Taking the Force Option

Originally appeared in the journal Counterterrorism and Security

Copyright (C) 1994 David Alexander

Some crises resulting from terrorist acts will be resolved by negotiation. Others will drag on until time and shifting political circumstances accomplish what direct intervention did not. But in still other cases there will come a moment of truth when, all other means exhausted, armed force will be an option considered to bring the crisis to closure. This latter state of affairs will be dealt with here.

My intention is to focus on the application of direct, countervailing force against terrorist objectives, treating the important aspects of intelligence and support infrastructure, training procedures, logistics, rules of engagement and political considerations as ancillary issues beyond the scope of the present article, meriting separate coverage in their own right.

Firstly, a definition of what is meant by the "force option." Simply put, this signifies the use of force majeure, openly or in secret, to achieve a resolution of a terrorist crisis situation.

Additionally, the force option presupposes that every reasonable effort to resolve the crisis by more moderate approaches, including negotiation, psychological warfare operations, nonlethal weaponry, and the like, has been tried. In short, the force option must generally be viewed as an ultima ratio, a response of last resort, taken when no other alternatives present themselves, and when the ends, for whatever reasons, appear to justify the means.

Nor can the option to use force presuppose that its employment will be restricted to military or other governmentally authorized bodies. Conventional military forces are globally experiencing unprecedented reductions in manpower and combat materiél, amid radical changes in strategy and tactics. Warplanners envision future scenarios where small groups of combatants using inexpensive, lightweight and computerized weaponry fight tomorrow's limited or regional wars. At the same time, a new virulence in recent terrorist acts has raised fresh concerns. Despite the multimillion dollar facilities to train Delta at Bragg, the French GIGN or German GSG-9's corresponding capabilities, et al, it may not be a miscontention that terrorism's newest "mutations" are fast outpacing the speed of governmental efforts to "vaccinate" society against them.

In the near future, intra- rather than transnational terrorism may prove a predominant threat, and conventional political ends replaced by the Apocalyptic fantasies of self-styled Messiahs, criminal mega-enterprises for purely monetary gain and even stranger brews conceived by twisted minds for purposes we cannot yet imagine. Doctrines of counterterrorist warfare (CTW) rooted in Clausewitzian precepts, which argue for striking at centers of mass or gravity, might more aptly be based on Sun Tzu, whose central tenets involve a dynamic and ever-changing tactical continuum.

It may be that by the start of the 21st century, the definition of warfare itself may evolve to represent a flexible, shifting modus belli wherein no armies face each other but all citizens are potential combatants in a transnational, low-intensity conflict where every member of society is a possible target, hence a soldier in the fight.

Therefore, the option to use armed force in countering the terrorist emergencies of the future may rest more and more with individuals and specialized, private-sector organizations, than has traditionally been the case. This privatization of the CTW function is already taking place as individuals and corporate entities turn to professional security providers to afford a level of response and protection capability unavailable through conventional channels.

With the above as preamble, tactical considerations can now be addressed. Essentially, CTW specialists will be confronted with three main operational categories, which differ dynamically, in which the use of lethal force will be a credible option. These are:

In the first category, it will be presumed that captives will be held by terrorist formations, that all reasonable attempts at a nonviolent resolution of the emergency have failed and that conditions appear to lend themselves to armed intervention in pursuit of crisis resolution.

In such situations it must also be taken as an article of faith that only a limited opportunity window for action exists and that contingency planning is extremely time-critical. The tactical circumstances will be changing from hour to hour, if not minute by minute, and the decision to act will be one with the briefest lag between command and execution. Rescue operations are further characterized by the need to strike with near-surgical precision, separating hostiles from friendlies and neutralizing the former in fractions of seconds.

Needless to say, success in such operations requires a mix of reliable breaking intelligence, good planning, capable assault personnel and the right weapons mix, and successful missions of this sort have all used these elements to good advantage. In the December, 1994, raid on the hijacked Air France flight 8969 at Marignane Airport staged by the French Groupement d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN), snipers were used in conjunction with assault troops. Whenever feasible, these should be an element of all hostage rescue packages. Snipers can not only be positioned to take down targets within the zone of operations, but dually function as forward observers providing real-time reconnaissance data to the operational command center.

The operation's pointmen will have other priorities. The first will be to gain quick access to the area or areas where hostages are held, presumably known from intelligence sources. The second will be to neutralize the terrorists and free the hostages. Blowing down doors (and/or windows) is the most common way to achieve the former objective, and while explosive charges of various kinds, including sheet charges, are generally used to this end, a variety of combat shotguns, such as the SPAS-12, can also prove effective in blowing doorlocks and hinges. These guns provide the added advantage of quick deployment as a weapon once entry has been gained and can appear far more intimidating than submachineguns or other similarly configured assault weapons.

Once inside, the rescue team will have critical instants in which to distinguish hostiles from friendlies and shoot. In such "room clearing" operations much attention has been paid to the development of intuitive shooting procedures enabling practitioners to quickly prioritize targets and take them out with the vaunted "double-tap" method.

Shooting skills are largely acquired, not inborn, though, and one of the keys to mastery of this method is sighting and stance techniques. Another is constant range practice, where cooking off several hundred rounds per day is not uncommon for some training regimens.

Weapons deployed by assault personnel might optimally include a mixture of types to maximize firepower and accuracy. Some team members, equipped with Ingram M-11 machinepistols, for example, with high cycling rates and close-in lethality, might be supported by others carrying Valmet bullpups, standard Uzis or MP5s firing hollow-nosed or Glaser-type PB rounds with greater knockdown capability and somewhat longer ranges.

