Cali Cartels fall under the “commercialist” insurgency category in O’Neill’s framework, although a more exact category is criminal insurgency. They also exhibit the characteristics of a “reformist” insurgency that is “non-revolutionary” but seeks to affect certain policies; in this case, legal controls and extradition.[61] However, the reformist attributes are better understood under their overarching criminal motivations. The Cali and Medellin Cartels closely resemble the criminal insurgency concept as defined by Sullivan. Rensselaer Lee’s analysis of Colombian DTOs in the early 1990s mirrors the definition posited by Sullivan:

Unlike guerrillas, whose objective is seizing power, traffickers are not ultimately interested in destroying a social order that nurtures them…the Colombian mafia basically seeks to prosper commercially without being disturbed…cocaine traffickers have bought into the political system and can successfully manipulate key institutions…maintain de facto control of major cities such as Medellin and entire regions…traffickers do not hesitate to use violence against government officials and other public figures to promote limited political objectives.[62]  

The Medellin and Cali Cartels fit Sullivan’s definition of a criminal insurgency and can be further evaluated under O’Neill’s framework to improve understanding of the phenomenon.

The cartels utilized various forms of warfare to achieve their objectives. They maintained thousands of paid enforcers to dominate their empires through violence.[63] In addition, the cartels would back guerrilla or paramilitary forces in support of their goals. In April 1981, the sister of Medellin trafficker Jorge Ochoa was kidnapped, leading Escobar, in conjunction with other traffickers including the main Cali Cartel figures, to form the vigilante group “Death to Kidnappers” (MAS). MAS included Carlos Castaño, who would later lead the paramilitary United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Narcotraffickers built and funded paramilitary forces to protect their substantial land holdings and coca production from guerrilla incursions and taxation. Not bound by ideology, it is widely believed that Escobar supported the November 1985 seizure of the Colombian Supreme Court by the leftist insurgent group M-19 in which the group destroyed criminal files on traffickers that would be essential for extradition.[64] The Medellin Cartel may have also enlisted ELN’s aid during their 1993 bombing campaign.[65] The Cali Cartel also colluded with state forces to form the vigilante group Los Pepes which systematically destroyed the Medellin Cartel. This shifting arrangement of alliances highlights the non-binary and ambiguous nature of the Colombian security situation[66] and closely resembles the “market of violence” envisioned by Metz.[67]

Although the cartels built or manipulated large paramilitary and guerrilla formations, their primary operational methodology was the use of terrorism. The cartels utilized assassination regularly to manage their business and discourage state interference with their operations. The cartels successfully assassinated justice minister Rodrigo Lara and nearly killed intelligence head Miguel Maza. The most shocking assassination was the public shooting death of presidential candidate Carlos Galán, a strong opponent of narcotrafficking. The campaign against extradition marks the most violent terrorist action undertaken by the cartels against the state. Colombia suffered 40 car bombings between 1989 and 1993 including the destruction of the DAS (Administrative Security Department) headquarters in Bogota.[68] In an attempt on the life of then candidate César Gaviria, Avianca flight 203 was blown out of the sky leaving 107 dead. The terrorist efforts proved fruitful when the Colombian legislature banned criminal extradition in June of 1991.[69]

Criminal insurgency in the case of the cartels does not easily fit into one of O’Neill’s categories of insurgent strategic approaches. The cartel strategy bears little resemblance to a Maoist protracted popular war methodology.[70] In many ways, the cartels operated more like a Leninist conspiracy model in which politicians, security forces, and key bureaucratic posts are captured by the insurgents through a mix of ideology, intimidation, and focused violence.[71] In a communist rebellion these efforts are geared to create the conditions for a general uprising or coup. In contrast, the cartels used the corrupting force of “plata o plomo” to subvert state power and develop a parallel system that tolerated or supported their economic goals.

In addition to a system of corruption, the cartels utilized a form of urban warfare designed to force state compliance with their policy goals. The cartels operated from an urban environment in contrast with rural models like the Maoist and Foco methods. The cities of Cali and Medellin were safe-havens for the cartel leaders who managed an extensive network of informants and enforcers to protect them. Although cartel violence closely resembled traditional urban guerrilla activities as found in the work of Abraham Guillen[72] and Carlos Marighella,[73] it did not support a final phase in which revolution or rural guerrilla warfare would emerge. The bombings in Bogota and widespread assassinations were designed to apply sufficient pressure on the government to alter certain policies; the violence was not designed to overthrow the government.

Popular support is seen as a critical factor in most insurgency literature but it was not critical for the cartels. Classical COIN theorist David Galula recognizes control of the population as the primary objective in revolutionary war[74] and Mao warns “it is only undisciplined troops who make the people their enemies and who, like the fish out of its native element, cannot live.”[75] The cartels, to a limited extent, did court popular support. Escobar and Carlos Lehder both owned newspapers and the Cali Cartel maintained a public relations section headed by journalist Alberto Giraldo.[76] Drug traffickers were strong supporters of local and national soccer teams.[77] Escobar created the political movement Civismo en Marcha and even built an entire neighborhood for the poor in Medellin. All of this activity, however, was a product of the massive wealth provided by illicit trafficking. Unlike Maoist insurgencies, the cartels were not reliant on the population to achieve their goals.

Although viewed as monolithic blocs, in fact the cartels were networked groups of independent trafficking organizations of various sizes that cooperated to improve profits and efficiency. In Medellin, Escobar, through oppressive force, was able to establish himself as the undisputed head of the cartel. Likewise, Cali maintained a senior leadership section but it more closely resembled a multinational corporation: “In terms of structure, marketing, and distribution, the drug mafia had as much in common with giant companies that made Fortune magazine’s annual list of the top 500 companies as it did with its rivals in the drug trade.”[78] The Medellin and Cali Cartels offered two very different structures for the government to target.

External support, which some scholars believe is critical to insurgent success, was vital for the cartels.[79] However, the cartels did not draw support from a Cold War power or neighboring country; rather, they were funded through the drug trade, primarily with the United States. As criminal organizations, the cartels had little opportunity to develop meaningful partnerships with outside powers. Even Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega was reluctant to provide sanctuary to capos fleeing extradition.[80] In the case of the cartels, support from financial institutions and the flow of illicit funds represented the beating heart of the cartels, without which they would cease to exist.

Colombian Response as Counterinsurgency

After observing the cartels through an insurgency lens, it is necessary to analyze the Colombian government response from a COIN perspective. This is accomplished methodically through the use of the 13 COIN principles and imperatives as found in FM 3-24. Specific metrics for each principle were derived from the field manual and applied to the case. A brief examination of the observations is provided for each principle followed by an assessment and basic scoring.

Government Legitimacy[81]

Ostensibly, the Colombian government of the 1980s and 90s was a legitimately elected democratic government; however, it was not effectively providing security or governance to the population. In 1993, the murder rate in Colombia was an astounding 85 per 100,000 citizens (Washington, DC was 18.5 per 100,000 in 2010) and Medellin was the murder capital of the world with 5,577 homicides in 1994.[82] Even after the successful dismantling of the Medellin and Cali Cartels, 60 percent of Colombians were dissatisfied with the government.[83] Criminal violence, guerrilla movements, and extralegal paramilitary units created a perception of an inept or corrupt government.

Scholars Patrick Clawson and Rensselaer Lee note that “narcocorruption…diminishes the legitimacy of governing institutions” and traffickers “increasingly displace the state in the performance of key social and political functions.”[84] Corruption in Colombia was endemic; in 1996, 2,260 officers from the national police were dismissed for corruption.[85] A list found during a raid on Miguel Rodriguez’s apartment documented 2,800 names of politicians, police, and journalists on the Cali Cartel’s payroll.[86] Corruption reached the highest offices of the country, most notably with the cassette tape scandal that rocked the presidency of Ernesto Samper. Recorded conversations of a key Samper aid taking funds from the Cali Cartel showed that Samper’s 1994 presidential campaign received a critical injection of funds that may have allowed him to win the election. Although Samper enacted a tough policy against DTOs, his legitimacy was permanently stained by corruption.[87]

Colombia was able to defeat the Medellin and Cali Cartels without achieving government legitimacy. Colombia did hold presidential and legislative elections throughout the conflict period; however, elections were undermined by corruption most notably the Samper scandal.[88] Widespread corruption, negative polling numbers despite security advances against the cartels, and remarkably high crime rates indicate that this principle of COIN was not followed or achieved. Colombia’s victory indicates that legitimacy may not be necessary to defeat a DTO. Therefore this principle is scored negatively.

Unity of Effort[89]

Coordination between military, law enforcement, and political elements did exist but was not a whole-of-government approach as outlined in FM 3-24.[90] Lines of operation found in doctrine include “governance, essential services, and economic development.”[91] Essential services were not addressed as a part of the campaign against the cartels. In fact, the massive influx of cocaine profits transformed both Medellin and Cali into thriving cities and generous public service projects funded by traffickers improved many neighborhoods.[92] The economic boom from cocaine also benefited the elites who profited from abundant foreign currency flowing into Colombian banks and construction firms. It was estimated that Cali received some 600 million dollars annually from drug trafficking.[93] In 1993, the year of Pablo Escobar’s death, Medellin’s local government received less than ten percent of its operating budget from the national government, providing little incentive to end the flow of illicit cash.[94] A complete whole-of-government approach would not appear until 2003 when mayors Sergio Fajardo and Alonso Salazar enacted policies to bring government services and security to the most troubled communities.[95]                 

Nevertheless, unity of effort was achieved at the operational level and it was a key to the government’s success. Initially, significant interagency competition between the national police and the Army caused complications with the campaign.[96] Chepesuik notes that “the godfathers from Cali had a jump start on law enforcement… because of rivalries, competition, and turf battles that plagued the investigation…it was only when law enforcement began to cooperate and share information that headway was made.”[97] Due to rampant corruption, the creation of Colonel Hugo Martinez’s vetted Search Bloc with expanded authorities and capacities was essential. Search Bloc also served as a plug in for substantial intelligence, law enforcement, and military assistance from the United States.

