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Lessons Learned from U.S. Government Law Enforcement in International Operations

Authored by Ms. Dilshika Jayamaha, Mr. Scott Brady, Mr. Ben Fitzgerald, Mr. Jason Fritz. | December 2010

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Law enforcement (LE) personnel, agencies, techniques, equipment and priorities have been an increasingly prominent feature within U.S. Government (USG) commitments to international operations.1 This is a reflection of the increased human and societal complexity of the operational environments in which the USG has intervened and the multifaceted nature of the objectives often sought by the USG in these international operations.

The most obvious manifestation of LE on international operations is the presence of American police officers working as a part of uniformed international police missions (U.S.-led, coalition, or multinational). However, these interim policing missions are only part of the contribution to international operations that can be made by LE. U.S. LE agencies may also be involved directly in international operations as a part of their standing authorities related to the enforcement of U.S. domestic law; contribute LE expertise in capacity building and institutional reform efforts; or as support and assistance to U.S. military forces employed in LE-related roles and in the conduct of their military tasks.

Given the complexity of USG LE involvement in contemporary international operations, it is important to understand how these agencies work, what roles they play, or could play, in the conduct of operations, and how their various initiatives relate to one another. As such, this analysis specifically examines lessons from four relevant aspects of LE involvement in international operations, recognizing that observations that are discussed in this paper do not constitute the entirety of lessons from each of the operations. These aspects include three operational case studies from USG post-Cold War experience in international operations: Panama (1989-99), Colombia (1989-Present), and Kosovo (1998-Present). These three operations were selected because they provided examples across a wide spectrum of U.S. involvement and have either already been completed or are nearing completion— allowing for analysis of their results as mature operations. Additionally, this analysis included an investigation of technological capabilities used by the military and law enforcement organizations that undergird the provision of LE and military capabilities in international operational environments in order to analyze capability gaps and points of technological synchronization between the two communities.2

Law Enforcement Capabilities Project

This paper has been produced as a part of the Law Enforcement Capabilities Project (LECP). The LECP is an initiative of the Emerging Capabilities Division (ECD) within the Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The RRTO has funded this project in order to help inform policy and capability development decisions related to the contributions and integration of USG agencies and bureaus with law enforcement responsibilities and expertise, and the employment of U.S. military elements in law enforcement-related or supporting roles in international operations.

This paper will be used to inform further research and concept development and is being published independently to contribute to the advancement of thinking in this area. The second phase of the LECP will consist of a series of exercises, each examining a component of USG law enforcement in international operations: LE support to the U.S. military, interim expeditionary LE, and host nation LE capacity building and institutional reform. These exercises will be followed by an exercise that will examine the total problem space of U.S. LE in international operations.


This paper presents the results of the analysis conducted in relation to the case studies of USG LE involvement in international operations. For each element (three operations and the technology section), the analysis was based on unclassified information and was conducted in three stages:

·      Desk research. Baseline desk research relying heavily on advice, support, and access to information made possible by engagement with representatives from numerous USG agencies.

·      Primary source research. Included extensive outreach to subject matter experts (SMEs), practitioners, and policymakers within USG agencies who participated in the three operations or with involvement in employment of relevant military and LE technologies. For Kosovo and Colombia, the primary research was augmented by in-country field research.

·      Lessons learned workshops. The observations and lessons developed through desk research and primary source research were subjected to structured examination and discussion in a series of workshops with SMEs. The workshops served two purposes: to share and validate observations, and to develop recommendations.

Case Studies

This paper will consider three case studies.


Coming right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Panama is considered the first “post Cold War” USG military intervention. Though launched primarily to oust Manuel Noriega from power and bring him to trial in the United States (Operation JUST CAUSE), the operation quickly became an institution-building exercise, with the United States both providing LE capabilities and rebuilding Panamanian law enforcement institutions over several years (Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY and subsequent USG operations). The effort in Panama was executed primarily by the Department of Defense (DoD) in the form of military units, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), the International Criminal Investigations Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Department of State (DoS). The analysis of operations in Panama was conducted along three lines of operation (LOO):

·      Law enforcement-related LOOs for Operation JUST CAUSE, including the Noriega extradition, exercising detainee warrants, passenger screening, and airport security;

·      Operation PROMOTE LIBERTY and the transition phase, including the maintenance of law and order and the reestablishment of host nation law enforcement capacity; and,

·      Civilian-led reconstruction and stabilization, focused on building host nation civilian law enforcement capabilities.


