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Archangel offers new SWAT tactics for future terror attacks

By John Giduck

His breaths were coming in sharp rasps as he raced across open ground under automatic weapons fire from the second story windows of the school the Islamic Extremists had seized. He had already seen three of his teammates fall under the hailstorm of bullets.

He couldn’t hesitate, couldn’t stop to tend to his wounded friends. In all his years in SWAT operations he had never actually had to fight his way to the wall of the building in which hostages were being held.

None of them had, and they were paying the price for having failed to prepare for this.

America was experiencing its first terrorist, mass hostage siege and — as the instructors had warned —it was unlike anything American police had ever confronted.

He had already expended all four 30-round magazines in his assault rifle just providing his own suppressive fire as he raced across the blood soaked lawn. What now?

No one he knew had ever had to fire more than a few rounds in barricade situations. But then, they had been warned about this too; had been told that the terrorists would come, that they would be well trained, and would throw tactics at the police that they had not had to deal with before.

As he searched frantically for a source of ammunition, he realized the enormity of the terrorists’ tactics arrayed against them. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of IEDs and booby traps in the school.

Tripwires were everywhere in the hallways, with the terrorists afforded the advantage of sitting smugly in the principal’s office watching all of the approach routes and outside staging areas on the school’s security camera system. All that money had been spent to give the terrorists the greatest advantage they could have asked for.

Worse still, were the murderers sitting in second story windows firing mercilessly down on the police as they advanced on the building. And once inside, the intelligence indicated they would be facing a belt-fed machine gun fortified in the middle of the main hallway.

“How could we have ever been prepared for this?” his anguished mind accused. “We’re just cops; we don’t have the money or the equipment to deal with attacks like this.”

Such is the dilemma confronted by American police across the United States.

No one vested with the duty to defend innocent civilians doubts for a moment that terror attacks are yet to come to American soil. And when they come, they will, indeed, be unlike anything we have dealt with before.

The British SAS (the fathers of modern, Western counter-terror tactics), train for the reality of such attacks under an important mantra, one we must all adopt:

Your worst has got to be better than their best.

The reality is that when the terrorists come, it will be with their best plan. They will come with their best people, best training, best logistics, best funding and best weapons.

And they will be coming when we are at our worst: when we are at our lowest alert levels, when the federal color system is in a relaxed shade of blue and extra police and military personnel have not been put on alert.

In recent years of Islamic extremist attacks around the world, they have never come on dates that were anything but innocuous.

Part of that best plan will involve significantly large numbers of an assault team. They will take hundreds of hostages, most likely children. They will fortify the building with all of the things confronted by the young warrior depicted above. These are the very predictable terrorist tactics that our police and SWAT must be prepared to successfully and quickly overcome.

Contrary to the belief of many, without the expenditure of substantial amounts of money and increased budgets, every single SWAT team in America has the ability to overcome such obstacles.

The Archangel Anti-Terror Group is a US nonprofit agency that exists to provide critical counter-terrorism training and consulting to American law enforcement, military and government agencies. With specialists who enjoy cumulatively more than a hundred years combat and operational experience in more than 50 countries, this group tries to bring new and innovative tactics that will allow our law enforcement to go up against the best the terrorists have to offer.

Situations like the one depicted in the opening paragraphs represent one of the worst things American police may face. The likely reality of these sieges in the near future necessitates our warriors having tactics designed to deal with them.

As we go around the country training SWAT teams, we are always met by police officers who are happily surprised at the combat ability they can have, once shown how to respond to the terrorists’ best.

Law enforcement in our country is in great need of the ability to move its tactical teams forward, across clear fields of fire and open kill zones.

They must be able to bring effective suppressive fire to bear on terrorists in windows, and do so without killing hostages. Moreover, once inside a building, they need the tactical capability to eliminate belt-fed machine gun crews, even from behind fortifications.

Our heroes cannot take the time to move slowly down long corridors stepping over and crawling under tripwires. As difficult as these life-or-death riddles may appear, there is one tactic that can and will eliminate all of these threats, and do it in a way that will not see hostages dying from police gunfire.