Unity of effort was only partially achieved in this case. FM 3-24 calls for “liaison with leaders from a wide variety of nonmilitary agencies” including non-governmental organizations.[98] The government effectively integrated intelligence, vetted tactical units, and outside support from the United States. The Search Bloc more closely resembled a pure counter terrorism team than a COIN approach as outlined in FM 3-24.[99] Because operational and tactical unity was achieved but a whole-of-government approach was not pursued this principle is rated as a neutral result. This indicates that a task organization that resembles a CT unit can be effective against a DTO. 

Primacy of Political Factors[100]

Political factors are difficult to measure in the case of the Medellin and Cali Cartels. FM 3-24 counsels that “resolving most insurgencies requires a political solution” and that revolutionary war is “80 percent political.”[101] However, in contrast with typical insurgencies, the cartels had very limited political agendas. The cartels had two primary political goals: limited autonomy from government persecution of their business and the prohibition of extradition. There was no grand political maneuver to relieve tensions like the British transfer of authority to the Malayans during the Emergency.[102] The cartels’ economic orientation made political negotiation difficult. At one point, the leaders of the Cali Cartel attempted to negotiate an end to cocaine production only to find that they lacked sufficient authority over subordinate drug producers still hungry to create their own fortunes.[103] Beyond drug trade legalization only limited negotiations could be pursued.  

Political control of operations remained firmly in the hands of the Colombian presidents who alternated between utilizing the Search Bloc and negotiations. The Colombian government successfully brought some twenty leaders of the Medellin Cartel to surrender based upon reduced sentences and a ban on extradition. The most famous result of these negotiations was Escobar’s surrender to his custom-made palatial prison La Cathedral.[104] Prosecutor General Gustavo de Greiff conducted a series of clumsy and uncoordinated negotiations with the cartels and his “extremely lenient surrender terms for drug dealers became an embarrassment to the Colombian government and a target for U.S. hostility.”[105] As a result, negotiation proved of limited value in the case.

FM 3-24 states that “resolving most insurgencies requires a political solution;” however in this case, the government forces opted to destroy their opponents after negotiated efforts failed.[106] The spirit of the political primacy principle is that the counterinsurgent focuses on root causes that are driving the insurgency; for example, lack of access to political representation or the absence of government services. The root cause in this case, though, was the economic opportunity provided by the production and trafficking of illicit drugs. If drug trafficking in Colombia is treated as an inherent constant in Colombian security, then a more precise root cause of the conflict would be the presence of ultraviolent and excessively empowered cartel leaders capable of challenging the national government. Given that control over operations remained in civilian hands and unsuccessful negotiations were pursued, this principle was followed but not successfully and is scored as neutral.

Understanding of the Environment[107]

Government forces had a clear and nuanced understanding of the conflict environment. The members of the Search Bloc were Colombian police with a native knowledge of the environment and an understanding of their criminal targets. The Colombian government had been engaged in an internal conflict for decades when the DTOs emerged in the 1980s. By the time of the apprehension of Miguel Rodriguez, the Search Bloc had been tracking drug traffickers for four straight years. DEA agents from the United States had a strong background in the region and country. Veterans, like DEA Agent Joe Toft, had a deep understanding of Colombia and the threat posed by DTOs.

The Colombian government was not attacking the DTOs in a vacuum. The primary threats to the state were powerful guerrilla groups like the FARC and ELN. Cartel leaders, as major landowners, were key backers of self-defense groups that performed critical security roles in rural areas where the government was weak. It was only after the extensive terror campaign launched by Escobar that the government turned its sights on the cartels. Furthermore, the government successfully pitted one cartel against the other through the use of Los Pepes. Operating in a complex conflict environment required the Colombian government to apply Machiavellian skill by managing shifting alliances to achieve its goals.[108]

As with a traditional insurgent threat, understanding the environment proved to be a critical asset in Colombia. Local knowledge and significant time countering the threat clearly establish this principle as a key element of the Colombian success. As such, this principle is scored positively. In addition, former administrator of the DEA Robert Bonner identified the divide-and-conquer strategy as a key factor in the defeat of the cartels.[109] FM 3-24 does not specifically address the sequential engagement of multiple threats, but it proved essential in this case.

Intelligence Driven Operations[110]

Operations against the cartels were largely intelligence driven. In the case of the Medellin Cartel, security forces drew from both technical and human sources. Signals intelligence assets were able to effectively intercept communications. Former Escobar associates in Los Pepes provided a detailed understanding of the structure and weaknesses of the Medellin Cartel.[111] The remarkable intelligence and counterintelligence apparatus of the Cali Cartel fed the Search Bloc and Los Pepes with actionable intelligence.[112] Descriptions of missions indicate that raids and operations had specific objectives rather than large sweeps discouraged in FM 3-24.[113]

The Cali Cartel was dismantled using similar methods. The Cali Cartel’s reliance on communications technology made it susceptible to law enforcement signal exploitation.  Analyzing criminal networks through phone communications is highly effective for developing targetable link diagrams.[114] Informants like Guillermo Pallomari, Harold Ackerman, and Jorge Salcedo were critical for the Search Bloc and the DEA to develop an understanding of the workings of the Cali Cartel.[115]

The extensive use of actionable intelligence was a key attribute of the campaign against the cartels. This study scores this principle as positive. The use of intelligence in lieu of large cordon and search operations falls directly in line with the guidance in FM 3-24. This convergence indicates that the development of a systematic targeting system is essential against DTOs as well as political insurgencies.

Isolation from Popular Support/ Information Management[116]

The DAS building bombing, Avianca airline bombing, and assassination of Galán effectively ended the popularly held dashing drug baron image but it did not result in full public support for government security policy. Polling at the time suggests that the government did not conduct an effective information campaign to maintain public support. Despite the cartel violence, in one 1989 poll, 58 percent of respondents favored negotiations with the cartels and 60 percent supported amnesty.[117] Even in 1997, after both the Medellin and Cali Cartels were defeated, poll results showed 71 percent of respondents said that security had worsened and President Samper held a 54 percent unfavorable rating.[118]Despite these information campaign failings, the Colombian government achieved victory due to the unique support structure of the cartels.

The campaign against the cartels turns the Maoist insurgent structure on its head in that the cartels supplied the population rather than the population supplying the cartels.[119] In Medellin, Escobar developed philanthropic ventures to improve the lives of the poor. The Cali Cartel’s profits “permeated the Cali economy and the natives became addicted to laundered money and conspicuous consumption.”[120] The cartel leaders gained personal recognition from their donations to society but they did not receive essential support. The powerful counterintelligence and security apparatus developed by both organizations was based on monetary compensation – not ideology. Popular support was not essential to the cartels – cash flow was.

Identifying the enemy’s center of gravity is crucial in the development of an effective strategy. Clausewitz describes the center of gravity as “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.”[121] Unlike political insurgencies, Colombian organized crime groups lacked an ideology to attract members and their political goals revolved around increasing their illicit incomes. Since illicit income was the center of gravity for the cartels, financial targeting of the cartels proved essential. Several multinational operations led by the DEA resulted in millions of dollars in seizures, multiple arrests, and the identification of critical bank accounts.[122] In addition, the Colombian law enforcement, led by Prosecutor General Alfonso Valdivieso, also attacked the cartels’ political support network. He investigated numerous members of the political elite including 12 congressmen, and although President Samper escaped charges, some of his top aides did not.[123] By simultaneously pursuing direct action and financial targeting, the government was able to tighten a noose around the cartels by seizing resources and removing their command and control.

The Colombian government failed to conduct successful information operations, which is reflected by polling results at the time. Therefore this study scores information operations negatively. FM 3-24 warns that “victory is gained not when isolation is achieved, but when the victory is permanently maintained by and with the people’s active support.”[124] The Colombian government did not require or obtain popular support to defeat the cartels, but they did effectively employ financial targeting and informants to isolate the cartels from their sources of support. As such, isolation from popular support is scored neutral because the government achieved success but failed to achieve popular support as designed in FM 3-24.

Rule of Law[125]

Robert Thompson warns that “the government must function in accordance with the law” and avoid the “very strong temptation…to act outside the law.”[126] The rule of law was not maintained during the Colombian government’s fight against the cartels. Colonel Martinez of the Search Bloc described his efforts against the Medellin Cartel as “a war…an armed confrontation between the cartel and the state.”[127] Furthermore, the use of Los Pepes, a vigilante organization composed of paramilitaries, Cali Cartel members, and frustrated police was a departure from Colombian law. Los Pepes launched a murderous campaign of assassinations and attacks on the key players in the Medellin Cartel.[128] This is not to say that COIN cannot utilize strong laws, which Thompson says a government can do. [129] The Colombian government, however, did not establish tough rules.  It simply ignored the rules out of expediency.[130]

The use of paramilitaries and vigilantes, while effective, must be scored negatively in this study. Although FM 3-24 warns that “illegitimate actions undermine both long and short term COIN efforts,” extrajudicial activities proved effective in this case.[131] As Doug Farah notes “the importance of the Los Pepes cannot be overestimated.”[132] The findings here match with the divide-and-conquer strategy identified previously. This highlights the concept that temporary alliances may prove effective against criminal groups despite potential damage to government legitimacy.

Long Term Commitment/ Support the Host Nation[133]

Colombian forces were conducting internal COIN which meant that they understood that they would pursue the campaign until complete. The determination of Col. Martinez of the Search Bloc takes on an almost Shakespearian quality because he realized that he was in a life or death struggle with Escobar.[134]  The development of the 3,000 man Search Bloc was a direct indication of Colombian’s seriousness. The Search Bloc proved to be a durable organization and continued through the defeat of the Cali Cartel in 1996.

U.S. support was limited but sustainable, with the cartels identified as a “threat to national security” in 1986.[135] The 1991 National Defense Authorization Act provided the Department of Defense with “authority to provide transportation, reconnaissance, training, intelligence, and base support when requested by foreign law enforcement agencies for counter narcotics purposes.” Average U.S. aid to Colombia during the conflict with the cartels was a mere $63.3 million annually.[136] The constrained size and level of U.S. commitment was influenced by fresh memories of Somalia, where 19 servicemen were killed in a low intensity operation.[137] The small special operations and law enforcement footprint allowed the U.S. effort to maintain a sustainable commitment. Counter intuitively, the light footprint approach for U.S. expeditionary COIN is generally more effective.[138] The success of U.S. efforts was due to the fact that Colombian security forces led the effort and not an overbearing U.S. assistance team.

