Defence Forces hold exercises in preparation for terror attacks

Anti-terrorist police, soldiers and civilians from 15 countries take part in manoeuvres

Members of the Defence Forces training to deal with a marauding terrorist attack, such as occurred in Paris, Brussels and London, have held exercises here in shopping centres and a major transport hub.

The exercises, which were unobtrusive and took place this week in undisclosed locations, were part of an anti-terrorist commanders' course that has been taking place all week in the Curragh, run under the slogan "co-operation and co-ordination saves lives".

The course, the third of its kind, is being attended by anti-terrorist police, soldiers and civilians from 15 countries, including Ireland, and is held under the auspices of Nato and the European Union. It is run by the Army's Ordnance School and its commanding officer, Lieut Col Ray Lane.

The exercises this week were so-called walk through assessments, in which participants on the course, designed and managed by Capt Alan Kearney, examined heavily used public installations. They gauged their vulnerability to what is known as a marauding terrorist attack, in which terrorists aim to inflict mass civilian casualties and expect to die themselves, and how anti-terrorist forces could best respond.


Participants were broken into two teams, red and blue. They were tasked to walk through the centres and transport hub, examining each from the point of view of attacker, security force counter-attacker, and emergency first responder, dealing with an unfolding situation involving a potentially high number of casualties.

“They weren’t out there pretending they were terrorists,” explained Lieut Col Lane. “They were thinking about it. They got a thorough brief on [the transport hub] and were given the scenario. They went away and decided where the vulnerabilities were, and how to deal with those vulnerabilities.”

A similar exercise last year in one multistorey shopping centre resulted in non-military equipment being installed there that could be needed should an attack ever happen resulting in casualties.

“They went and did all the floors and, at the briefing afterwards, they asked ‘why can’t we pre-position some of the medical equipment that was demonstrated in the shopping centre so that, in the event of an attack, first responders know where to go and how to get it?’ They’ve actually done that in that shopping centre,” said Lieut Col Lane.

The Ordnance School has become a leader in C-IED (counter improvised explosive devices) as a result of Defence Force participation in the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Expertise in that, which has included writing the standard manual for the United Nations, has grown into studying marauding terrorist attacks and training commanders how to respond to them.

‘Saving lives’

This week’s course is the third to date and included use of mosaic, map-based software allowing commanders, and all participants in a counter-terrorist response, communicate and share information in real time,and from any location, using smart phones.

“Co-operation and co-ordination saves lives,” said Lieut Col Lane.

“That’s what this course is all about. The emphasis is on tactics, techniques and procedures, improving situation awareness and, without putting the fear of God in people, making them more aware of their surroundings. If you can achieve that, you will, without doubt, reduce the casualties.”

The course is based on the lessons learned from studying 17 marauding terrorist attacks, including San Bernardino (December 2015, 15 dead; 22 wounded), Brussels (March 2016, 32 dead and 300 wounded) and Paris (November 2015, 130 dead, 413 wounded).

“Every single marauding terrorist attack we have studied here, and we’ve studied every single one of them, has come down to one, they could have been stopped; and two, a lot of them were amateurs, to say the least, and the response of the security forces was crazy . . .

“Every single thing we have studied was preventable.”

The purpose of the course “is to save lives – it’s as simple as that”, he added. It is based on Nato’s “comprehensive approach policy” which has been adopted by the EU.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times