From SWAT to Counter Terror Unit
No one in Law Enforcement doubts that terror will eventually rear its ugly head in the USA. Given that unfortunate certainty, will today's well trained US SWAT and SRT Teams be able to tackle terrorists in the same way they valiantly handle some of the worst criminals? Are the tactics for terror the same?
To make things more difficult, SWAT teams must deal constantly with different situations and adapt quickly to new equipment and weapons both lethal and less lethal. Even if that were enough there is always policy and procedure.
Terror situations bring a new challenge to this complex task. Terror poses unique, high risk and complex operations with or without hostages. With a little creativity it is not very hard to envision the scenarios. Schools, cruise ships, shopping malls, theme parks, you get the idea?
Terrorists have a different Modus Operandi. They may be relishing the idea that an entire SWAT team will be breaching their safe-house or apartment. The place may already be booby-trapped and ready for the terrorists to take the entire SWAT team with them. Especially with Suicide Terrorists, the most important part of the mission is to die and take as many people with them.
Israeli Counter terror units face this challenge very frequently. Their elite Police SWAT unit for terror operations known by its acronym - the YAMAM - must deal with such scenarios and the police in Spain also found themselves surrounding the apartment where some of the perpetrators of the train attacks were holed up. You can say that the Madrid train attacks, that killed 191 persons, is Spain's 911. More than 1,500 were injured, and survivors are still struggling to rebuild their lives.
Imagine tomorrow, intelligence sources have just notified your SWAT team that they have information that there are 5 suicide bombers in the final stages of preparation before they are all off to attack five soft targets in your city. You have learned that the safe house is located in a crowded suburb and this time not everyone in the house is a terrorist! Will you know what to do?
SWAT teams need to train for the above scenarios by first learning about the enemy they are up against and the new higher threat level they will face at the scene. Simple things like stand off distances are different when dealing with explosives. It is also important to learn that taking appropriate cover against IED's is not the same as the type of cover and position you would take against someone shooting at you.
That being said the use of bomb techs on the team to disable booby traps should be a staple and incorporating all other resources such as K9 and robots should all be included. All involved must train and the above scenarios worked on prior to the event and proper communication and coordination can be the difference between success and failure.
Using all your resources to provide the up most safety for your team is the key. In some cases patience is a virtue. If the terrorist do not have hostages and you succeed in identifying and closing off their location, the ball is now in your court. Time is on your side and the use of fast and dynamic entries are not the right choice. A slow and deliberate attempt that slowly escalates from a bull horn to less than lethal to flash bangs and up to whatever it takes would be the appropriate response.
Believe it or not the hardest part of the mission may be taking the terrorist alive. A successful CT mission brings the terrorist back alive as they are the source of the needed intelligence to capture the others involved and planning the next attack. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a simple attack. Even a single suicide attack at a mall in Israel that kills a few unlucky victims requires numerous conspirators including drivers, handlers, and safe houses. Someone gathers intelligence and others assist with the explosives and training the bomber for the mission. This is why trying to capture the terrorist alive will in turn save more innocent lives by assisting in getting information to catch the others involved.
At a recent training undertaken by former YAMAM operatives for SSI the SWAT team took on these challenges and strived to perfect the techniques that would later be incorporated in their CT training programs. The five days of active tactical training began with numerous drills in sealing the objective area in a situation with known terrorists and no hostages in a non-permissive environment. Once sealed, pressure on the terrorists is escalated to get them to come out and surrender if at all possible. Sealing the area begins either by infiltration by foot or rapid closure using multiple undercover cars. Timing and coordination are very important so as to leave no avenue of escape. In some cases, the instructors changed the situation as the teams were moving towards the objective. Live explosives charges were used to simulate booby traps.
The training week continued and included training in how to clear buildings and rooms occupied by terrorists, snatching, bus and car interdiction, the use of canines, and the replication of real world terrorist situations experienced by the SSI trainers. The scenarios were carried out in real time.
"We have never trained on what to do against Suicide Bombers, booby traps and explosives, this has truly open our eyes on what dealing with a terrorist situation will be like" was the comment of the SWAT commander attending the SSI program.
There is no doubt that with the high skill levels already established on our SWAT teams across the country adding CTU tactics to the training already being conducted not only makes sense but is the key to winning the war on terror.