The creation of a dedicated and vetted unit with focused leadership as well as the internal nature of the campaign indicates that long term commitment was adequately displayed by the Colombians. U.S. support, while limited, proved to be sustainable financially and politically. As such both long term commitment and host nation support are scored positively in this study. As in a traditional COIN effort, commitment to the fight is a key component. Although FM 3-24 is largely designed to describe expeditionary COIN, the Colombia case study shows that a light footprint approach was effective against criminal groups.

Use of Force[139]

The Colombian government effort was enemy focused, but driven by specific targeting. Security forces implemented strict population controls to limit the mobility of cartel members, however,  the use of heavy firepower was not a serious issue. The conflict did not resemble the type of guerrilla warfare seen in the writings of Che Guevara where attacks against government forces are required to seize resources and wear down the government.[140] The cartels continued to purchase their supplies through their illicit trade. Government forces relied on small arms and light weapons throughout the campaign.  Without heavy military units, the impact of rules of engagement and escalation of force was minimal.

The use of force principle is evaluated positively in the study. Given previous findings on information operations and popular support, it is unclear what the result of poor rules of engagement would have been. As with traditional COIN, the use of intelligence driven operations naturally limits problems with the use of force.[141]

Learning and Adapting[142]

The Colombian government and its U.S. allies effectively adapted during the campaign. The initial strategy pursued by the Colombian government was tolerant coexistence with the cartels. This allowed the Medellin and Cali Cartels to grow to an unacceptable level of military and political power. In 1983, Pablo Escobar even attempted to assume office as a congressional alternate.[143] After the terrorist campaign unleashed by the cartels, the government initiated an intense crackdown on the Medellin Cartel through the Search Bloc. In the midst of this response the government attempted to negotiate an agreement and accepted the surrender of Escobar. When this proved ineffective, the government reestablished the more forceful efforts of the Search Bloc.[144] While the attack on the Medellin cartel was extremely lethal, the move against the Cali Cartel more closely resembled a police investigation.[145] Once again the government would utilize reduced punishment to promote surrenders. This constantly adjusting and shifting strategy indicates that the government was able to try different methodologies and then match their operations to their opponents.

At the tactical level, there were numerous innovations that proved critical in the effort. The use of signals intelligence was highly effective in the hunt for Escobar. The use of financial tracking at the international level as seen in operations GREEN ICE and DINERO was a groundbreaking technique for attacking transnational crime.[146] In addition, the ability to turn the Cali Cartel’s advanced communication technologies against it was also a major coup for government forces.

The Colombian government and its U.S. allies proved adaptive throughout the conflict with the drug cartels and this principle is scored positively. Traditional COIN and operations against organized crime are “wicked problems”[147] that require interaction and adaptation to achieve an “acceptable steady state.”[148] The Colombian government’s ability to shape an effective strategy in a fluid and complex threat environment was vital.

Small Units[149]

The use of small units was evident in the campaign against the cartels. One of the most important factors that led to the demise of both cartels was the use of the relatively small 3,000 member Search Bloc. Widespread corruption within the Colombian security forces made the use of regular police units impossible. When military forces were deployed they showed an ability to reduce common crime in their immediate vicinity, but were vulnerable to corruption by DTOs when their cooperation was necessary.[150] The vetted and trusted members of the Search Bloc made it difficult for the cartels to corrupt the organization. Within FM 3-24, however, this principle is based upon empowering platoons and companies within larger formations. The idea being that small units will control their own terrain and use their local knowledge to root out insurgents while improving local conditions. This was not the case in Colombia; the Search Bloc more closely resembled a counter-terror unit than a line company conducting COIN.[151]

Although there is a slight difference in the reasoning behind the importance of small unit empowerment in FM 3-24 and in this case, this study scores this principle positively. The vetted and dedicated Search Bloc was perhaps the single most important factor in the defeat of the cartels. Without a trusted and capable unit with mobility, training, and firepower, success in this case would have been unlikely.

Table 1 provides an overview of the results of the Colombia case study. Six of the 13 principles were applied successfully as outlined in FM 3-24. Four of the principles were either not applied according to the doctrine or were not entirely successful. Three principles were scored as not applied or failed.

Table 1

Perhaps most surprisingly, government legitimacy and its associated principles of the rule of law and information operations were not achieved during the conflict. The identification of the financial center of gravity that emerged from the analysis of the DTOs using O’Neill’s framework explains how this departure from FM 3-24’s population centric approach was possible. Against a Maoist insurgency a failure to achieve government legitimacy and apply a whole-of-government approach are fatal errors; however, DTOs do not draw their strength from the population and, therefore, the center of gravity shifts. This also affected the importance of political solutions which are less useful in the face of incentives arising from an illicit economy.

Many COIN principles proved as effective against the Colombian cartels as they are in traditional COIN. Intelligence driven targeting was crucial as was a long term commitment. Importantly, learning and adapting was also critical in the fight against the cartels. The evaluation of some principles yielded valuable nuances for applying COIN to criminal threats. The Colombian understanding of their threat environment allowed them to pursue a divide-and-conquer strategy, pitting one sub-state group against the other. Vetted units were also essential due to the DTO’s power to corrupt using its illicit outside funding sources. Furthermore, the reliance on illicit trafficking rather than popular support made the cartels more vulnerable to financial targeting than a traditional insurgency.

Criminal Gangs in Rio de Janeiro

Historical Summary

Prior to the implementation of the current police strategy, it was estimated that two million of Rio de Janeiro’s total population of 11 million people were living in some 900 slums known as favelas.[152] The favelas resemble an urban maze of randomly erected homes and businesses utilizing varied building materials.[153] The name favela comes from Mount Favela, where in 1897 Brazilian troops fought a brief internal campaign called the Canudos War. The decommissioned soldiers found themselves in Rio after the conflict awaiting land grants that would never be delivered. They built makeshift housing in vacant spaces around Rio which came to be known as favelas.[154] The neighborhoods later took on the poor and homeless and grew exponentially during the mass urbanization beginning in the 1970s.

This environment was a fertile breeding ground for criminal groups that created ungoverned spaces.[155] The homicide rate in Rio in 2008 was 31 per 100,000, or three times the United Nation’s definition of an epidemic rate.[156] However, Police Lieutenant Coronel Antonio Carballo believes mortality rates in Rio for young men “are comparable to those of a society at war,” and that perhaps 70 percent of the 3,000 to 4,000 people reported missing each year are actually homicides.[157] In addition, it was estimated that police in Rio kill 41 citizens for each officer that is killed; four times the international average.[158] This is not surprising given that over 100 police officers have been killed in Rio every year since 2000.[159] Former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso laments that “fatal violence in the favelas has reached an intolerable level,” and Brazil’s promise of democracy “has yet to be fulfilled.”[160]

Rio is currently plagued by three major gangs: the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), the Third Command (Terceiro Comando), and the Friends of the Friends (Amigos de los Amigos).[161] Current gangs in Rio can trace their lineage to urban guerrillas fighting against the military dictatorship in Brazil during the 1960s and 1970s. Insurgents pursuing a rebellion based on methods championed by Carlos Marighella and Abraham Guillen robbed banks and attacked government forces. Politically motivated guerrillas and common criminals found themselves in the same prison system and criminals began to model their activities after the guerrillas. Comando Vermelho was originally formed in the prisons to control the inmate population and demand better conditions. The Comando Vermelho’s organization proved invaluable as it rapidly grew in influence.[162]

In the 1980s, the arrival of cocaine was dominated by the Comando Vermelho which was able to capture vast quantities of money and amass impressive arsenals. The Comando Vermelho corrupted police and officials while developing heavily armed gangs to protect drug distribution centers in the favelas. The favelas became no-go terrain for police forces and the government. The various favelas run by independent leaders operating within the Comando Vermelho network began competing with each other and eventually fractured into three groups in 1997.[163]

The government largely pursued a policy of isolation until the initiation of the UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) program in 2008.[164] Control of the favelas was ceded to drug gangs as long as they avoided causing disturbances outside of their areas. Police forces, often the BOPE (Police Special Operations Battalion), would conduct raids into the favelas to seize targeted individuals or as reprisals for gang activities. When Rio hosted high profile events, like the visit by Pope John Paul II in 1997 and the Pan American Games in 2007, police and military forces temporarily occupied the favelas to prevent criminal disruptions.[165]

Rio’s security issues gained worldwide attention when, just two weeks after being awarded the venue for the 2016 Olympic Games, the city erupted into violence and a police helicopter was shot down.[166] Motivated by preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics, the government has now adopted a comprehensive and enduring strategy to reassert control of the favelas. The plan revolves around a community policing concept led by special pacifying police units and its phases closely resemble the “clear-hold-build” methodology outlined in FM 3-24.[167] Since 2008, the government has cleared some 25 communities and reasserted state control over 280,000 citizens.[168] While there are some critics of the approach, evidence suggests that the three year old change in methodology is effective.

Favela Gangs as Insurgency

Once again, the use of O’Neill’s six factors is a useful starting point from which to describe a criminal insurgency phenomenon.[169] Though, criminal gangs, like DTOs, do not easily fit into O’Neill’s insurgency typology. Rio’s gangs bear some resemblance to “secessionist” insurgencies in that they have carved away sections of territory from the state and are actively opposing all state influence in their domains. Max Manwaring believes the gangs are a “mutated form of urban insurgency” because of their “irrevocable need to depose or control an incumbent government to force a radical socio-economic-political restructuring of the nation-state and its governance.”[170] The gangs also behave like a commercialist insurgency in that they fight to control lucrative local drug markets within the favela.[171] In essence, the gangs seek full autonomy from the state to rule over their own criminal kingdoms. 

