A tough-talking, muscular Los Angeles police sergeant steadily rattled off tips to a young Marine riding shotgun as they raced in a patrol car to a drug bust: Be aware of your surroundings. Watch people’s body language. Build rapport.
Marine Lt. Andrew Abbott, 23, took it all in as he peered out at the graffiti-covered buildings, knowing that the lessons he learned recently in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods could help him soon in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Abbott was among 70 Camp Pendleton Marines in a training exercise that aims to adapt the investigative techniques the LAPD has used for decades against violent street gangs to take on the Taliban more as a powerful drug-trafficking mob than an insurgency.
The Marines hope that learning to work like a cop on a beat will help them better track the Taliban, build relationships with Afghans leery of foreign troops and make them better teachers as they try to professionalize an Afghan police force beset by corruption.
The troops believe they can learn valuable lessons from the LAPD, which has made inroads into communities after highly publicized abuses, from the videotaped beating of Rodney King to corruption in an anti-gang unit.
“Their role is to win the hearts and minds of the community and that’s what they did,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Brendan Flynn, who also works as a Los Angeles police officer and will be deployed to help train Afghan police.
But in many ways, police in Los Angeles’ crime-ridden neighborhoods use the same skills that Marines say could help them.
Marines can gather intelligence by picking up the notebooks, receipts and other papers left behind in raids that could provide insight into the opium business the Taliban uses to buy their weapons, Afghan expert Gretchen Peters said.
“Think of the Taliban as the Sopranos in turbans,” she said. “I think essentially they’re criminals.”