Special Forces, SA Army ready for any World Cup terror eventuality

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The Special Forces, the SA Army and its sister services as well as the police are ready for any security eventuality related to to this June’s soccer World Cup, including a Munich-style terrorist outrage.

To back up this assertion, the Chief of the South African Army, Lt Gen Solly Shoke this last week invited journalists and the public to Air Force Base Bloemspruit in Bloemfontein to witness a joint and combined task force mock rescue of hostages from a bus.

Army spokesman Colonel Sydney Zeeman said cautioned that it is difficult to stage a tactically-correct demonstration within the confines of the apron of the air force base as it is adjacent to a working civil airport, is a small space and because in a real incident events will be spread out in time and space.

This caveat aside, he afterwards stated “I think you would have seen the ability we have in our airborne forces, special forces and police.”

The wikipedia notes the “Munich massacre” is an informal name for events that occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually murdered by Black September, a militant group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah organisation.

By the end of the ordeal, the terrorists had killed eleven Israeli athletes and coaches and one West German police officer. Five of the eight members of Black September were killed by police officers during a failed rescue attempt. The three surviving terrorists were captured, but later released by West Germany following the hijacking by Black September of a Lufthansa airliner.

The Germans were afterwards severely criticised for “an egregious lack of preparation,” ranging from lax security at the Olympic Village where the hostages were taken to using untrained and ill-equipped local police to carry out a poorly-conceived rescue based on flawed intelligence at a nearby airbase, from where the terrorists thought they and their hostages would be flown to Egypt.

Thursday’s scenario supposed militants seizing hostages at a stadium and taking them by bus to an airstrip to fly them on to another destination, a situation broadly similar to that in Munich. As was the case in Munich, a rescue would be affected as the terrorist readied to load their passengers on the aircraft.

In this instance, the militants were escorted to an airstrip by members of the Pretoria Tactical Response Team (TRT), a recently established special weapons and tactics team The police have said one is being established in every metropole for medium-risk contingencies. While this was underway, standby special forces, inclusive of the police Special Task Force, the defence’s force’s Special Forces and 44 Parachute Regiment pathfinders, were mobilised and massed at a nearby second airstrip.

Snipers and other specialist personnel were then deployed to the airstrip the terrorists were headed for by freefall parachute. Specialist equipment, including SF Hornet an Gecko vehicles, arrived by Lockheed Martin C130B Hercules shortly afterwards.

Once the hostage bus arrived, the TRT deployed a cordon around the bus with the parachute-deployed snipers providing overwatch. Shortly afterwards the terrorist airplane arrived and was let into the cordoned area. This was the signal for the pathfinders to deploy – they abseilled in from Denel M1 Oryx medium helicopters – to relieve the TRT, who would form a reserve. Snipers aboard one of the escorting AgustaWestland A109 light utility helicopters provided additional oversight. During this hustle, the rescue commenced. The bus and aircraft were simultaneously assaulted, the former by a combined police STF and defence SF team and the latter by the TRT.

The SF roared up on a Hornet and under cover of a stun grenade entered the bus. The STF made up the support group, racing onto the hardstand in a special BAE Systems RG12 Nyala vehicle. Parking next to the bus STF commandos, armed with Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns, could see into the bus at close range from behind armour and provide fire support if required. So could a gunner aboard the Hornet, manning Browning 12.7mm heavy machine gun.

The TRT now came forward to escort all hostages and militants off the bus. All were bound and would be first taken for screening – terrorists blending in with hostages being an old trick. Once separated, the former would be taken for interrogation and the later for counselling. An aero-evacuation team from 7 Medical Battalion Group of the SA Military Health Service rapelled in from an Oryx, stabilised a simulated casualty and extracted the same using the helicopter’s hoist.

The rescue and support force then withdrew and the cordon was lifted. For the rescue the TRT was equipped with standard R5 carbines and the pathfinders as well as SF with R4 assault rifles. It can be assumed for real eventualities more specialised weapons and shooting aids will be deployed. A police officer intimated as much at an Exercise Shield demonstration early last year, saying some weapons and tactics were not being publicly displayed to retain security and surprise. The officer added it was taken as granted that potential adversaries would be studying media reports and pictures of such events to gauge their opponents.

Speaking before the demonstration, Shoke said the “reason we are conducting this exercise is because we are preparing ourself for anything, for any eventuality. We cannot say we will be attacked or not, but we must be ready for anything and that is why we are here today and why we will show you the demonstration.”

Afterwards he added “Young Eagle is to build the airborne forces. The importance of it in relation to the World Cup is should anything happen we will be ready because we have prepared our forces for the worst case scenario.”