Rio’s gangs utilize guerrilla warfare techniques and terrorist attacks to achieve their goals. Operating in coordinated small units, the gangs patrol and defend their favelas. The favelas resemble the safe-havens in complex terrain envisioned by Mao, but the gangs limit their expansion to criminal raiding outside of the favela rather than exporting revolution.[172] The gangs are a formidable urban guerrilla force, armed with assault rifles, grenades, and heavy machine guns. They utilize the maze of pathways and ramshackle buildings to fight a lethal defense in depth against assaulting government security forces.[173] The gangs are also capable of coordinated widespread attacks that could be considered terrorist actions. On December 28, 2006, gangs torched busses and launched synchronized attacks against 12 police stations leaving 18 dead in a move to intimidate the new state governor.[174]  In November of 2010, the gangs struck again burning busses and cars, detonating improvised explosives, and engaging police. The attacks, which left more than 35 dead, were designed to counter the pacification program and may have been tailored to provide negative images to the international media.[175]  Tactically, there are clear similarities between insurgents and criminal gangs.

                  Unfortunately, O’Neill’s framework of insurgent strategic approaches does not provide a clear picture of gang strategies in Rio. The gangs in Rio, like the Cali and Medellin Cartels, rely on extensive corruption of the police forces. However, for DTOs like the Cali Cartel, corruption takes on an essential role and is similar to a Leninist revolutionary technique. The gangs, in contrast, bribe police and local officials but their influence is nowhere near that of powerful DTOs. Gangs pay corrupt police to limit or prevent incursions in their territory.[176] The gangs resemble a protracted popular war strategy in that they draw support from the population; however, there is no phased revolutionary approach. In many ways the illicit economy has reinvigorated Guevara’s foco method and integrated urban approaches.[177]  The gangs are essentially small bands of guerrillas utilizing urban guerrilla techniques. Their goals, however, are extremely limited: control of a delineated favela and its economic resources, specifically drug profits. Because the gangs are a secessionist movement, they do not pursue the general revolutionary goals outlined by Marighella and Guillen.

                  The favela gangs more closely resemble Maoist insurgencies than the Medellin and Cali Cartels. As was shown previously, a DTO’s center of gravity is its profits from illicit trafficking. Unlike Medellin and Cali, the favela gangs are closely tied to the community for resources. Favela gangs are not primarily trafficking organizations but rather participate in the drug trade at the retail level. Drug profits come from the local population and others that enter the favela to purchase drugs. The gangs receive weapons and funding from outside the favela but their primary source of income is local drug sales. Additionally, some gangs and especially militias charge a tax on residents to help fund operations.[178] Many gangs initiate public works projects and throw popular funk music parties to create a positive image. Gangs also provide a rudimentary justice system for conflict arbitration. Short duration raiding and police corruption also alienated the public from the government allowing the gangs to maintain popular support.[179] Popular support is an important difference between powerful DTOs and powerful gangs. The center of gravity for favela gangs, like many classic insurgencies, is the local population.

Each favela has a highly organized structure while the overarching groups like the Comando Vermelho function more like a network. At the local level, each favela is controlled by a senior leader or dono. Under the dono is the general manager who manages the gang operations including drug sales and military activities. Under the general manger, there are sub-managers for cocaine sales, marijuana sales, and security. Each drug distribution point, called a boca de fumo, has a manager and security force. Finally, guards are employed to protect the perimeter of the favela from police or rival gang incursions.[180]

                  It is somewhat difficult to apply an insurgency framework to the favela gangs of Rio, but they do share some attributes with their political insurgent predecessors who fought the military dictatorship. The gangs have an extremely limited goal to achieve – maintaining autonomy over distinct terrain in order to maximize commercial gain through retail drug sales. The gangs at the favela level operate in organized units, employing guerrilla tactics to maintain control of their territory. Most importantly, their center of gravity is the population that supplies them with illegal taxes and drug profits. Because the gangs’ center of gravity is the population, this makes them vulnerable to more traditional COIN methodologies.

The Brazilian Government Response as COIN

From the 1980s through 2008, the government pursued a policy of isolation and raiding against the favela gangs. However, current operations closely resemble a population centric COIN methodology. Current campaigns against the favelas involve a four phased approach:

  1. Intelligence collection
  2. Occupation, usually conducted by BOPE forces
  3. Installation of the UPP unit
  4. Evaluation and coordination of government services between police, community leaders, service providers, and nongovernmental organizations[181]

Rio’s state security secretary, Jose Mariano Beltrame, outlined the goal of the operations: “We cannot guarantee that we will put an end to drug trafficking nor do we have the pretension of doing so…[the idea is] to break the paradigm of territories that are controlled by traffickers with weapons of war. Our concrete objective is that a citizen can come and go as he pleases, that public and private services can get in there whenever they want.”[182] Unlike previous efforts, the UPP program is designed to last for a minimum of 25 years.[183] As with FM 3-24, UPP focuses on the population. “The UPP is a new model of Public Security and policing that intends to bring police and population closer together, as well as strengthen social policies inside communities. By reestablishing control over areas that for decades were occupied by traffic and, recently, also by militias, the UPPs bring peace to communities…Communitarian Police is a concept and a strategy based on the partnership between the population and public security institutions.”[184] An analysis of the security initiative shows that COIN principles are well represented in the current approach.

Government Legitimacy

                  Initially, the government was not seen as legitimate, but efforts since 2008 show an improvement in public perception of the government.[185] Widespread police corruption and short term raids on the favelas left the favelas population alienated from the police. The security forces’ raiding culture led to a dehumanization of favela residents. One officer even called the military police “the best social insecticide.”[186] Not surprisingly, many citizens had more respect for the local gangs and their rudimentary laws than for government security forces.[187] One survey indicated that favela residents believed that the police committed more acts of violence against the community by a margin of two to one.[188] The lack of security also prevented the city government from delivering basic services to the neighborhoods leaving the population feeling abandoned.[189]

The UPP program, however, has changed this perception. Once security forces and government officials established a lasting presence in the favelas they have greatly improved public perceptions. The UPP program uses specially trained young officers to prevent police officers raised in a culture of corruption from influencing the effort. UPP results are promising. 96 percent of respondents in Dona Marta and Cidade de Deus think UPP should be expanded to other areas and 93 percent approve of the program.[190] In a comprehensive survey of communities with UPP units, 94 percent of respondents believed their community was secure, 80 percent said that the image of the police improved, more than 70 percent felt better respected by outside communities and said they now have a voice in the government.[191] Challenges remain for government legitimacy including the risk of corruption in the UPPs[192] and continuing demands for more government services.[193]

This study scores government legitimacy positively as the government not only developed a program designed to gain the support of the population but it has achieved significant success. This finding contrasts with the Colombian case study where government legitimacy was not pursued or achieved. Breaking the cycle of gang violence and police raiding allowed the government to displace the criminal threat and establish control.

Unity of Effort

The security effort in Rio is coordinated at the state level. All state level activities including social and security initiatives are controlled by the governor, Sergio Cabral. The Civil Police and Military Police are state forces and fall under state security secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame. UPP Social, a state level program, coordinates government, private sector, and NGO projects within UPP favelas.[194] At the tactical level, occupations are typically commanded by the BOPE and then control is given to a UPP commander. Ostensibly, the coordination and delivery of services is completed by a residential community, but in practice the UPP commander is seen as the leader in most favelas.[195] “The UPP commander is like a king” and effectively replaces the ruling gang leader.[196] Fortunately, most favela residents rate cooperation between the UPP and the community as good or excellent.[197]

This study finds that government forces successfully achieved unity of command in their operations and scores this principle positively.  At the strategic level civilian leadership is firmly in control of operations and is working to integrate security and development assets. At the tactical and operational levels, the BOPE, UPP, and military units have proven capable of coordinating their actions.[198] Finally, despite unclear command chains, cooperation between community leaders and UPP commanders has been effective. As with traditional COIN efforts, security forces in Rio would have had tremendous difficulty occupying terrain and controlling the population without a functioning command framework that integrated diverse government assets.

Primacy of Political Factors

As with the Colombia case study, political reconciliation has played a limited role in the government approach. Although some Brazilian gangs like the PCC (First Capital Command) publish manifestos that include political demands, most gangs at the local level are simply focused on controlling terrain and profiting from drug sales.[199] While political interests are paramount in a classic insurgency, the underlying cause of violence in the favelas is cultural and social.  Youth are raised in a culture of violence and limited economic opportunity leading to intense incentives to join gangs. Sociologist Janice Perlman observes:

The internalized lack of self-esteem, inevitable for youth who are never treated as respectable people, is conducive to teenagers dropping out of school, having unprotected sex that leads to early pregnancies, and joining drug gangs. At least in the gang, the adolescent boys feel important and powerful. They are armed, they have cash; they wear expensive shoes, shirts, and jewelry; they may have a motorcycle, and they attract the attention of the most desirable young women. It is not hard to imagine a teenager being willing to risk early death for the chance to experience the respect and deference that ordinary people take as their birthright.[200]

The government is now attempting to address the underlying causes of youth violence. Increased security by the UPP has led to substantial decreases in drug trafficking; removing this option for young residents.[201] The imposition of government authority provides alternate role models for the youth of the favelas.[202] Increased licit economic opportunity give young males alternate routes to respect and personal wealth.

As with the Colombia case study, it is difficult to apply the political primacy principle to favela gangs. Rather than a political ideology, the root causes of the conflict in Rio are an extensive local illicit economy and a culture of gang violence. Government efforts in the Rio favelas in many ways more closely resembles anti-gang strategies that focus on “social intervention, the provision of opportunities, and community mobilization” to attack the causes of gang violence.[203] Because this focus on cultural change is a distinct departure from the political focus found in FM 3-24, this study rates the political primacy principle as neutral.

Understanding of the Environment/Intelligence Driven Operations

The police forces involved in the clearance and occupation of the favelas have a clear understanding of their operational environment. Decades of operations in the favelas have given Rio police a strong background in the nature of the population and the gangs. In fact, many of the police live in the favelas or grew up in the favelas. Interestingly, corruption becomes a double edged sword for the gangs once moral policing is incentivized. Corrupt police that straighten out already know the gang leaders and their operations, which allows for highly effective targeting.[204] In addition, security forces maximize the use of signals and human intelligence as part of the first phase of a campaign to retake a favela.[205] General Pinheiro’s review of lessons from the army’s deployment into the favelas in 2006 notes that “intelligence data collection about the opposition forces is an essential task.”[206] Government forces’ detailed understanding of the favelas and their focus on intelligence preparation have been key elements in their success.