USG LE work in Colombia stemmed from efforts to stop the flow of narcotics into the United States. The Andean Counter Drug Initiative, a counternarcotics plan devised in the late 1980s, extended USG LE and other counternarcotics assistance to Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. Over almost 2 decades, U.S. support to Colombia, in particular, has shifted into a comprehensive government-to-government partnership to disrupt drug networks, including through the reform and improvement of domestic LE capabilities. Plan Colombia and subsequent and parallel efforts have required cooperation across USG departments and agencies to help Colombia build military, paramilitary, and civilian LE institutions. The major agencies engaged in Colombia were the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the DoS (Western Hemisphere Affairs, International Narcotics Affairs and Law Enforcement Affairs [INL]); the DoD; the Department of Justice (ICITAP); the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the DEA (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration); the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives); the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (OPDAT); the USMS; and the Department of the Treasury.

Analysis of these operations focused on three LOOs:

·      Counternarcoterrorism operations, including aerial and manual eradication and interdiction operations; U.S.-led maritime, aerial, and riverine interdiction and support; border security; the Judicial Wire Intercept (Wiretap) Program; and the use of extraterritorial laws to prosecute drug crimes;

·      Law enforcement and rule of law training, including ICITAP general purpose training and specific training from the FBI, DEA, and USMS; and,

·      Capacity and institution building focused on legal reforms and mentoring and advising host nation institutions.


Unlike the other two operations, USG involvement in Kosovo had no direct linkage to U.S. law enforcement concerns. Rather, it is an example of the necessity of LE contributions as a part of a wider multinational operation in support of USG foreign policy objectives. It also required the need to establish security in the host nation as part of an international coalition while simultaneously building a new nation’s LE institutions from scratch. The key USG players in Kosovo operations are the DoD; ICITAP and OPDAT; and the DoS (INL and the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs). These operations were analyzed in three LOOs:

·      Deployed law enforcement operations; observers and advisers, focusing on the observer mission; interim law enforcement and monitoring, mentoring, and advising (MMA); and post-independence MMA and the continued executive mandate;

·      Capacity-building of Kosovo ministries and agencies, divided into multilateral and bilateral programs; and,

·      Military Kosovo Force (KFOR) operations, such as legal reform, mentoring and advising, and employment of general purpose forces.


The analysis in this project shows the pervasive and complex role that law enforcement and related issues have played in U.S. involvement in contemporary international operations. The analysis also revealed some of the cross-cutting issues involved in the employment of technology on such operations involving both military and law enforcement agencies.3 Despite the unique circumstances and history of each operation, there were key findings that are common to all operations considered:

·      In all operations considered, the length of commitment of USG resources to deal with law enforcement issues has exceeded original planning estimates—often by many years.

·      Capacity building in law enforcement has been a required and substantial element of all of these operations.

·      Military forces played a key role in law enforcement and related issues, even if not specifically tasked with a law enforcement mandate.

·      Much of the required expertise and authority for law enforcement operations and related capacity building/institutional reform currently exists in civilian agencies across the USG, but coordinating across the USG has been ad hoc with mixed results.

Endnotes - Summary

1.“International operations” is used here as a term to describe the range of USG commitment of resources as an intervention in another nation in support of U.S. national objectives. It involves all commitments beyond the normal conduct of state-to-state diplomacy but beneath the threshold of conventional conflict. As such, this includes military operations other than war (including reconstruction and stabilization, counterinsurgency, peace support, and humanitarian assistance operations), as well as comprehensive support of a less predominantly military nature provided to another state.

2.  The Technology Case Study is only available as a supplementary annex to the electronically-published version of this report, and is available from pksoi.army.mil/.

3. Ibid.