“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.” -Sun Tzu
What I wanted to do here is take a closer look at the In Amenas Gas Attack and comment on what is of interest. The first story below talks about how such a thing could even happen and that this is a wake up call.
Well it happened because of complacency and because the enemy force exploited a weakness after studying the facility and it’s security apparatus. It’s the same with the Camp Bastion assault, in which the attacking force was keen on the reconnaissance. For raids, good intelligence is key, and this attacking force did their homework.
As to how they were able to cross miles of desert from Libya into Algeria, and maneuver this close for the raid, they used deception. (another Sun Tzu tenet) Here is a quote:
The militants arrived in nine Toyotas with Libyan plates and painted in the colors of Sonatrach, the Algerian oil and gas company that has a share in the plant, according to the Algerian daily El Khabar.
This is a key point to identify in this deal. Deception is becoming more and more of the trademark of today’s terrorist networks. It is a tried and true method of getting forces near the target, as old as warfare itself. Wearing military, police or company uniforms, to throw off the OODA (the observation part) of the security element or the victims, is a tactic that works. Al Qaeda and it’s partners know this, and they are consistently bringing this into their raid strategies.
For the Camp Bastion assault, the attackers wore US Army uniforms. The attack on FOB Salerno June of last year, the attackers wore ANA uniforms. The attack on Bagram Air Base back in May of 2010, the attackers wore US military uniforms. In the attack on Pakistan’s Naval Station Mehran, the assault force wore Naval uniforms. This list and trend goes on…. The bottom line, raiders will use deception to achieve their goal of getting close, causing confusion, or killing more folks with a secondary deception tactic, like a VBIED in an ambulance. The imagination is the only limitation, and those security folks who can put together the pieces in their battle space faster than the enemy, will be able to counter.
It is also important to note that these raiding forces usually have suicide assaulters on their teams–or guys with explosive vests.
Let me bring up another killer–apathy and complacency. The In Amenas site had plenty of security, but obviously they were not prepared for such an assault. The second article below talks about how much security there really was.
The Amenas gas plant in Algeria was guarded by around 100 armed gendarmes but they failed to fend off an attack by less than half the number of terrorists, it can be disclosed.
A base for the gendarmes was built between the residential compound and the drilling area which are several miles apart in the desert, sources told the Daily Telegraph.
But they failed to react in time when a convoy of around 14 vehicles arrived at the base at 5.40am on January 16 with heavy machine guns mounted on the back and carrying at least 32 terrorists.
Gendarmes accompanying a bus heading for the airport managed to beat off the first attack and Huw Edwards, a British gas worker on the bus, said he owed his life to them.
However the al-Qaeda-backed militants were able to get into the residential compound and take dozens of Westerners hostage.
The army arrived to provide back up from a base around 30km (18.5m) away but their two attempts to launch a rescue ended in a bloodbath and the death of at least 37 foreign workers.
But this quote tells us something else about the style of attack that the enemy used here that should be noted. The enemy was able to gain relative superiority using surprise and violence of action. According to the book Spec Ops, the six principals of special operations success are simplicity, security, repetition, surprise, speed, and purpose. Obviously the enemy is following similar principals, and surprise and speed was key in order for a small group to take on a large group such as this and actually gain access to the facility.
I would even say purpose is something to throw in there, just because these guys were hell bent on getting western hostages and either killing them or holding them for ransom, and destroying the facility.
That last part is a great way to transition to the 60 Minutes show on the attack. If you watch the video and listen to the commentary of these individuals, you get an idea of how focused this assault force was on finding and killing/capturing western hostages. And these employees knew how important they were to the terrorists.
In the 2008 Mumbai Attack, the assault teams were very systematic in their execution of hostages, to include western hostages. So with that said, security folks should not advise their clients to give up when it comes to terrorist attacks, simply because this is a death sentence. Run, Hide, Fight is more in line with what needs to happen, and your client should definitely be briefed on the overall security plan in the event of a complex assault like this one. At the In Amenas attack, the terrorists were intent on killing hostages and destroying the plant.
Perhaps late Wednesday or early Thursday morning — Mr. Sellal described it as a nighttime episode — the kidnappers attempted a breakout. “They put explosives on the hostages. They wanted to put the hostages in four-wheel-drive vehicles and take them to Mali.”
