We can learn from the deadly tactics from Frances elite police12/01/2015
The French forces managed the equivalent of two drop-goals in rugby under great pressure, writes Colonel Tim Collins.
In the world of counter-terrorism and special forces, it must be said that the French carried out an amazing feat on Friday. They deserve the grateful thanks of their nation and the admiration of the international community.
What we witnessed was two simultaneous "immediate actions". These are the hardest to pull off, and the French forces managed the equivalent of two drop-goals in rugby under great pressure.
In any counter-terrorist operation, the reaction is always complex. Generally, one seeks to respond as quickly as possible. And, from the point of deploying, you start to develop an "immediate action" plan - the last resort.
Meanwhile, as the incident unfolds, the aim is to gather information about the hostage-takers, the hostages and the stronghold so that a "deliberate" plan can be made. That is an option to be executed at a time and place of your choosing - the ideal scenario, in other words.
While that's happening you also continue to develop and improve the immediate action. Remember that the immediate action is the last resort - the terrorist is in charge. This is usually sparked by the hostage-takers starting to kill the hostages. That was the case in Paris. In Dammartin, north-east of the French capital, the brothers launched their own attack.
We will not know for some time if the actions of the terrorists in the final moments were co-ordinated. But in both incidents the killers sprang the option. The French forces reacted - they delivered the immediate action and with deadly efficiency. What is more astonishing is that these were two different organisations, GIGN (Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale) and RAID (Research, Assistance, Intervention and Dissuasion) - French national police special forces. I have worked with both during my service in the SAS.
The existence of two such forces is a French thing and not ideal, but it clearly works. The police have jurisdiction in the towns, gendarmerie elsewhere. (When it comes to close protection, gendarmes guard the president - RAID guard his wife. It's not ideal, as I say.) What happened on Friday is a testament to the training of the forces involved, their elan and sangfroid, but it is also testament to a clearly very slick command-and-control arrangement going to the very top and some world-class intelligence. For me, it is the intelligence effort that really stands out, for it was the intelligence that allowed both situations ultimately to be brought under control.
Within minutes of the mass murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French intelligence services had identified the suspects, their accomplices and instigated a nationwide manhunt. I would not be giving anything away by saying that electronic eavesdropping and sophisticated internet trawls probably delivered the information.
This success will become the focus of furious investigations by the French equivalents of "Guardianistas", outraged at the intrusions of privacy that this represents, and by the armchair sleuths, who will want to know why the suspects were not arrested before the attacks.
The reality is that Islamic fundamentalists have seized the modern tools of communication to facilitate their murderous campaigns. Governments - whose first responsibility is to defend their citizens and subjects - must fight to identify and prevent these campaigns using every method available.That is not a popular view, and ironically the idle celebrities who support Julian Assange and the traitor Edward Snowden will find themselves in common cause with the likes of Abu Hamza and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in outrage at these practices. But the blood of the 17 victims cries out for these measures and more. As for the "why were they not stopped before?" lobby, there are the matters of evidence and the law to consider.
I recall the Manchester bombing inquiry which we in the special forces were assisting. There were suspects. We believed there could be a bomb. It was believed the target was most likely London. But until it went bang in Manchester, in June 1996, that was all that was known. Within 30 minutes of the explosion, there were 13 arrest warrants issued. That's just how it is in a democratic society that adheres to the rule of law.
As the dust settles and the dead are buried, the world's special forces and law-enforcement communities will be very keen to get a debrief from the French. How did they do it? What can we learn from it? Can we be doing more within the law? Where did the weapons - AK47s and rocket-propelled grenades - come from (the former Yugoslavia, no doubt) and can we find them and stop them? Better still, can we find them and bug them with tracking devices and arrest their would-be users?
This is not the end of such attacks. More are expected. Our security services are doing what they can - and, yes, more resources are needed. If we manage to head off the attacks we will be very lucky. But as the IRA famously boasted after a foiled atrocity: "You were lucky. You need to be lucky every time; we need only to be lucky once."
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