While time may not be as critical a factor in the case of assault and interdiction operations, planning will still need to take rapid response into consideration. Here, the need to rescue hostages, and thus separate friendlies from adversaries, will not generally be a main priority. The mission will probably be preemptive in nature. It may also be covert. The operation will in all likelihood have a single primary objective; to neutralize and/or capture terrorist cadre.

Additional mission priorities may be to destroy, or render unusable, infrastructure controlled by the targets and to collect intelligence-related data of various types. Ancillary to this may be the requirement, usually political, to carry out the mission in such a way as to leave no signature, or one that is deliberately misleading.

In CTW operations of this kind, assault formations will have somewhat greater leeway in a number of planning options. They may, for example, be able to choose the time and place at which the assault is to be carried out. This advantage alone can provide a significant margin for success. In the words of Sun Tzu, "If one can anticipate the place and the day of battle, he can march a thousand li to join the battle." Here too, the mission-readiness of specialist forces can be optimized by reconstruction for training purposes of the operations zone, utilizing either real-world mockups or electronic virtual environments now becoming available.

Clearly, an operation planner's choice in such missions would generally be night operations, and therefore reliable night vision equipment is indispensable. All mission personnel operating nocturnally should be equipped with state-of-the-art night observation devices (NODs) and trained in their use. This is especially important in the cases of sniper and reconnaissance teams. NODs may also interface with laser aiming enhancements to weapons. Weapons may also be equipped with sound/flash suppression devices to maximize lethality and stealth, and appropriate combat dress should be worn (for example, contrary to popular belief, black is by no means the best color for stealthy night operations in all cases). Stealth, surprise, speed, silence. These are the watchwords of successful assault and interdiction missions.

Of the three operational categories, the final one, involving close protection operations, involves the greatest factor of unpredictability and thus of risk to CTW personnel. Crisis situations may erupt at any time, at any place, and in any form. Protection operatives will need to react spontaneously, making the right decisions with little or no prior preparation and even less warning.

Weapons too, may be of limited availability. They will in all likelihood need to be concealed when not deployed, hence adding critical seconds to reaction time in the event of attack. Backup too may be limited or unavailable, and the close protection operative will need to improvise reactively to a situation, rather than deal with it proactively.

Finally, unlike the two preceding categories in which hand-to-hand fighting should never take place, unarmed combat is a contingency for which the protection operative must be prepared. Protection personnel will further need to ensure that their charges emerge from the crisis reasonably intact.

It should be obvious that, apart from training, communications and backup, the choice of weapons and knowledge of unarmed combat techniques are critical in the close protection role. Optimally, protection personnel should have both primary and backup weapon systems available at any given time. The primary weapon system should be concealable, rapidly deployable, have "knockdown" power and, if possible, burst fire capability.

The weapon perhaps best meeting these requirements is still the Beretta 93R machinepistol. Essentially a model 92SB with an extended magazine, muzzle brake and foregrip, the weapon will fit into holsters capable of carrying large-frame handguns yet provides select-fire capability when required. The M-11 and Uzi Micro are other good candidates for this role, as are recent lightweight designs by Steyr and H&K. Secondary or backup weapons can include bullpup assault rifles, such as Valmets, or bullpup combat shotguns.

Where operationally feasible, these latter weapons can be adapted to concealed carry by means of special harnesses, customized cases, and other contrivances. When shotgun ammunition is properly modified, shot-spread can be greatly reduced and accuracy increased. In particular cases, shotguns can fulfill the role of primary weapon systems.

As to unarmed combat techniques, the study of martial arts disciplines such as hwa rang do and wing chun, with its emphasis on "sticky hands," may be pursued. However, (and with acknowledgment of the unique insights of Mr. M.A., a "master" in his own right) the study of streetfighting techniques -- including the use of edged and improvised weapons -- is probably the most effective course to pursue. Streetfighting is relatively easy to learn, is a multidisciplinary distillation of the most effective aspects of more refined martial arts, and tends to work. Ninja training, including techniques such as dim-mak, can also impart useful operational skills, however the core teachings of these esoteric disciplines have never been made known to Westerners despite a number of claims to the contrary.

As the lineaments of the (in some respects ironically named) New World Order become clearer to us, we begin to see what might be termed "pure" or "classical" terrorism -- state-sponsored terrorism in the service of politico-philosophical-religious ends --giving way to something more anarchic, brutal and pervasive, which I would call "Third Wave" terrorism, likening its practitioners to snake-heads on a global "Medusa."

Third Wave terrorism is terrorism for the information age. It is both intranational and transnational; swift, unpredictable, anarchic and chameleonic. It dovetails with criminal activities such as narcotrafficking. It uses high-technology such as computers and satellite communications. Its violence can be surgically precise or cataclysmically total. Its ends are, to again steal Churchill's often-quoted phrase, "a mystery wrapped in an enigma," and yet as simple to understand as the timeless battle between good and evil, light and darkness, Ormuzd and Ahriman.

Whatever the methodologies employed by CTW formations, the option to use force should always be reserved for situations where every other reasonable means of dealing with the emergency, including negotiation, have been exhausted. However, the force option is sometimes the only option available, and one that policymakers cannot afford to overlook as they slowly uncover the mailed fist beneath the velvet glove of diplomacy that is, after all, "the continuation of politics by other means."