Mr. Sellal then suggested that government helicopters immobilized the kidnappers. Witnesses have described an intense army assault, resulting in both militant and hostage deaths.
“A great number of workers were put in the cars; they wanted to use them as human shields,” the prime minister said. “There was a strong response from the army, and three cars exploded,” he said. One contained an Algerian militant whom the prime minister identified as the leader, Mohamed-Lamine Bouchneb.
The second and final operation happened Saturday, Mr. Sellal said, when the 11 remaining kidnappers moved into the gas-producing part of the complex, a hazardous area that he said they had already tried to ignite.
“The aim of the terrorists was to explode the gas compound,” he said. In this second assault, he said, there were “a great number of hostages,” and the kidnappers were ordered to kill them all. It was then, he said, that army snipers killed the kidnappers.
Another point to bring up with this attack is that it was early morning and possibly during a shift change. The attackers definitely timed their attack as the bus full of workers was coming in. So time and timing was crucial here as well. It is important to note that most complex attacks of this nature, occur in low light or at night, so it seems.
The In Amenas assault started at 0540 in the morning. The Camp Bastion Assault started at 2200 at night. The Mehran attack started at 2230 at night. The Mumbai attack happened at 2010… So you get a picture here that darkness or low light definitely helps in the ‘surprise and deception’ department, and the enemy knows this.
Another pattern I am seeing is the use of multiple assault teams. In the Camp Bastion assault, they had three teams of five. In the Mumbai Assault, they had two teams of six and four men. The In Amenas attack had nine trucks filled with around 40 militants. In all of these attacks, there was a division of labor here and the attacks were organized. Teams were assigned targets and objectives.
The point to bring up here is that with multiple teams comes multiple problems. Security forces could respond to one attack by one team, and then the other assault teams can start the real attack. It can create confusion for the security forces and it can increase the success of the assault force. The assault force can even implement Cheng and Ch’i, by using one team to set up the security force with one type of attack, and then use another team or teams for the real attack to achieve the ultimate goal.
The Mumbai attack is a great example of this, where one force causes the distraction and sucked in the majority of emergency response forces to that fight (lighting fires, etc), and then the other team did the systematic search and killing of the primary targets in the hotels. Cheng is the expected or orthodox strategy, and Ch’i is the surprise or unorthodox strategy. Playing the two strategies off of each other creates all sorts of opportunities for an assault force composed of multiple teams. Yet again, the enemy is recognizing the value of this, and security forces have to be aware of the attack coming from multiple points and at multiple times.
Well, that is about all I have on this one. If you would like to further delve into the lessons learned that others have brought forth, here is a link. It would be great to hear what other folks picked up on this and other attacks.
I also want to mention the heroic acts of the security force in the face of such an attack. The lone guard named Mohamed Lamine Lahmar who was killed shortly after he hit the alarm button to shut down the plant and warn everyone, certainly saved lives. The Stirling Group contractors whom died in the defense of their client also get special mention, as do the hostages whom were killed.
The lesson here is that companies will adjust and security forces will learn from this incident to build a better defense–or apply continuous improvement to their operation. We must actually recognize what the enemy is doing or deal with reality, both in Africa and elsewhere in the world, and learn from this. Most importantly, we must stay one step ahead of them and implement security plans that effectively deal with this reality. As Sun Tzu would say, we must ‘rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. -Matt
Algeria Attack A ‘Wake-Up Call’ For Energy Companies
by Tom Gjelten
January 24, 2013
A week has passed since the terrorist attack on a natural gas facility in Algeria, but risk analysts and security experts are still undecided about the incident’s likely impact in the energy world.
The price of oil, a good indicator of anxiety in the energy market, went up modestly right after the attack, but then it stabilized. No energy company has suspended operations in Algeria, nor has any company announced it will hold off on future investments in North Africa, a key source of oil and gas supplies.
It may just be that governments and energy companies are still trying to figure out exactly what happened at the In Amenas gas field. The complex had not been attacked during decades of civil war in Algeria.
Success Of Raid ‘A Mystery’
David Goldwyn, formerly the State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs, notes that the complex was surrounded by “a ring of steel.”