This study scores the principles of understanding the environment and intelligence driven operations positively. These principles are consistent with the field manual and were successfully practiced in both cases covered in this study. These traditional COIN principles retained their value even when applied against a criminal threat.

Isolation from Popular Support

The initial government strategy of favela isolation and raiding engendered popular support for the criminal gangs. In contrast, efforts under the UPP have rapidly built up local support for the government and dismantled support for the gangs.[207] Data from UPP controlled favelas indicates that drug sales and use drastically decline once government forces take control of the neighborhoods.[208] The occupation of the favelas effectively isolates the gangs from their source of material support, funds from local drug sales. Social programs may explain some of the decline in drug sales but it is more likely that increased security displaces users and dealers to unsecured favelas. The favela population is generally conservative and hardworking and is not inclined to support the gangs in the absence of coercion. The limited popular support enjoyed by the gangs quickly crumbles once their control of the illicit economy and force is destroyed.[209]

This study scores isolation from popular support as strongly positive. The government was able to separate the gangs from their material and popular support. As was shown in the analysis using O’Neill’s model, the gangs have a local center of gravity unlike a DTO criminal threat. This means that, as with a Maoist type insurgency, their resources are derived from the local population and control of the population will cut off their sources of support.

Rule of Law/Use of Force

Government forces have improved their adherence to the rule of law, but there are still significant issues with police violating legal requirements. Human Rights Watch notes that “some Brazilian police officers engage in abusive practices instead of pursuing sound policing policies.”[210] Police in Rio operate with the authority to use deadly force against criminals that “resist.” Under this law the police have broad rules of engagement when operating in the favelas. Human Rights Watch believes that a significant number of the hundreds of annual police killings are illegitimate.[211] The government has taken some action. Undercover police are being employed to catch police abuses and an ombudsman is now investigating complaints.[212] The government effort has, at least ostensibly, followed a rule of law approach and the gangs have been pursued as criminals under the justice system rather than enemy combatants.

The use of force has been limited by the weapon systems employed by the police and military units operating in the favelas. The police are heavily armed with assault rifles and utilize armored vehicles but they are not employing air strikes, heavy machine guns, and high caliber canons against their criminal opponents. Prior to the UPP program, the BOPE followed notoriously loose rules of engagement.[213] However, recent polling of favela residents suggests that the BOPE has adjusted its tactics to the new strategy. Only ten percent of respondents from favelas depicted BOPE relations with residents as violent, 41 percent described relations as friendly and professional.[214]

This study scores the rule of law principle as neutral. Important progress has been made to establish rule of law but studies by human rights advocates question if that progress has been entirely successful. The use of force is scored positively. Rules of engagement have substantially changed from the raiding strategy previously employed. As with a traditional COIN effort, these two principles have been important aspects of the government’s strategy in Rio. Poor relations between security forces and favela residents in part arise from previous raiding operations that discarded the rule of law and utilized open rules of engagement. Efforts to improve adherence to the rule of law and responsible rules of engagement have helped the government develop legitimacy.

Long Term Commitment

In contrast with previous efforts to gain control of the favelas, the UPP program has shown a commitment to the long term inclusion of the favelas under government control. UPP police units are based in the favelas and are designed to work with the neighborhoods indefinitely. Beltrame has proclaimed that “the police have arrived and the police will remain.”[215] Investment in the program, unlike previous efforts at community policing, is substantial. The city government is investing eight million dollars on the police academy with the goal of increasing the police force to 60,000 officers.[216] The national government has initiated the half billion dollar PRONASCI (National Program for Public Security with Citizenship) which funnels money through 94 programs aimed at professionalizing police, reforming the penal system, preventing youth violence, combating corruption, and creating urban renewal.[217] Despite these numbers, over 60 percent of favela residents still fear that one day criminals will retake control of their communities and that the continuation of the UPP program will depend on the will of the next government.[218] Although public distrust remains, the government campaign has achieved bureaucratic momentum that will be difficult to reverse.

Based on the significant political and material investments made in the UPP program, this study evaluates long term commitment positively in this case. The previous identification of a cultural and societal foundation to the violence indicates that, perhaps even more so than in political COIN, a long term investment is required to address the problem. FM 3-24 demands that the counterinsurgent force have the “means, ability, stamina, and will to win” if it is to succeed.[219] These qualities were equally important in the two cases of criminal insurgencies discussed in this study. The government in Rio has committed itself to a long-term campaign to reassert control of the favelas.

Information Management/ Support to the Host Nation

Information operations since the inception of the UPP approach have been impressive. The government engages in extensive public outreach programs including police visits to local schools, free Jiu Jitsu classes taught by police, and a broad dissemination of information products to sway the public against the gangs.[220] Brazil has gone further by engaging the international community to avoid complications from human rights groups which may affect the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. The UPP website features positive stories and interactive displays explaining the UPP mission and its results in several languages.[221] The Brazilians are self-reliant and a growing world power, hence accepted external support for the UPP program is extremely limited. U.S. support has been largely limited to advice and indirect inferences from U.S. doctrine and experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Brazilians deemed international opinion of the UPP program important while declining direct foreign assistance.

This study scores information management as extremely positive. As with population centric COIN, developing a positive narrative and solid rapport with the population was essential in this case. Host nation support is clearly positive because there is very little outside support. Brazil has effectively created a global information campaign to ensure foreign support for its actions. This is very similar to the creative modification of insurgency theory developed by the Sandinistas in which world public opinion was a primary objective.[222] In this case, Brazil is effectively engaging the world community to prevent criminal groups from gaining support from international non-governmental organizations and human rights organizations.

Learning and Adapting

Government forces clearly learned and adapted their tactics and approach from the rise of the gangs in the 1970s to current efforts today. The original approach embraced by the government was to isolate the gangs in the favelas and prevent their influence on the rest of the city. Punitive operations, targeted raids, and short term occupations were used to manage the problem but never resulted in government control of the favelas. When Brazil was awarded the World Cup and the Olympics it became imperative to achieve a lasting solution to the favela problem that did not cede sovereignty over hundreds of thousands of citizens to criminal gangs.

Brazilian security forces drew from a variety of experiences to hone their tactical abilities and operational plans. The Brazilian military has gained extensive experience operating in Haiti as the lead nation in MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti). This experience with expeditionary peacekeeping has been invaluable during operations in the favelas.[223] Previous attempts at community policing also provided key lessons. The GPAE (Police Group in Special Areas) was implemented in 2000 in Cantagalo and Pavao-Pavaozinho but its success was limited by its scope and funding.[224] The UPP program benefited from a phased approach that allowed adequate time for organizational learning between operations. Each favela represented a unique but similar problem set, so the government was able to learn and adapt its systems after each favela was occupied. The occupations were also sequenced so that the larger and most dangerous favelas came after the less dangerous ones. This enabled government forces to build on their experiences.

Learning and adapting, as with the Colombian case, is positively evaluated here. The Brazilian approach resembles a common COIN ink blot approach. However, Rio’s terrain makes it unique. The contested favelas are similar to islands within the city that can be physically isolated and engaged separately. As global urbanization trends continue traditional insurgencies and criminal variants will increasingly be found in cities. The isolate and reduce approach applied in Rio may provide COIN practitioners with an alternative to ink blot methods.

Small Units

The clear-hold-build methodology utilized by the government uses large robust forces to initially clear a favela of armed gang members and then focuses on small UPP units that have control of their terrain. These UPP elements are empowered to control their zones and are led by police captains. As was discussed previously, UPP commanders largely replace the dominant drug dealers as the rulers of the favelas.

The focus on small unit empowerment is clearly in line with the tenants of FM 3-24 and is scored positively in this study. As with the Colombian case study, corruption is a key factor in Rio. The UPPs are intentionally separated from the rest of the police force to avoid corruption. The UPPs are larger than the vetted Search Bloc in Colombia but they are subjected to a different training regimen and receive additional pay.

Table 2

Table 2 shows that the government’s approach in Rio is a good match with the population-centric approach found in FM 3-24. It is also evident that the proper application of the COIN principles was critical in achieving success. 11 of the 13 factors were followed and were successful. Two factors were scored as neutral. The government has recognized the importance of the rule of law in its operations, but it is still undergoing needed reforms to meet its new standards for police work.

The government is addressing root causes of the gangs in Rio but these are social, cultural, and economic rather than primarily political as is commonly understood in classic counterinsurgency. One heartening finding is that the center of gravity of a favela gang is vulnerable. Wresting insurgents from their source of support was a grueling process in Vietnam and Malaya.[225] Gangs, however, lack real legitimacy and, without a monopoly of force, quickly lose access to material support from extortion and local drug sales.

The government’s use of a sequential campaign created a highly effective system for learning and adapting. The nature of the urban threat in Rio resembles islands of contested territory that can be isolated and reduced. The government has attacked the problem sequentially by addressing the least dangerous threats first to build a base of experience before tackling the more difficult favelas. Isolating pockets and attacking them in sequence to maximize adaptation could prove extremely useful when dealing with similar threats like MS-13 in Central America.

Brazil’s use of an international information campaign to isolate the criminal groups from outside support and maintain its positive image despite a massive security challenge is fascinating. Brazil’s place as a rising power and the host of two major sporting events makes it vulnerable to international pressure. Criminal attempts to use violent propaganda have failed to create pressure from other nations and institutions like FIFA and the Olympic Committee. Brazil’s recognition of the importance of global opinion is a valuable lesson for not only actions against criminal groups but also against traditional insurgencies.

