American Lieutenant General Keith Dayton heads the United States Security Coordinators Team (USSC) in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
The USSC’s raison d'être, since its creation in 2005, has been to reform the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security forces. In the years following its creation, the USSC trained and equipped five Palestinian National Security Force (PNSF) battalions, tasked with maintaing law and order within the West Bank.
The USSC operates on the principle that the presence of a professional and effective security force is an essential attribute of any future Palestinian state. This precept is not shared by all parties in Palestine. Detractors say the PNSF are in fact a tool of Fatah used to suppress opposition in the form of other political parties or Palestinian resistance movements.
Dayton has commanded the training post since December 2005. In 2009, he was asked by US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to serve a further two years. The USSC
The USSC has permission from the United States government to engage with Israeli, Palestinian, Quartet and various UN bodies in the coordination of its activities. The body is prohibited from engaging with “terrorist organizations.”
Under Dayton, who believes that Israel can be assured of its own security as a result of improved security within the occupied Palestinian territories, the goal of the USCC mission is to reduce the presence of Israeli occupation forces in Palestinian areas.
Dayton has previously stated his support for the two-state solution and for “peace through security,” a goal that requires a functioning Palestinian legal and judicial system, proponents say.
To this end, the USSC’s mission is to restructure and train the PNSF forces so they can enforce the rule of law while making them accountable to the government and the people.Evolution
The USSC was created in March 2005, at which point it was under the leadership of US General Kip Ward. It was first developed as an umbrella body coordinating international donors in an attempt to eliminate duplication of effort while allaying Israeli fears about the nature and capabilities of the Palestinian security forces.
Dayton took over the role in December 2005 and initially focused on the reform of police in the Gaza Strip. The move followed closely on the heels of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which some feared would leave a power vacuum in the area.
The task of the USSC changed as a result of the January 2006 elections victory for Hamas, considered by the US Government as a “terrorist organization”. In the months following the election, the USSC helped coordinate training assistance to the Palestinian Presidential Guard who remained in control of the border crossings into Gaza until June 2007, when Hamas took control of the Strip.
Following the Hamas take-over, the role of the USCC changed from a Gaza-focus to working exclusively in the West Bank in support of the appointed government of Mahmoud Abbas. Progress and Results
In Dayton’s May 2009 address to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington DC, he argued that the USSC had made progress in a number of key areas.
These included training and equipping efforts, building capacity within the PA Ministry of Interior, reforming infrastructure vital the USSC’s mission, and working towards senior leadership training within the security forces to help increase effectiveness.
Dayton stressed that the men who pass though the USSC-sponsored course are schooled extensively on a loyalty to the Palestinian flag, and to regard their mission as being to help build a Palestinian state and not to fight against Israel itself.
Training includes a four month program at the Jordanian International Police Training Center, where the US developed curriculum focuses on human rights, the proper use of force, riot control, civil disturbances, unit cohesion, and leadership.
As a result of such training, the USSC argues that there have been discernible improvements in regards to the security situation on the ground throughout the West Bank.
Palestinian security forces have conducted a series of “security offenses” in coordination with the Israel army throughout the West Bank, which have, according to Dayton, resulted in a clamp down on armed gangs, dismantled illegal militias, countered “illegal” Hamas activity, and reinforced the safety and security of the civilian population.
The commander of the PNSF, Major General Diab Al-Ali, agreed with this assessment, telling the Guardian Newspaper later in 2009, that his forces had helped restore law and order and that if Israel was to withdraw from the West Bank, his forces would be ready to maintain peace.
The future plans for Dayton and the USSC, are to train and equip at least three more battalions in Jordan and to build to more operational base camps in the West Bank. As a result, Dayton hopes to reduce the footprint of Israel forces within the West Bank as Palestinian capabilities grow.
By the end of Dayton’s appointment, scheduled for 2011, the project, valued at over 261 million US dollars, plans to see 10 new security battalions, one for each of the nine West Bank governorates, and one reserve unit. Detractors
The USSC is not, however, without its critics. Known derogatively as ‘Dayton’s army’, the new security forces are seen by some as merely an arm of Abbas’ Fatah party.
There is concern that the actual role of the forces is to stem the influence and power of more radical Palestinian movements, such as Hamas, and that they operate primarily to consolidate Fatah’s power within the West Bank.
Senior Hamas leader Khalid Mash’al argues that in the West Bank “there is a systematic plan targeting the resistance and all of its wings, through oppressive acts carried out there by Fayyad’s government and supervised by Dayton coordinating with the occupation to kill or arrest fighters.”
There is also concern that the training provided by the USSC is leading to a situation where Palestinian security forces effectively take over the occupation from Israel forces, as opposed to operating as a truly independent national force accountable to the majority.
Accusations of torture and the lack of legal justification for a number of arrests are also commonplace. In a July 2009 report, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem raised concerns that a Hamas member from the Hebron area, Haitham Amru, died in PA custody as a result of suspected torture