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Mandate of counter terrorism agencies should be reviewed

By Edward Wanyonyi | January 17th 2019

The recent terror attack on the Dusit D2 Hotel and adjacent buildings at 14 Riverside Drive has once again brought out the need for a review by the Executive and Parliament of all current counter terrorism efforts.

While there is evidence that the response time and coordination among security agencies was far much better compared to the September 21st 2013 Westgate attack and the April 1st 2015 Garissa University attack, there are perhaps three areas of focus that an autonomous counter terrorism agency can deliver.

First, a counter terrorism authority with legislative mandate, operational autonomy and resources will be able to streamline the contributions each agency, security actor, public and private institution provides to the broader national counter terrorism effort. As the sole custodian of the national counter terrorism strategy, this lead agency will professionally be comprised of officers from multi agencies and blend the best possible preventive, canine and mitigative strategy in the face of a changing terror threat.

Second, a national counter terrorism authority will be the ideal agency to address the training and capacity building needs of all personnel at the frontline handling/responding to terror related matters. With a rapidly shifting war that is waged on three strategic assets- population centric, spontaneous and speed, it is doubtless that the training of officers needs to reflect our local context and not those of the anti-terror funders who although they might have dealt with terror incidents in other nations, lack the local clout of our context.

Violent extremism

Furthermore, the global anti-terror establishment is heavily reliant on the procurement side of counter terrorism that entails increased government expenditure on military hardware, forgetting the software essentials that lies at the heart of insurgency wars; the battle on narratives. With this in mind, our counter terrorism knowledge base will thus be comprised of in-depth research and intelligence gathering of the social, political, economic and political dimensions that aids, facilitates, justifies and abets terror incidents.

This will be converted into mainstream civic education on counter terrorism and not the current plastering of images of suspects with bounty rewards and we call that civic engagement. Coupled to the civic education is the need to establish a national countering violent extremism academy that will then train government officials and link with other global established knowledge centres keen on producing innovative knowledge on the broad aspects that straddle the CVE- Terrorism continuum.

The third area in which a national counter terrorism authority will add value is the establishment of a single command unit that is decentralised across clustered counties to respond to terror incidences from an operational, tactical and kinetic level. From the post 1998 terror attack at the US embassy, we know that most attacks occur during the Enemy Lull Window which starts during the last and next attack.

Police Service

During this period, the enemy keenly studies response strategies, how to turn the population away from Central Government capacity to provide security to her citizens, maps new soft targets, undertakes logistical stocking and dry runs attack plans before final execution.

This happened in 2008 when 10 members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group laid a three day siege in Mumbai, India; attacking more than five sites, including the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Palace hotels. Neutralisation efforts were partly disrupted because survivors kept on calling relatives who were interviewed by the media and thus exposed. It should be remembered that during active terror response operations, military operations on urbanised terrain, high-rise buildings and public institutions, the insertion and extraction of forces is often the hardest part of raids in urban areas.

Some countries have deployed the use of GSM jammers while rerouting all rescue efforts to secure spectrum bandwidth to enable better coordination of response. Perhaps this is an area the proposed National Counter Terrorism Authority or the National Police Service could consider pitching to the Communications Authority.

Such a spectrum will have special call signals to the police canine team, on-site paramedics and receiving hospitals. Additionally, other countries have National Emergency Media Units that will be the only media house on site relaying feed to other media establishments in order to avoid the unprofessional coverage of terror incidents that tends to glorify terrorists. This in itself is not media censorship as it will be in national interest to manage media coverage, especially with rise of fake news and sensationalism.

As the country comes to terms with the aftermath of the attack, it should be an opportunity to take stock of the progress and review gaps with empathy and understanding that counter terrorism requires political leadership that places the lives of citizens ahead of tender wars especially when it comes to security related procurements, training and resourcing of the entire response. Parliament and the Executive should perhaps consider reviewing the current mandates of all counter terrorism agencies with a view of steering them towards a lean and efficient machinery with an immediacy capability. 

Mr Wanyonyi is a Strategic Communications and Systems Thinking [email protected]

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