Results and Policy Implications

Table 3

This study set out to determine to what extent are counterinsurgency principles as outlined in Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency effective against criminal insurgencies. In the case of Colombia’s cartels, a different approach proved effective and some principles found in FM 3-24 were ineffective or absent. Rio de Janeiro’s efforts against favela gangs, however, show that the principles in FM 3-24 are highly effective against powerful gangs.  The study shows that many counterinsurgency principles are applicable to criminal threats, but that significant adjustments to campaign planning may be necessary based on the identification of the criminal group’s center of gravity. Counterinsurgents should also take into account the value of vetted units, anticorruption activities, financial targeting, addressing social and cultural norms, as well as divide-and-conquer techniques. As with any insurgency, one must understand the “unique economic, social, and political conditions of the conflict environment.”[226]

This study is limited in scope because it only reviews two cases and there is significant room for further investigation. The Sicilian Mafia in the 1990s is another excellent case that integrates a targeted approach against mafia leaders and a dedicated effort to change public perception of the government and the mafia.[227] Russia’s unique solution to its “violent entrepreneurs” involving the privatization of security is another interesting case that holds lessons for COIN practitioners facing criminal groups.[228] Most importantly, no case was addressed here where a government pursued a fully resourced COIN approach against a DTO. As such, policy recommendations are suggestive rather than prescriptive. In many ways, ongoing efforts in Mexico reflect a fully resourced approach with the addition of a determined kingpin strategy aimed against cartel leaders. The results of the Mexican government’s strategy remain to be seen; however, many of the findings of this study are applicable to Mexico. As Robert Bunker notes, criminal insurgency is an “emergent phenomenon” and the historical cases described in this study cannot fully explain the mutation of criminal groups in Mexico today.[229] This study does, however, provide practitioners with valuable insights into the usefulness of COIN doctrine against criminal threats.

Based upon this brief examination of the Colombian campaign against the cartels and Rio’s efforts against favela gangs, large scale organized crime can reach a scale and scope that meets the standards of an insurgency. Favela gangs and the Medellin and Cali Cartels are effectively described utilizing insurgency literature and they are most accurately cataloged as criminal insurgency. Criminal insurgency, though, is clearly very different from classical insurgency. Furthermore, while in academic debate and in planning cells, this terminology is helpful and provides a useful typology for developing policy responses, it is often not useful in the countries it is describing. The historical baggage associated with the terms “insurgency” and “counterinsurgency” in Latin America is often insurmountable and can distract from implementing solutions.

As this study shows, O’Neill’s insurgency analysis framework is not a perfect fit for evaluating a powerful criminal organization. Criminal organizations have unique strategic approaches, may not require popular support, rely heavily on corruption, and are shaped by their source of illicit income. A traditional insurgency evaluation of a criminal insurgency may miss key attributes and vulnerabilities of the threat. The development of a more comprehensive analysis framework that integrates analysis tools used for gangs, organized crime, terrorism, and insurgency would be a valuable tool for policymakers and practitioners.[230] An insurgency analysis framework alone is insufficient. As such, care should be taken to properly analyze each unique security situation. If the term “criminal insurgency” detracts from international cooperation it should be shelved, but insurgency and COIN insights should remain part of threat analysis and campaign design.

This study found several counterinsurgency principles to be effective in both cases indicating that they are transferable to criminal threats. In Colombia and Rio, government forces had a detailed understanding of their environment which enabled them to run effective operations. Intricate knowledge of the threat environment led to intelligence driven operations in both cases. As with a COIN campaign, operations against criminal organizations also required a long term commitment. In addition, both cases followed FM 3-24’s counsel that foreign support should be focused on host nation leadership. As such, it is recommended that U.S. support for governments fighting a criminal insurgency be indirect.

Learning and adapting was also effective in both cases. Security forces in Rio offer an excellent example of how to design an urban COIN campaign against a criminal threat. The isolation and sequential reduction of favelas maximized the ability to learn lessons, adapt tactics, and hone systems. The operationalizing of the learning process is at the heart of FM 3-24 and it has proved highly valuable in Rio. While many COIN principles are effective against criminal threats, others may require some doctrinal adaptations to attack the foundations of the threat.

The importance of the identification of a criminal organization’s center of gravity cannot be overstated. A senior U.S. government official involved in financial targeting advises that “the first step in targeting is to understand how the organization manages its resources.  Where do they obtain funding, in what form do they store it, and what is the best way to interdict that money?”[231] Classical COIN techniques that revolve around population control will effectively isolate a criminal insurgent like a favela gang funded by retail drug sales.  DTOs in contrast, do not draw their strength from the local population; rather, they are fueled by transnational drug trafficking.

The implication of this finding is that the use of an approach that places a soldier or policeman on every street corner to “secure the population” may be ineffective. Soldiers at the street level may provide citizens with some relief from common crime; however, they cannot impact a DTO’s main source of power. DTOs will continue to use the resources gained through transnational trafficking to operate. Furthermore, government forces must be aware that when facing a DTO, security forces will be vulnerable to corruption until the DTO’s center of gravity has been addressed. Retired Colombian General and insurgency expert, Carlos Ospina notes that when fighting a criminal organization “placing soldiers in the street is a political message” and is not effective. The visual presence of security forces may provide the illusion of security, but it does little to destroy a trafficking organization.[232]

The Colombia case study shows that an approach that targets cartel leadership and funding can be effective against a DTO. Drug trafficking requires an intricate network of contacts and managers to move its product. The Colombian government effectively engaged key leadership nodes in both the Medellin and Cali organizations to attack their source of illicit funds. Key leaders such as Pablo Escobar, Jose Santacruz and the Rodriguez brothers, Gilberto and Miguel were all captured or killed. In addition, leaders of key logistics nodes, like Guillermo Pallomari and Harold Ackerman, were turned into valuable informants resulting in serious damage to the illicit network.  Beyond the individual leaders, it is imperative that financial targeting be used to isolate DTOs from their financial center of gravity.  Douglas Farah, an expert in illicit finance, believes that “focusing on the money” and “going after the dirty money in the political system” are key lessons from the Colombian efforts against the cartels.[233] DTOs require a technical approach to financial targeting to deny them their source of strength.

The criminal organization’s center of gravity has serious implications for COIN campaign design against criminal insurgency.  Counterinsurgents must develop a detailed understanding of the type of criminal organization being engaged. In Colombia, the government was facing powerful DTOs whose center of gravity was illicit profits from drug trafficking. In Rio, drug gangs also are funded by drug trafficking but their profits are derived from local retail sales. This makes the center of gravity for the favela gangs the local population that purchases the drugs or pays local illegal taxes.

Fig. 1

FM 3-24 offers practitioners an example of a COIN campaign plan broken down into logical lines of operation (see figure 1).[234] This example is a useful starting point for counterinsurgents facing a classical political insurgency and it can also be of use for those working against a criminal insurgency like the one found in Rio. Results from the favela case study show that the government is effectively using COIN principles to secure the favelas. One major difference between the political COIN model and a criminal insurgency campaign plan are the starting conditions and end state. The root conditions in Rio are social and cultural rather than political. There is very little popular support for violent youth gangs and this quickly evaporates once police forces take control. The government’s focus is better aimed at shifting social conditions and norms that create gangs than at developing political support. A COIN campaign facing a threat similar to Rio’s should integrate anti-gang strategies that focus on “social intervention, the provision of opportunities, and community mobilization” to attack the causes of gang violence.[235]  Rather than government support, the end-state should be geared toward support for acceptable social norms.

Fig. 2

Colombia’s successful campaign against the cartels is not adequately represented by FM 3-24’s campaign plan example. Figure 2 represents the logical lines of operation that were effective against a criminal threat that is primarily funded by international illicit trafficking. The Colombian government pursued an enemy focused strategy designed to destroy the cartels that had become a threat to national security. Soldiers and police were deployed in an effort to improve citizen security but other lines of operation like financial targeting, direct action, counter corruption, and alliance management resulted in the desired stable state.

The government did not set out to end narcotrafficking; rather, it sought to eliminate two organizations that had grown so powerful that their military power and political corruption threatened the state. After the destruction of the Medellin and Cali Cartels the government achieved a manageable steady state, as well as reduced levels of corruption and the presence of less powerful criminal groups that submitted to state dominance. Against a classical insurgency, an enemy focused approach does not achieve lasting results, but DTOs are uniquely vulnerable to this method. A Maoist insurgency can rebuild after an enemy-centric campaign because it grows from a disaffected population. A population-centric approach that brings good governance and services to a region with high crime is a long term approach to providing citizen security, but the Colombia case shows that it is not essential for a campaign against a DTO that does not rely on population support in the first place.

It is also important to note that the government may be facing multiple types of organizations at one time. In fact, one organization could be receiving funds from multiple sources. For example, an organization could operate primarily as a protection and extortion organization but also engage in trafficking. Other organizations could operate like traditional DTOs but ally themselves with gangs similar to favela gangs in Rio. Based upon the findings of this study, a hybrid threat requires a sequential solution. The DTO threat must be dealt with before gangs and citizen security can be addressed effectively. The government must dismantle the DTO’s trafficking network and funding first in order to break the criminal power to corrupt the security apparatus. Although localized violence will rise with the disintegration of large groups into smaller competing organizations, it will be less toxic to government institutions. At this point, a whole-of-government approach, as seen in Rio, will be effective.  As with any insurgency, criminal insurgency requires a tailored approach based on a detailed analysis of each threat and particular situation in each geographic area.

In both the Colombian case and the Rio case, the use of trusted units was vital. Corruption is a critical component and efforts to minimize its impact should be prioritized when dealing with DTOs. The Search Bloc led by Col Martinez proved to be critical. The use of a small vetted unit can reduce the influence of corruption and protect operational security. In Rio, the government is working to reform the police department as a whole; however, the UPP program is specifically designed to create trusted, specially trained units that are less susceptible to corruption. Because corruption is a key factor in criminal insurgency and police reform is usually a slow and often generational process, the use of vetted units helps provide a stopgap before these wider reforms can take hold. Vetted units break criminal groups’ power to corrupt by capturing and killing key members, attacking sources of illicit income, and dismantling the political support network. These efforts create time for institutional reforms to take place. As such, the United States should focus its aid on small vetted units when attacking DTOs, although not forsaking police reform altogether. Broad based military support and police reforms will be less effective in the short term than focused aid to specialized units.

Another key component of the Colombian success that should be revisited in FM 3-24 is the use of a divide-and-conquer technique. It is especially effective against rival criminal groups that are eager to remove their competitors. The Colombian government purposefully divided its opponents and defeated them in sequence. This can be particularly useful in cases where the government lacks the capability to pursue a fully resourced COIN approach. A divide and conquer approach allows the government to defeat its enemies in sequence, targeting the most dangerous criminal groups first.

