On November 26, 2008, 10 men attacked the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Oberoi Trident and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, India. Even after the arrival of the NSG (National Security Guard) “Black Cats,” Marine commandos, and elements of the Sikh Regiment, fighting continued through the morning of the 28th. The operation to contain the terrorists and clear the various structures in the city lasted more than 60 hours, with furious exchanges of gunfire and hand grenades reminiscent of Beslan, Ramadi or—more recently and far closer to home—Reynosa or Mexico City.
The question immediately asked by the NYPD (and no doubt by other cities) was, “What if those were our hotels? What if that was the Four Seasons or Pennsylvania Plaza?” If a motivated group of well-armed individuals like this were to initiate a similar operation in Manhattan or the Bronx, what sort of chaos would ensue? Imagine a scenario involving professional, well-trained terrorists taking down the St. Regis, floor by floor with rehearsed tactics, while ambush teams with heavy weapons set up in Central Park to greet responding Emergency Service Unit trucks who would not—at least at first—have any idea what they were getting into. This was the situation with the responding Indian police officers who, brave and willing as they were, were clearly untrained and unprepared for such a manifestly chaotic event.
Less than three days after the attacks in Mumbai ended, the NYPD had investigators on the ground in India to learn whatever they could to prevent, or in a worst case respond, to just such a situation.
Intelligence For the Elite
It wasn’t the first time NYPD representatives have traveled overseas to learn from their foreign counterparts after a terrorist incident. In 2004 there were NYPD officers of the Intelligence Bureau in Madrid just hours after the train bombings there, the only foreign LE personnel on site. The NYPD knows only too well what a desirable target its city is and has never been slow to look for newer and better ways to protect it or to learn from what has happened abroad. They have their own Counter-Terrorism Bureau, an Intelligence Bureau and officers overseas in Amman, Jordan and Tel Aviv, Israel.
If it comes down to gunfire among the high-rises and the brownstones, however, it will be the operators of ESU (Emergency Service Unit) who have to handle it…and in an attack like the one in Mumbai, there simply may not be enough of them.
Make no mistake, ESU officers aren’t the poorly trained, ill-equipped constabulary who responded to the initial shootings in Mumbai, nor for that matter are the precinct officers on the street. Even with 10 “trucks” and their teams in quarters or on patrol, there were concerns over sheer numbers of available operators. What the NYPD brass learned while in India prompted them to take steps that would ensure that there will be a properly trained, better-equipped force of officers who would be capable of reinforcing ESU personnel stretched thin by a protracted fight or siege.
The concept of a large scale, resource-stretching event like Mumbai is by no means new to ESU, and news reports that it caused them to “rethink their strategy” are inaccurate (remember, these accounts come largely from places that refer to Mini-14s as “heavy assault rifles” and the ESU’s issued Colt AR-15s, “fully automatic machine-guns”). Both formally, at the administrative level, and informally, between truck crews in quarters, ESU has planned and prepared for worst-case eventualities for years.
Urban unrest as that fomented in Davos, Switzerland, Quebec, and Seattle has been studied and dissected and analyzed, with AARs (after-action reports) and lessons learned being applied to ESU SOPs. Also studied, the G8 protests in Genoa, Italy, the many bombings and attacks in Israel—even many of the lessons learned from the souks and alleyways of Iraq and Afghanistan where dozens of NYPD officers have served and continue to serve. The last time I was in New York I heard operators debating everything from proper body bunker deployment in something like the Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis of 2002, to table-topping the problems inherent to a multi-agency response to an NYC equivalent to the Beslan Siege of 2004.
The news stations can say the NYPD is just now starting to plan for a response to a violent event like Mumbai, but we have a saying where I come from—this ain’t ESU’s first rodeo.
ESU has always been proactive, from the signing of General Order #20 in 1930 to the establishment of Hercules Teams after 9/11 and continuing up until today. Despite their demonstrated proficiency at a multitude of tasks (they have organic capabilities and resources unlike any other tactical unit in the country), ESU’s “E-men” are frequently overburdened with their regular call-load during a “regular” shift! They respond to literally thousands of EDP (emotionally disturbed person) calls, perp searches, armed and barricade and hostage scenarios every year, in addition to a like number of crashes and rescues.
CIRC—Back Up That’s Already There
Throw in a dozen extremists proficient with weaponry and CQB tactics, scatter them in two or three different locations in timed and coordinated attacks and you may very well run out of E-men. Remember, it is not just the armed response that ESU may be called upon to resolve. Rescue work is bread to their S.W.A.T. butter. IIDs (improvised incendiary devices) or IEDs (improvised explosive devices) rigged as diversions, impediments to response or even to channel responding units would serve to further reduce the number of tactical operators available to provide a ballistic solution to the terrorist problem.
