Security Fail at Bannu – Why the Asymmetry in Capability?

Bannu jailbreak. A huge setback, but no one should be surprised. Consider.

Many factors have contributed to what has happened. Any appreciation must begin with the basics. First, any attack, in this case a large-scale raid, is essentially a contest between two plans, that of the attacker and the defender’s. The defender has to devise a plan that prepares him for all possible contingencies. Men are prepared for those contingencies, equipment is acquired, SOPs established, battle drills practised. The plan is a wedding of men and equipment, men trained to use the equipment intelligently and to the optimal level.

The downside of SOPs and drill procedures is that they can take the shine off initiative and dull innovative responses to any plan by the attackers. The leaders at all levels must therefore be adaptable, think on their feet and harness the strengths of their men, while an attack is unfolding, to respond to the attacker’s innovation.

The second factor relates to the operational environment. In this case, the location of the jail and the inmates it was holding: in Bannu, close to Frontier Region Bannu and the North Waziristan Agency. Close enough for the attacker to enjoy a shorter line of communication. The location and the inmates of the jail had made it a Vulnerable Area (VA). In other words, it was vulnerable to both the possibility of an attack and an actual attack. The attacker then has to determine the Vulnerable Points (VPs) both in accessing the VA and in attacking a target by identifying its VPs, both tangible (physical/material) and intangible (defenders’ training, etc).

Third, while the defender has the advantage of an entrenched position, the attacker has the advantage of selecting the time and mode of attack. Depending on the VA and its defences, the attacker must devise his plan and varnish it with speed and surprise.

Fourth, the attacker in devising his plan has the advantage, on the basis of selecting the time and mode of the attack, to recce the target thoroughly, get intelligence on SOPs and drills, equipment held by the defender, number of men defending the VA, their possible responses on the basis of deployment, level of training and motivation, any back-up that they can call upon, etc.

The degree of difficulty for the attacker to get this vital intelligence will also depend on what kind of systems the defender has put in place, what procedures adopted for screening the men assigned to defend the VA, in short the nature of the security culture at the VA.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Each point or requirement contains in itself multiple other requirements necessitating taking requisite measures. But for our purposes it is enough to apply these broad benchmarks to the force tasked with defending the VA.

The force defending the VA, a mix of police and the Jails Department security personnel, had a cat’s chance in hell against the attackers. It is difficult without seeing the area physically to build a detailed picture but it is safe to say that the Bannu jail was not prepared for defending against such an attack which is why the attackers could accomplish their mission with almost no resistance from the defenders. The leaders and men are poorly trained and motivated, they hold obsolete equipment, the VA is not connected to any back-up, quick-reaction force and there is no provision for calling in helicopters in the event that such an attack goes through and results in a partial or complete jailbreak.

The security culture is almost non-existent and comprises stale procedures, the security is not layered, and approaches to the jail are not monitored — which can prevent an attacking force reaching the VA unchallenged. There is no concept of a Personnel Reliability Programme for screening and monitoring personnel. Outmoded procedures also make it difficult to work out contingencies or train for them.

Budgets are low and corruption is rife. Appointments are made for every reason other than professional competence. When such a force is tasked to defend a jail that holds high-value terrorists the terrorist groups would like to get released, the result would inevitably be disastrous.

There is almost no learning process. Previous such successful attacks on defenders better equipped and trained should have forced planners to create a list of potential VAs and devise plans against possible attacks involving different modi operandi. Despite budget constraints, good planning and training men is possible. The police force is in a terrible shape, but while effort must be done to reorganise the force and create specialisations in the medium to long term, in the short term some areas and vulnerabilities can be addressed.

The attackers on the other hand were highly trained, had reconnoitred the target and knew the level of external and internal security, had trained for the attack for months keeping in mind the defending forces’ vulnerabilities and possible strengths and, at least one report says, had inside information. A pattern for such attacks has already emerged. It would be highly irresponsible if the security specialists continued to ignore the pattern in planning for defending possible VAs.

Another crucial point relates to opacity. So far we have not seen any reports made public on any of the high-drama attacks. I also do not know of any studies conducted either by the military or the Ministry of Interior to tackle the problem in its several dimensions. There have been intelligence failures, security lapses and breaches, operational mishandling. No heads have rolled, no lessons learnt. Has anyone, for instance, studied why and how the terrorist groups can train their men so well in a span of four to six months while the military and police schools and training centres cannot?

The question assumes great importance because in all such cases we have witnessed capability mismatch that has allowed these attacks to go through successfully.

Unless the security planners begin to take up the challenge scientifically and plan accordingly, there will be more such exhibits of incompetence.

The Express Tribune

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