This study of the Medellin and Cali Cartels and Rio’s favela gangs as insurgency highlights the very distinct differences between classical insurgencies and criminal insurgencies. Colombia’s success against the cartels shows that an enemy-centric approach that attacks a DTO’s network and financial center of gravity is an effective methodology. Conversely, a COIN approach as outlined in FM 3-24 has proven effective in Rio de Janeiro with some adjustments. Essentially, the COIN principles found in FM 3-24 and an insurgency framework of analysis are useful starting points for the development of an effective campaign against a criminal insurgency. However, identifying the criminal threat’s center of gravity will dictate how much deviation is necessary from current doctrine.


The views expressed in this study are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

[1] BBC, “Mexico’s Drug Related Violence,” August 26, 2011, Also see Los Angeles Times, “Mexico Under Siege Website”,

[2] Hillary Clinton, Speech to Council on Foreign Relations, (Washington, DC, September 8, 2010),; and John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “State of Siege: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal, 2008,

[3] Max Manwaring, Gangs, Pseudo-Militaries, and other Modern Mercenaries, (Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 2010), 21-22.

[4] The term Drug Trafficking Organization of DTO will be used to denote organizations who have a primary business model based on drug trafficking. Although most DTOs also engage in extortion, protection, prostitution, and human trafficking this study will use DTO to differentiate between smuggling organizations and mafia type organizations.

[5] Robert J. Bunker, “El Imperativo Estratégico de Estados Unidos Debe Cambiar de Irak-Afganistán a México-Las Américas y la Estabilización de Europa,” Small Wars Journal, 2011.

[6] U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Threat Assessment, (National Drug Intelligence Center, August, 2011), 8,

[7] George Grayson, Mexico: Narco Violence and a Failed State?,(New Brunswick: Transaction, 2010), 39-52.

[8] Gobierno Federal, “Modelo de Operación Estratégica y Táctica Frente a la Delincuencia Organizada,” April 30, 2009,

[9] Sara Miller Llana, “Mexico drug war death toll up 60 percent in 2010. Why?” Christian Science Monitor, January 13, 2011.

[10] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, trans Michael Howard and Peter Paret, (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1997), 88.

[11] Matthew D. LaPlante, “Army official suggests U.S. troops might be needed in Mexico,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 2011; John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “State of Siege: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal, 2008; Sullivan and Elkus “Cartel vs. Cartel: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal, 2009; Sullivan and Robert Bunker, “Cartel Evolution Revisited,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 21, (March 23, 2010).

[12] Bob Killebrew and Jennifer Bernal, Crime Wars: Gangs, Cartels and U.S. National Security, (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 2010). Also see Representative Connie Mack, Prepared Remarks before House Foreign Affairs Committee, “Merida Part Two: Insurgency and Terrorism in Mexico,” October 4, 2011.

[13] Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute Presentation, Shared Responsibility, (Washington, DC, October 22, 2010). Robert Bonner, “The New Cocaine Cowboys,” Foreign Affairs 89, (2010).

[14] Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Sciences 4, (1973), 161.

[15] Martha Mendoza, “$90b spent on border security, with mixed results,” Associated Press, June 26, 2011.

[16] Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Control Strategy FY 2011 Budget Summary, (Washington, DC: 2010).

[17] U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade Statistics 2010,,

[18] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, The Merida Initiative: Expanding the U.S./Mexico Partnership, March 3, 2011.,

[19] Stephen Van Evra, Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science, (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1997), 91.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Christopher Paul, Colin P. Clarke, and Beth Grill, Victory has a Thousand Fathers, (Santa Monica: RAND, 2010).

[22] John T. Fishel, and Max G. Manwaring, Uncomfortable Wars Revisited, (Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 2006) and “The SWORD Model of Counterinsurgency: A Summary and Update” Small Wars Journal, 2008 also “Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency: Toward a New Analytical Approach,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 3, (Winter, 1992), 272.

[23] Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), 75.

[24] Van Evra, 85.

[25] Security operations in Rio are ongoing. This study focused on favelas that had already been occupied under the UPP program.

[26] UPP Website.

[27] George and Bennett, 45.

[28] Robert J. Bunker, “The Mexican Cartel Debate: As Viewed Through Five Divergent Fields of Security Studies,” Small Wars Journal, (11 February 2011),, (16 March 2011).

[29] Manwaring, Gangs, Pseudo-Militaries, and other Modern Mercenaries, 21-22.

[30] Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2000).

[31] Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, (Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2006), 89-91.

[32] Steven Metz, Rethinking Insurgency, (Carlisle: Strategic Studies Institute, 2007), v.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 43.

[35] Paul Collier, “The Market for Civil War,” Foreign Policy, May-June 2003.

[36] Metz, 44.

[37] Sullivan, “Criminal Insurgency in the Americas,” Small Wars Journal, (2010).

[38] Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “State of Siege: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal, (2008); Sullivan and Elkus “Cartel vs. Cartel: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” Small Wars Journal, (2009); Sullivan and Robert Bunker, “Cartel Evolution Revisited,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 21, (March 23, 2010).

[39] Killebrew and Bernal, 8.

[40] Presentation by Foreign Policy Research Institute, The Geopolitics of Northern Mexico and Implications for U.S. Policy, (Washington, D.C.  January 11, 2011). This concept has also been posited by Phil Williams, “Illicit markets, weak states and violence: Iraq and Mexico,” Crime Law and Social Change 52, (2009), 335. “[T]he lessons of counterinsurgency in Iraq might actually provide a basis for a more effective strategy against drug trafficking organizations by the Mexican government.”

[41] Killebrew and Bernal, 50-60.

[42] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, (Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006), 75-94.

[43] Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency, (St. Petersburg: Hailer Publishing, 2005), 50-59.

[44] In fact, Bob Killebrew, as a retired Army Special Forces Colonel, has a nuanced and deep understanding counterinsurgency that goes beyond FM 3-24. His own call for a counterinsurgency strategy in Mexico may not align perfectly with the counterinsurgency doctrine found in the manual. However, FM 3-24 is the joint doctrine for Counterinsurgency and would provide the guiding principles for any U.S. counterinsurgency support to Mexico.

[45] John T. Fishel, and Max G. Manwaring, Uncomfortable Wars Revisited, (Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 2006) and “The SWORD Model of Counterinsurgency: A Summary and Update” Small Wars Journal, 2008 also “Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency: Toward a New Analytical Approach,” Small Wars and Insurgencies 3,  (Winter, 1992).

[46] Christopher Paul, Colin P. Clarke, and Beth Grill, Victory has a Thousand Fathers, (Santa Monica: RAND, 2010).

[47] Gian Gentile, “Time for the Deconstruction of Field Manual 3-24” Joint Forces Quarterly 58 (Washington, DC: July 2010). Also Geoff Demarest, “Let’s Take the French Experience in Algeria out of U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine,” Military Review, (July-August, 2010).

[48] John Nagl Forward to The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

[49] Department of the Army, Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2006), 1-20 thru 1-26.

[50] Bunker, “The Mexican Cartel Debate: As Viewed Through Five Divergent Fields of Security Studies,” 4.

[51] Author interviews, U.S. Embassy, Bogota, August, 2009.

[52] Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo, (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 22.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ron Chepesuik, The Bullet or the Bribe, (Westport: Praeger, 2003), 62.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Sun Tzu, Art of War, ed. Ralph D. Sawyer, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), 179.

[59] Bard O’Neill, Insurgency and Terrorism, (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005), 31.

[60] Ibid., 15-43.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Rensselaer Lee, The White Labyrinth, (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1991), 9-10.

[63] Patrick Clawson and Rensselaer Lee, The Andean Cocaine Industry, (New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998), 196.

[64] Bowden, 53.

[65] Clawson and Lee, 53.

[66] Stathis Kalyvas, “The Ontology of ‘Political Violence’: Action and Identity in Civil Wars,” Perspectives in Politics 1:3, (1993).

[67] Metz, v.

[68] Clawson and Lee, 52.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Mao, On Guerrilla War.

[71] Manwaring, 10-31.

[72] Abraham Guillen, Philosophy of the Urban Guerrilla, (New York: William Morrow, 1973).

[73] Carlos Marighella, Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, (Boulder: Paladin, 1985).

[74] Galula, 4.

[75] Mao, 93

[76] Chepesuik, 70.

[77] Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Los Dos Escobares, (All Rise Films, 2010).

[78] Chepesuik, 110.

[79] Jeffrey Record, “External Assistance: Enabler of Insurgent Success,” Parameters, (Autumn, 2006).

[80] Bowden, 45.

[81] Government legitimacy is examined based upon available crime figures and homicide rates, the presence of elections and participation, the presence of corruption, development and economic statistics, and opinion polls. FM 3-24, 1-21 thru 1-22.

[82] Clawson and Lee, 196.

[83] Semana, “La Gran Encuesta del 97,” February 10, 1997.

[84] Clawson and Lee, 175.

[85] Ibid., 195.

[86] Chepesuik, 224.

[87] Ibid., 187-198.

[88] Political Database of the Americas Website, “Resultados Electorales 1990-1998,”

[89] Unity of effort is evaluated based upon the organization of government forces including the integration of government agencies. FM 3-24, 1-22.

[90] FM 3-24, Chap. 2.

[91] Ibid., Chapter 5.

[92] Semana, “Un Robin Hood Paisa,” April, 1983.

[93] Semana, “Cali caliente,” December 27, 1993.

[94] Semana, “Medellín vive,” March 29, 1993.

[95] Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Reducing Urban Violence: Lessons from Medellin, Colombia,” Brookings, September 7, 2011.

[96] Author interview with COL (ret) William Spracher former defense attaché to Colombia, Washington, DC, August 15, 2011.

[97] Chepesuik, 261.

[98] FM 3-24, 1-22.

[99] Fred Kaplan, “CT or COIN?” Slate, March 24, 2009. Andrew Exum, “On COIN and CT,” Small Wars Journal, 2009,

[100] The primacy of political factors is measured by the participation of political leaders in the planning of security actions and the presence of attempts at negotiated solution. FM 3-24, 1-22.

[101] FM 3-24, 1-22.

[102] John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

[103] William C. Rempel, At the Devil’s Table, (New York: Random House, 2011), 128-129.

