Are We Prepared?  A Chilling Scenario.

June 7, 2011 By Peter N. Spagnolo

Mr. Spagnolo is retired from 5th Special Forces Group. During his service, Mr. Spagnolo spent a great deal of time in the Middle East. Mr. Spagnolo conducted real world antiterrorism operations in Kuwait, Kenya, Oman and the United Arab Emirates as well as a real world counterterrorism operation in Kuwait.

When American commandos took Osama bin Laaden out in early May of this year, they also conducted as thorough a search of the compound as the situation allowed.  Among the most interesting pieces of intelligence collected in this operation were documents strongly leading US antiterrorism authorities to believe that Osama was, up to the last days of his life, encouraging his adherents to conduct armed attacks on targets within the borders of the United States.  These attacks would probably be along the lines of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which, over three violent days, claimed the lives of some 164 innocents.  The terror attacks in Mumbai consisted of ten separate, but coordinated attacks; they were well planned and executed.  Osama exhorted his followers to conduct small-scale attacks with firearms.  It appears that the aircraft attacks of 911 were too costly, took too many resources and too much time to plan.  While these attacks were spectacular, Osama believed that smaller attacks, in smaller US cities would have an even more dramatic impact on the citizens of the United States.

On 3 June 2011, Ilyas Kashmiri, another top Al Qaeda leader was successfully interdicted by drone strike.  Kashmiri is believed by security authorities to have been intimately involved in the planning and launching of the Mumbai attacks and in dispatching the attackers to their targets.  Kashmiri was by no means a stranger to planning attacks on US soil; David Headly a Pakistani-American (currently on trial in the US for plotting terror attacks) testified in federal court on 31 May of this year that, on orders from Kashmiri, he had conducted preliminary planning on a plot to assassinate Lockheed-Martin CEO Robert J. Stevens.

From these sources, we can reasonably conclude that our enemies may be planning Mumbai style attacks in US cities other than New York or Washington DC.  One major advantage the terrorist has over security forces of any nation is that they may attack at a time and place of their choosing; we do not know when or where these attacks may take place.  Historically, New York and DC have been the primary targets chosen by our enemies but that now may be changing, and with good reason.  Some 12 million people live in New York but there are around 308 million people living in the United States.  While only around 600 thousand live in DC, it is the seat of the US Government and, like New York, has, in the past, been a tempting target.  Of some 300 million Americans, around 200 million live in cities of 50 thousand or less.  This thinking appears, in light of Osama's exhortations and Kashmiri's planning, to have changed.

Picture the following chilling scenario: Coordinated attacks by five groups of terrorists take over five elementary schools in US cities with populations from five thousand to 50 thousand.  In each of these attacks, the terrorists kill a number of children and teachers and then begin a series of standoffs in which they hold, between them, 1500 children hostage.  The US Government does not negotiate with terrorists. What other course of action would be possible in the situation described above other than a tactical interdiction?  If the government refuses to negotiate, large numbers of innocents will almost certainly be lost but if they do negotiate and accede to terror demands, other attacks are surely to follow in hopes of repeating their success.

The best time to interdict a terror attack is in the planning stages; this is where intelligence (usually provided by street cops) plays a crucial role.  What will happen if the planner's security is so efficient that such attacks occur with no warning?  Whose responsibility will it be to respond?  Absent pre attack intelligence, the best time to stop an attack is in the beginning, before the terrorists are able to secure the target and strengthen their position; who are the only ones in a position to do that?  The local patrol cop, that's who.

All of us must be ready to react, without notice and absolutely absent any additional training.  You have no time to buy a rifle, load up your magazines and become proficient with it and you cannot go to the range for additional practice because you shot poorly the last time you qualified.  The ship has sailed on developing the proper mindset and to abandon what I call the "it ain't gonna happen here" and "thank God I don't live in New York" lines of thinking.  You launch with what is in your car and on your person, with your current training and mindset.  There is not time to wait for reinforcements or assistance from neighboring agencies because they must now evacuate or otherwise secure their own schools and shopping centers.  You are the Lone Ranger and must act quickly and decisively in order to save lives and minimize damage.

Sadly, in an incident such as the one described here, loss of life may be inevitable but such loss must never take place because we were unprepared.  Take the threat seriously, it is increasingly likely to happen somewhere in the US at some time and you could be the only thing standing between a group of innocents and their potential murderers.