In the military, units learn to advance on an enemy that has had its head put down from artillery. Such less-than-lethal artillery is available to every police department in America, and it comes in the form of fire trucks. We have all seen the awesome affect of fire hoses and water cannons used on demonstrators around the world.

Recently hundreds of protesting Sudanese were sent skittering across streets by such hoses in Egypt. Others have been knocked off chain link fences and sent across four-lane highways. And this same tactic can be used by SWAT teams to eliminate much of what a concerted enemy can deploy against us on our own soil.

From a distance of 120 feet, a two and one-half inch fire hose, with 200 lbs. of water pressure, can take out a window and any obstruction such as a table or desk, knocking anyone standing behind it across the room; and it can do so with pinpoint accuracy.

For a terrorist in an open window, this same hose can eliminate him from a distance of 150 ft., and do so without killing the hostage held in front of him.

When advancing across open ground, fire hoses provide the best artillery available. Fire trucks are huge, monolithic creatures not unlike APCs.

Just as BTR 80s were used to move teams across the northern courtyard of the Beslan School in Russia, and then to cover the evacuation of hostages and wounded, so too can fire trucks play the same role. One hose operator from behind a body bunker can continuously hit bad guys sticking their heads up in windows, giving advancing SWAT teams the critical time they need to get to the walls of the siege site.

Once inside the building, a single fire hose drug in with the tac team can devastate the carefully laid fortifications and defensive incendiary devices of the hostage takers. Rather than struggle with the various tactics of fire teams attempting to eliminate belt-fed machine gun positions, one fire hose can send the enemy’s worst weapon sailing down the hallway, along with its operators.

Just as important, trip wires and booby traps set in the hallways can be sent flying, eliminating them as a threat before the SWAT members move into their burst radius. The saturation from the volume of water alone will have the added affect of neutralizing many of the IEDs without detonation.

And the security cameras that Archangel travels the country warning schools about being available to anyone who would take a school, can be knocked off the walls well in advance of the approaching teams.

In working with this weapon, its own vulnerabilities must be understood. Fire trucks are not armored vehicles, and thus can have their mobility eliminated by even light arms fire.

Fire trucks also suffer the same problem as tanks in the military: they are vulnerable to infantry if they do not have their own infantry in support.

In the scenario of terrorists taking mass hostages in a building, they are not likely to be in a position to leave the site and advance on the truck.

However, the hose operator will be vulnerable even behind fortification, and will need at least a two-man team with assault rifles to call the next points the water must be directed, and provide protective fire against the terrorists.

One of the best training exercises for teams looking to develop ability with this new tactic is to put several men behind a fairly low wall.

With the truck on the other side, have the “terrorists” continually pop up in different places and attempt to fire on the hose operator and his cover fire team using Simunition rounds or paint ball.

The cover team should use their own weapons for suppression and call out the terrorists as they appear.

If you have an abandoned building with no glass in the windows in which you can train, this exercise is even better and more realistic, as the role-playing terrorists now have to expose more than just their heads.

With a small amount of practice working as a team, tremendous and effective skill can be developed.

One of the great advantages of the recommendations and tactics that Archangel imparts to the teams it trains is that training is never wasted time if a group of terrorists do not come. All of them are designed to cost nothing, or very little and to be applicable in many of the situations law enforcement confront on a far more regular basis.

Consider the use of fire trucks and hoses against bank robbers looking to move to their vehicle with hostages in front of them, or in a typical barricade situation with one man behind a curtain. And even criminals do not react with hostility toward the presence of fire engines.

Despite its versatility, the use of fire hoses are not a panacea, either for terrorist sieges or the more common situations police confront. It is just one of numerous tactical advantages that we seek to provide America’s courageous men and women.

It is one more tool for their collective tool boxes, which when used together will give them and innocent Americans the best chance at surviving the future attacks of an enemy dedicated to our destruction. Nothing could be more important for the safety of our nation.

Our thanks to the following Alabama agencies: Elmore County SWAT, Tallassee Police Department and Tallassee Fire Department.

This Police1 column contains select articles from “The Police Marksman” magazine written by top trainers and subject experts. For subscription information or to reach the Police Marksman editor, please visit their Web site or contact the Marksman’s editorial office at: The Police Marksman, P.O. Box 2819, Idaho Falls, ID 83403