[104] Bowden, 98-99.

[105] Clawson and Lee, 117.

[106] FM 3-24, 1-22.

[107] Counterinsurgent understanding of the environment is based on the time spent by forces dealing with the problem and the origins of security forces. FM 3-24, 1-22 thru 1-23.

[108] Adam Elkus, “Mexican Cartels: A Strategic Approach,” Infinity Journal, June 27, 2011,

[109] Robert Bonner, “The New Cocaine Cowboys,” Foreign Affairs 89, (2010).

[110] Descriptions of operations and targets are utilized to measure if “operations are shaped by timely specific and reliable intelligence…gathered and analyzed at the lowest level.” FM 3-24, 1-23.

[111] Semana, “Yo fui el creador de los Pepes,” June 27, 1994.

[112] Rempel, 53-120.

[113] Semana, “La busqueda, metro a metro,” November 15, 1993. Semana, “La constancia vence,” January 3, 1994. Bowden, Killing Pablo.

[114] Mangai Natarajan, “Understanding the Structure of a Drug Trafficking Organization: A Conversational Analysis,” Illegal Drug Markets, (New York: Criminal Justice Press, 2000).

[115] Rempel, 213-278.

[116] Determining the level of separation from popular support is accomplished through accounts of cartel and gang reactions to financial targeting by security forces as well as polling data. Information operations are evaluated through polling figures, accounts of civil military operations and public affairs activities. FM 3-24, 1-23.

[117] Semana, “La gran encuesta del 89,” January 22, 1990.

[118] Semana, “la gran encuesta 97,” February 10, 1997.

[119] David Kilcullin, “Counter-insurgency Redux,” Survival 48, (2006), David Kilcullin notes the same phenomenon in Iraq where wealthy insurgents paid locals to conduct attacks.

[120] Chepesuik, 68.

[121] Clausewitz, 596.

[122] Chepesuik., 103.

[123] Douglas Farah, “Colombia’s Culpables; Drug Corruption Probe Implicates Ruling Class,” Washington Post, August 22, 1995.

[124] FM 3-24, 1-23.

[125] Adherence to the rule of law is measure by available numbers and accounts of incidents of excessive force, unlawful detention, torture, and punishment. FM 3-24, 1-23 thru 1-24.

[126] Thompson, 52.

[127] David Keane, The True Story of Killing Pablo, (Wild Eyes Productions, 2002).

[128] Semana, “Yo fui el creador de los Pepes,” June 27, 1994.

[129] Thompson, 53.

[130] Author interview with COL (ret) William Spracher, former defense attaché to Colombia, Washington, DC, August 15, 2011.

[131] FM 3-24, 1-24.

[132] Author interview with Doug Farah, Washington, DC, August 8, 2011.

[133] Long term commitment is observed through the presence or absence of lasting organizations and structures as well as a sustainable operations tempo. Host nation focus is tied to the number of foreign troops and the amount of funding provided. FM 3-24, 1-24.

[134] Keane, The True Story of Killing Pablo.

[135] National Security Decision Directive 221, April 8, 1986.

[136] Nina Serafino, “Colombia: Summary and Tables on U.S. Assistance FY1989-FY2004,” Congressional Research Service, May 19, 2003.

[137] Richard Stewart, The United States Army in Somalia, 1992-1994, U.S. Army Center for Military History, (2003).

[138] Hy Rothstein, “Less is More: the problematic future of irregular warfare in an era of collapsing states,” Third World Quarterly 28, (2007).

[139] The use of force is examined by the presence of rules of engagement procedures, use of heavy weapons, and presence of large numbers of civilian casualties. FM 3-24, 1-25.

[140] Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare.

[141] Author observations Iraq 2003 and 2005.

[142] COIN force adaptation is measured by the presence of changes in tactics and the presence of a method for capturing and disseminating lessons. FM 3-24, 1-26.

[143] Bowden, 35-41.

[144] Semana, “La busqueda, metro a metro,” November 15, 1993.

[145] Author interview with Doug Farah, August 8, 2011.

[146] Chepesuik, 109-110. GREEN ICE and DINERO were international stings that included the use of fake money laundering institutions to track and seize illicit funds.

[147] Rittel and Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.”

[148] TX Hammes, Presentation, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, July, 2011.

[149] Small unit responsibility is measured by the control of enablers at the lowest level and through accounts of interactions with high headquarters. FM 3-24, 1-26.

[150] Author interview with General (ret) Carlos Ospina, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Washington, DC, August 30, 2011.

[151] Exum, “On COIN and CT.”

[152] Maria Helena Moreira Alves and Philip Evanson, Living in the Crossfire, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011), 13-15.

[153] Author observations Rocinha and Villa Canoas favelas, 15 January 2010.

[154] Janice Pearlman, Favela, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010), 24-27.

[155] Ibid.

[156] Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, Mapa de Violencia 2011, (Brasilia: Instituto Sangari and Ministerio da Justicia, 2011), 34,

[157] Alves and Evanson, 162.

[158] Ibid., 118.

[159] Ibid., 122.

[160] Fernando Henrique Cardoso, “Foreword,” in Perlman, Favela.

[161] Garzon, 63-67.

[162] Alvaro de Souza Pinheiro, Irregular Warfare: Brazil’s Fight Against Criminal Urban Guerrillas, (Hurlbert Field: Joint Special Operations University Press, 2009), 5-8.

[163] Garzon, 63-67.

[164] UPP Website,

[165] Alves and Evenson, 123-133.

[166] Tom Phillips, “Twelve Dead and Helicopter Downed as Rio de Janeiro Drug Gangs go to War,” Guardian, October 17, 2009.

[167] FM 3-24, 5-18 thru 5-23.

[168] UPP Website.

[169] O’Neill, 15-43.

[170] Manwaring, Street Gangs the New Urban Insurgency, (Carlisle: Security Studies Institute, 2005), 33.

[171] Ibid.

[172] Mao, 108.

[173] Pinheiro, 5-8.

[174] Michael Astor, “18 dead as Rio gangs clash with police in violent show of force,” Independent, December 29, 2006.

[175] BBC, “Rio de Janeiro shaken by fresh gang violence,” November 25, 2010.

[176] Author interview Rafael Saleis, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Washington, DC, August 30, 2011.

[177] David Spencer, “Post Cold War Counterinsurgency in Latin America,” unpublished work.

[178] Alves and Evanson, 20.

[179] Ibid., 117.

[180] Garzon, 66.

[181] Beth McLoughlin, “Will crime crackdown transform Rio’s shantytowns?” BBC, August 20, 2011.

[182] Tom Phillips, “Rio de Janeiro police occupy slums as city fights back against drug gangs,” Guardian, April 12, 2010.

[183] McLoughlin.

[184] UPP Website,,

[185] Alexei Barrionuevo, “In rough slum, Brazil’s police try soft touch,” New York Times, October 10, 2010.

[186] Alves and Evanson, 209.

[187] Perlman, 167.

[188] Ibid., 189.

[189] Author observations, Rocinha and Villa Canoas favelas, 15 January 2010.

[190] Presentation Governo do Rio de Janeiro, Estado do Rio de Janeiro Secretaria de Seguranca.

[191] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010.

[192] Michael Kerlin, “UPP Corruption Demands Complex Questions, Solutions,” The Rio Times, September 13, 2011,

[193] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010.

[194] Ashley Morse, “Pacifying and Reincorporating Rio de Janiero’s Favelas,” in Tackling Urban Violence in Latin America, (Washington, DC: WOLA, 2011).

[195] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010.

[196] Author interview Rafael Salies, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Washington, DC, August 30, 2011.

[197] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010

[198] The Economist, “Conquering Complexo do Alemao,” December 2, 2010.

[199] Pinheiro, 11-12.

[200] Perlman, 323.

[201] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010.

[202] Alexei Barrionuevo, “In rough slum, Brazil’s police try soft touch.”

[203] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Comprehensive Gang Model,” October 2010,

[204] Author interview Rafael Salies, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Washington, DC, August 30, 2011.

[205] Beth McLoughlin, “Will crime crackdown transform Rio’s shantytowns?” BBC, August 20, 2011.

[206] Pinheiro, 32.

[207] Presentation Governo do Rio de Janeiro, Estado do Rio de Janeiro Secretaria de Seguranca.

[208] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010.

[209] Author interview U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer, James Winland, October, 2011.

[210] Human Rights Watch, Country Summary: Brazil, January, 2011.

[211] Ibid.

[212] The Economist, “Conquering Complexo do Alemao,” December 2, 2010.

[213] For an outstanding dramatization of BOPE’s engagements in the favelas see Tropa de Elite, directed by Jose Padiha, Zazen Productions, 2007.

[214] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010.

[215] Tom Phillips, “Rio de Janeiro police occupy slums as city fights back against drug gangs,” Guardian, April 12, 2010.

[216] UPP website,

[217] PRONASCI website,, accessed September 7, 2011.

[218] Instituto Brasileiro de Pesquisa Social, “PR 004-10-UPP-25,01 Pesquisa Sobre a Percepção Acerca das Unidades de Policia Pacificadora” January 25, 2010

[219] FM 3-24, 1-24.

[220] Alexei Barrionuevo, “In rough slum, Brazil’s police try soft touch,” New York Times, October 10, 2010.

[221] UPP website.

[222] TX Hammes, The Sling and the Stone,” (Minneapolis, Zenith, 2006), 87-88.

[223] Pinheiro, 29.

[224] Alves and Evanson, 160-161.

[225] John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[226] TX Hammes, Presentation, Georgetown University, Washington, DC July 18, 2011.

[227] Diego Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

[228] Vadim Volkov, Violent Entrepreneurs, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002).

[229] Bunker, “The Mexican Cartel Debate: As Viewed Through Five Divergent Fields of Security Studies.”

[230] Ibid.

[231] Author interview with U.S. official involved in financial targeting, Washington, DC, August, 11, 2011.

[232] Author interview with General (ret) Carlos Ospina, Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, Washington, DC, August 30, 2011.

[233] Author interview with Douglas Farah, Washington, DC, August 8, 2011.

[234] FM 3-24, 5-8.

[235] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Comprehensive Gang Model,”