For most Americans, the September 2004 school siege and subsequent massacre in Beslan, Russia, was something distant, far away, and unreal. We tend to view most things that happen to others around the world with disinterest.
When 9/11 occurred, thousands of Russians placed flowers outside of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and wept for our loss, for what that atrocity meant for all humanity. When 330 Russian civilians-172 of them children-were murdered by Islamic terrorists at Beslan, most Americans noticed it only because it periodically interrupted coverage of the Kobe Bryant sex assault trial. Most of us did not grieve for the Russians, and most of us did not think about what the Beslan school massacre portended for the children of America.
Someday in the near future, an American community—probably far from an urban center—will find that one of its schools has been taken over by Muslim terrorists who are holding the students hostage. The time for American law enforcement officers to think about this possibility and train how to respond to it is now, before it has happened.
Know The Targets
Gather drawings, blueprints, schematics, floor plans, and walk-through videotapes of all schools in your community. Do this now, before you need it. Not only is this information critical for planning a response to a terror attack, it will be invaluable should you experience a-these days-all-too-common school shooting incident.
For smaller or more rural areas, this is not too difficult a task. For larger cities such as New York this effort must be broken down into the various boroughs and precincts, with each subdivision responsible for further dividing this need down to the patrol sectors.
Once you have this information on your local schools, start using them or buildings with similar floor plans to practice assaults. Whether you are a rural county sheriff's deputy, or belong to a SWAT, SERT, SRT, or SORT team-or any of the other permutations of tactical units-you have to practice regularly. This is particularly critical for agencies that pool their resources into multijurisdictional tactical teams. Not only do tactics have to be developed and used, but the team must also regularly operate together if it is ever to have a chance of doing so successfully in combat.
Train to Kill and to Rescue
Assaulting a school full of heavily armed terrorists who are holding hundreds of terrified hostages is beyond the pale of most officers' experience. If you're going to train to do this, you have to treat it as what it is: war. It's war in very cramped quarters with a lot of innocents in the way.
During the fight at Beslan, terrorists held children in front of them with knives to their throats and guns to their heads when Russian special forces teams entered the school. A number of these hostages were killed by having their throats cut or were shot in the battle. Casualties are a foregone conclusion when Muslim terrorists take hundreds of hostages. However, as one Russian special forces officer told me, "You must do everything possible to save the hostages, to save the children." Sadly, this may include shooting through the hostage to kill the terrorist before he can kill even more hostages.
Train to use maximum force and violence. In an assault of this type, there can be no going back, no withdrawal. Whatever the outcome of an effort by police to storm a building, it will pale in comparison to what the fallout will be if the assault team(s) withdraws and the terrorists are permitted to reassert control over the hostages.
The Muslim terrorist is on familiar territory in close up combat. You must be as well; indeed, you must be his superior. As the British SAS is fond of saying: "Your worst has got to be better than their best."
All this means that you have got to improve your close-quarter combat skills and techniques. In the 1960s and 1970s America's tunnel rats-men who were forced to go down into the Vietcong's fearsome tunnel network armed with merely a knife, a handgun, and a flashlight-developed a shooting system for close work in which the pistol was held in a combat-ready position, close in to the chest to prevent disarming. In the confines of many buildings it would likewise be impossible to "present" the firearm at arm's length, out away from the body as is taught by the Isosceles, Chapman, and Weaver shooting stances of old.
And do not think for a second your SWAT team will simply "roll right over the bad guys," as I have heard numerous tactical commanders say when rationalizing their refusal to train in realistic hand-to-hand combat skills and/or integrating those skills with close-quarter handgun techniques and transition drills.
Accepting the necessity of developing this next generation of combat techniques is not enough. You must train to execute. You must be able to shoot with extreme accuracy and speed. These are the skills that will make you capable of killing the person holding a child up as a shield and not hit that child, and they are the skills that will give you the confidence to move to the sound of the gunfire.
Through years of travels and training others I have seen an increasing reliance on the spray and pray approach to combat. This is what technology, money (to buy bullets), and fear of close-quarter combat do to a warrior. Don't let them do it to you.