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Effective anti-terrorism takes everyone's involvement

by 2nd Lt. Darrell Peek
14th Security Forces Squadron

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. - The March 11 train bombings in Spain, occurring 911 days after "9/11" on September 11, 2001, as well as the daily bombings in Iraq, illustrate the unwavering resolve of terrorists to target and attack those they fervently hate.

In response to these and past terrorist attacks, a great deal of time, effort and money has been spent gathering intelligence and attempting to safeguard ourselves as well as others. Yet, lives unfortunately are lost to the perpetrators of terror almost daily.

This leads many people to believe if terrorists really want to get us, they will. This is a rather fatalistic attitude, but it's pervasive throughout the world.

So how do we protect ourselves from those determined to harm us? What, if anything, can we learn from all of this violence? First, terrorists will continue to innovate and adapt in an effort to strike at the heart of their sworn enemies, regardless of gender, age or military affiliation. Their goal is to terrorize people into altering the way they or their governments do business. An election outcome was significantly affected by the bombings in Spain.

Moreover, terrorists are only limited by their own imaginations. Although improvised explosive devices, vehicular borne or hand-carried, seem to be the weapon of choice, you can bet terrorists are working on new methods to murder innocent people and destroy property. Terrorists are continually working on the next 9/11.

The old paradigms of regulatory compliance and rapid adherence to Force Protection Condition checklists cannot, on their own, provide the basis for antiterrorism efforts. I'm not arguing their value as a baseline. They are necessary. However, it is imperative we innovate and adapt as the terrorists do.

We can no longer rely solely on numerically sequenced directives in the hopes of sending the terrorists somewhere else. These people are smart and will not attack us when we most expect it.

The most important thing we can learn is anti-terrorism is everyone's responsibility. At least two of the unexploded devices found during the recent bombings in Spain were left in unattended backpacks. With a little vigilance or situational awareness, lives could have been saved.

If you were standing outside the base exchange and found an unattended bag, would you become suspicious? Would you report it or move people away from the area?

Do you recall the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the summer of 1996 in Atlanta? At a recent anti-terrorism course, I learned people actually tried to walk off with the backpack containing the bomb until they realized it was too heavy. Vigilance and a willingness to act are paramount if we are to render the enemy ineffective.

In every anti-terrorism class I've ever instructed, I repeat the same message: I'd rather be embarrassed to have reported something that turned out to be harmless, than to live with the fact I could have saved somebody's life and failed. As a nation, the expectation our government can stop every single act of terrorism is highly unrealistic. As Air Force members, the expectation security forces or the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, our counter-terrorism experts, can single-handedly thwart a well-planned terrorist event is similarly unrealistic.

That doesn't mean we're incapable of protecting ourselves. What we can and should do is work collectively to identify and report incidents that raise our suspicions to stop events before they occur and steal the initiative from the enemy.

 

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