Lacking the luxury of a platoon-sized QRF (quick reaction force) like you’ll find at our FOBs and COBs overseas, or the readily available military special operations force units like the ones on standby in Tel Aviv, the NYPD has a personnel resource called CIRC (Critical Incident Response Capacity), which it continues to expand and train. These officers have been trained and armed essentially to serve as reinforcements to ESU during a large-scale incident like Mumbai or Reynosa.
Comprised primarily of officers from the Organized Crime Control Bureau and the Firearms Unit, CIRC personnel have been training in tactics that any military MOUT (military operations in urban terrain) instructor would recognize. Under the tutelage of ESU personnel and other instructors, this reserve force (all veteran officers, a large number of them from counter-narcotic assignments) has been training in room-clearing, tactical movements within a structure, tactical approaches to a structure, even such techniques as bounding overwatch and fire-and-maneuver street movements.
“The NYPD is taking steps to prepare reserve personnel, a lot of them from Organized Crime and other assignments, to relieve ESU personnel in place should the situation call for it,” one E-Man commented. “They’re carrying rifles, practicing the CQB and room entry stuff…getting ready to secure the floor when we’re ready to move up…”
Lt. Kenneth Beatty, a white-shirted ESU “boss,” said CIRC trainees are “…doing movement drills, clearing hallways, learning to get hostages out quickly and learning how to spot terrorists mixed in with the hostages.”
Reacting In Three Dimensions
Even if their primary role will be to augment the E-Men as they clear upwards or downwards in an attack, past attacks—and not just the one in Mumbai—clearly demonstrate that security and perimeter personnel need to be prepared for a counterattack. Such attacks may very well come from unexpected places. Terrorists have shown they will use balconies, fire escapes, skywalks, subway lines and even sewage tunnels to flank or get behind responding LE and tactical operators.
In a three-dimensional gunfight such as those that would be waged in a hotel or a large municipal structure, defenders must be aware that savvy attackers may do anything from rappelling down elevator shafts to “burrowing” into another structure in close proximity. Though ESU personnel already take steps to deal with this sort of thing during a “routine” perp search or an armed-and-barricade situation, terrorists may not be trying to get away. They may very well be vying for a position of tactical advantage. E-Men and CIRC personnel are training not just to clear or recover territory, they may have to hold it afterwards. Thus the training in angles, cross coverage and mutually supported movement.
In 1995, Russian troops fighting in Grozny repeatedly suffered from intra-structural ambushes, sometimes arranged in tiers. For instance, Chechens might be underground and on the second or higher floor. Russian troops clearing downward took fire from Chechens below them, while those clearing upwards took fire from below and above, then the Chechens would withdraw or displace resulting in blue-on-blue casualties among the Russians. The Russians also had great difficulty sorting combatants from non-combatants, as the men they’d been fighting would shed incriminating weapons and gear, be removed from the fight and then move to another weapons cache and reengage. Among other things, troops resorted to checking “civilians” for bruises from the firing of weapons and forearms for powder burns.
Both the attackers at the Moscow Theater and those at the Beslan school included Chechen veterans of this conflict in their number. Thus, it is simple prudence to plan for the possibility that attackers in an American city might have similar experience.
Armed And Trained For The Mission
The NYPD has obviously paid attention to these and other such lessons. The rifles that CIRC personnel have been learning to shoot and move with are largely Ruger Mini-14s, a reliable .223 carbine that shares a long history with the NYPD. During the training to prepare CIRC personnel at the training facility out on Rodman’s Neck, officers went through two to three dozen magazines of ammunition on the range. They stacked up on walls with them, went through doors with them, crossed the street with them under stress and sometimes under fire from blank or marking munitions, all under the sharp eyes of instructors that in many cases might be relying upon them for assistance in an extended fight.
ESU personnel themselves are issued heavy weapons for “big jobs.” They can be drawn from armories in quarters or from mobile armories in certain trucks. In addition to their sniper and counter-sniper capabilities, ESU operators have a wide range of armament available to them to meet any conceivable emergency. From their individual Glock handguns to a variety of sub-guns, shotguns, assault rifles, counter-sniper weapons and less-lethal launchers, ESU is trained and equipped to meet any eventuality.
This doesn’t prevent them from working to become better every day though, which in the end may be precisely the reason why they are good enough.
After 70 odd years of service, the Ithaca Model 37 is being phased out of the NYPD’s inventory, to be replaced by the Mossberg 590. According to a press release dated January 2008, the NYPD Firearms and Tactics Section recommended the Model 590 after testing it for two years and approximately 12,000 rounds. Test included the expected range process, then a training evaluation by patrolmen carrying the shotgun as part of their duty gear. If things remain true to form, the ESU will use the same weapon in a more specialized incarnation. One thing many operators like about the Model 590 is the double extractor hooks, which substantially reduce the likelihood of a malfunction.
The current issue rifle of the E-men is the Colt AR15A3, a compact version of the ubiquitous AR15 capable of sustained fire and mounting many optics. Contrary to many of recent articles in New York City newspapers and blog sites, ESU does not carry heavy machine guns (nor, for that
matter, is the AR15A3 a ‘machine gun’).