SWAT’s Role in the War on Terror

There is plenty that all SWAT teams can and should be doing right now to prepare for the next 9/11. If SWAT doesn’t lead the tactical way, then who will?

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Watching the footage of the 9/11 terrorist attack on America that was all over TV a few weeks ago, I found it hard to believe it happened seven years ago. The horrific images remain as fresh as the day they happened. However, for some, 9/11 has already faded into distant memory, accompanied by the false belief that it was a one-time attack.

Those of us in law enforcement know better.

Since 9/11, American law enforcement has made great strides in upgrading its capabilities to respond to terrorist attacks. Equipment, protective gear, weapons, armored rescue vehicles, mutual aid cooperation, and training, have all been vastly improved.

Despite the impact of 9/11 on LE capabilities, many agencies today are struggling financially to provide basic police service. Budget hobbled police departments are not optimum for responding to the next attack.

Yes, there will be another terrorist attack in America. We may not know when, where or how, but we know the terrorists are planning to hit us again. This enemy has proven himself patient, and he is capable of striking a wide variety of targets, especially soft targets.

There is no doubt that since 9/11, terrorists have not only planned and trained for their next attack, they have also probed America’s defenses to determine our weaknesses and strengths.
What does this mean for American LE, especially for SWAT?

SWAT’s primary role and responsibility is that of LE’s tactical leader and spearhead. A prime example of this is SWAT working with first responders to neutralize active shooters. SWAT is first and foremost about tactics and strategy, and today’s increasingly violent threats–terrorist and domestic alike–cannot be countered by SWAT alone.

However, SWAT should not be viewed as simply support or just trainers for first responders. To relegate us to such roles would be a giant step backward.

And some agencies want to do exactly that. The last thing they are willing to do is commit more resources to SWAT.

The unfortunate fact is many SWAT teams today are either the same size or smaller than they were 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. The reason that SWAT teams haven’t grown can be attributed to a combination of factors, including severe LE budget cuts and a lack of understanding of SWAT’s tactical and strategic role on the part of administrators.

I suspect whether military or police, many in command bristle at the word “special.” The result for some LE SWAT teams is treatment as step-children or orphans.

What can and/or should SWAT do about this less than optimum situation? The answer is really simple. We need to do exactly what the terrorists are doing: prepare, plan, train, and equip ourselves for future attacks on America.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of “On Killing,” says it best when he tells cops: While our nation’s military warriors are fighting on foreign soil to protect America, police are America’s frontline warriors at home.

Together, the military and LE are protecting all of America from its enemies, foreign and domestic.

LE’s challenge in these difficult, demanding, conflicting times is to “stay the course,” never losing sight of our duty and mission. Those police detractors who dispute even using the word “warrior” for police officers have their collective heads buried so deep in the sand of denial they will never see the next attack coming. Which means it’s up to the “warriors” to take care of business.

Here’s what you can do right now to prepare for the next 9/11. It’s something that will cost you no additional money or time. You need to practice. But don’t just practice the way you always do. Adjust your scenarios and your strategy sessions to take into account how terrorists operate.

For example, at your next SWAT active-shooter training session, increase the number of suspects to mimic a terror cell strike. Terrorists appear to prefer multiples of four, so instead of one or two suspects, make it four or eight politically motivated, hardcore trained, and experienced terrorists armed with automatic weapons and explosives.

In addition, study and research all you can about terrorist and counter-terrorist tactics and strategy to gain a better insight into what you may face someday. Hone all of your tactical skills, especially the basics such as shooting, movement, entry, search, etc.

Know your equipment and capabilities backward and forward. Make sure your team members stay focused and motivated and understand their awesome responsibility of leading the tactical way for their agency. The reality is that when the next terror strike hits, SWAT will be expected to lead the tactical way, which is the way it should be.

There is plenty that all SWAT teams can and should be doing right now to prepare for the next 9/11. If SWAT doesn’t lead the tactical way, then who will?

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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