De­fence Forces test re­sponse to ter­ror­ist threat

Ex­er­cise in­volves more than 500 per­son­nel and ev­ery Army bar­racks

The Irish Times - - Home News - Peter Murtagh

The De­fence Forces have stress-tested their ca­pa­bil­ity for re­spond­ing to a re­quest for as­sis­tance from An Garda Síochána in the event of a major ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent in Dublin.

In an ex­er­cise in­volv­ing more than 500 De­fence Forces per­son­nel and car­ried out si­mul­ta­ne­ously at four Dublin lo­ca­tions, but also in­volv­ing ev­ery Army bar­racks in the State, plus the Naval Ser­vice and Air Corps, the op­er­a­tion was a first – in terms of scale as well as the in­volve­ment of the Garda, mainly in an ob­server role.

The ex­er­cise in­cluded high-pro­file in­volve­ment by the Army Ranger Wing, the spe­cial forces anti-ter­ror­ist unit.

Se­cu­rity an­a­lysts have long urged that, in re­sponse to the wave of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in other Euro­pean coun­tries, which have re­sulted in mass civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, the Garda and De­fence Forces should hold deeper and more fre­quent anti-ter­ror­ist joint ex­er­cises.

In July, Committee F, the new Cab­i­net sub-committee on se­cu­rity, di­rected that ex­er­cises be car­ried out on a multi-agency ba­sis, start­ing with what are called table-top ex­er­cises and es­ca­lat­ing to live ex­er­cises.

Yes­ter­day’s event was a step in that di­rec­tion and presages fur­ther events in which the fire and am­bu­lance ser­vices are also likely to be in­volved. Last month, the Garda was in­vited to a De­fence Forces desk­top ex­er­cise on how to re­spond to a ma­raud­ing ter­ror­ist at­tack, but did not at­tend.

Po­lice, sol­diers and anti-ter­ror­ist civil­ian ex­perts from 15 other coun­tries were present, how­ever.

Ob­serv­ing the ex­er­cise, Vice-Ad­mi­ral Mark Mel­lett, chief of staff of the De­fence Forces, said he and se­nior De­fence Forces of­fi­cers had a “very pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship” with An Garda Síochána.

Larger-scale ex­er­cise

“What we’re look­ing at here,” he said of the ex­er­cise, “is our own ca­pa­bil­ity and test­ing that. The guards did it re­cently in terms of their own ca­pa­bil­ity. We were ob­servers at their ex­er­cise. They are ob­servers at our ex­er­cise – in fact, they have a func­tion in our ex­er­cise – and the next stage will be, I sup­pose, a larger-scale ex­er­cise in­volv­ing not just the gar­daí and the De­fence Forces but other blue lights in due course. But we have to work up to that.”

The sce­nario for yes­ter­day’s ex­er­cise was that a group of ter­ror­ists had at­tacked a city-cen­tre Dart and rail sta­tion, no­tion­ally lo­cated at Pearse Street, Dublin. Eight peo­ple had been killed and 20 more wounded.

One ter­ror­ist was cap­tured by the Garda Emer­gency Re­sponse Unit (ERU), but CCTV showed there were six at­tack­ers in all, in­di­cat­ing that five es­caped and there­fore re­mained a threat.

Based on in­for­ma­tion ob­tained from the ar­rested ter­ror­ist and from a series of fol­low-up raids, gar­daí be­lieved that a fur­ther series of major at­tacks di­rected at crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture was im­mi­nent and turned for as­sis­tance to the De­fence Forces, in­vok­ing the “aid to the civil power” pro­vi­sion.

At 6am yes­ter­day, a warn­ing or­der was is­sued by the De­fence Forces, ac­ti­vat­ing its stand­ing con­tin­gency plan. Un­der this, ev­ery bar­racks has a pla­toon on standby for im­me­di­ate de­ploy­ment.

Con­tin­gency pla­toons

Yes­ter­day, sol­diers in con­tin­gency pla­toons were alerted in bar­racks at Finner in Done­gal, Ren­more in Gal­way, Sars­field in Lim­er­ick, Collins in Cork, Stephens in Kilkenny, Cus­tume in Athlone; Aiken in Dun­dalk and the Cur­ragh in Kil­dare, as well as per­son­nel at Cathal Brugha and McKee bar­racks in Dublin.

In the sce­nario, troops out­side Dublin were or­dered to move to­wards the cap­i­tal, in ef­fect en­cir­cling it, and await fur­ther or­ders.

Mean­while, other troops were sent to se­cure the perime­ter of Dublin Air­port and also to se­cure the Air Corps base at Bal­don­nel. A Euro­copter EC135 he­li­copter was de­ployed over the city cen­tre for aerial surveil­lance and over­sight com­mu­ni­ca­tion if needed, and a fixed-wing air­craft was placed on standby.

The Naval Ser­vice LÉ Ciara, on rou­tine pa­trol in the Ir­ish Sea, was di­verted to se­cure the mouth of the Lif­fey and to de­ploy high-speed Ribs into the river if needed.

In Shanganagh, south Co Dublin, three houses were searched by Garda ERU per­son­nel and mem­bers of the De­fence Forces. But the major ground op­er­a­tion took place at the semi-derelict and aban­doned for­mer Od­lums flour mill on Alexandra Road in Dublin port. There, a four-storey-high of­fice block was reimag­ined as an apart­ment block con­tain­ing a ter­ror­ist bomb-mak­ing fac­tory and sev­eral ter­ror­ists.

‘‘

Gar­daí be­lieved that a fur­ther series of major at­tacks di­rected at crit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture was im­mi­nent

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DE­FENCE FORCES

The ex­er­cise in­volv­ing more than 500 De­fence Forces per­son­nel was car­ried out si­mul­ta­ne­ously at four Dublin lo­ca­tions.

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