A television channel headquarters was attacked by terrorists in Kabul on Tuesday, leaving at least one staff member dead and many others wounded.
The terrorists were disguised as Afghan police officers, and the attack was quickly claimed by the Islamic State. Afghan security forces entered and cleared the compound soon after, and Shamshad TV was back on the air within hours.
Targeting journalists and media figures is a standard practice for terrorist and extremist groups, and has been somewhat routine in Afghanistan for years. But what is significant to note is that the attackers wore police uniforms, continuing a trend that has been working its way towards Europe and the West, where people are not accustomed to coordinated attacks from organized and disguised terrorists.
The Taliban has donned military uniforms and conducted spectacularly effective attacks against the Afghan government, killing hundreds in a number of surprise attacks over the years. One of the more infamous scenarios involving this tactic was against Camp Bastion in Helmand Province in 2012, where 15 Taliban fighters wearing American Army Combat Uniform (ACU) camouflage were able to penetrate the joint U.S.-U.K. base and wreak havoc, killing two U.S. Marines and damaging and destroying nine military aircraft that cost millions to replace. All but one of the Taliban attackers were killed in the ensuing chaos, but the damage was done.
More recently, four Islamic State gunmen dressed as doctors stormed the Sardar Daud Khan hospital in Kabul, the largest military hospital in the city, killing more than 30 people. It took Afghan Special Forces hours to clear the hospital and kill the attackers.
Multiple police raids in Belgium within the last two years against ISIS terror cells have discovered police uniforms and associated equipment, a clear indication of the Islamic State’s intent to deploy gunmen disguised as first responders in Europe.
While military and law enforcement personnel in the United States can probably quickly and easily spot someone who “doesn’t fit” in their uniform, the average citizen who is not accustomed to the “tactical” community will have trouble distinguishing between a terrorist or an actual police officer.
Dressing in “tactical” or otherwise military-style uniform items has already crossed over into mass shooters in the United States as well. Just this week, the mass murderer in Sutherland Springs, Texas, reportedly wore all-black tactical gear, which apparently included body armor. Wearing a uniform like this can serve multiple purposes. It can confuse victims and first responders as to who the actual “bad guy” is, further delaying an effective law enforcement response which allows the killing to continue. It allows the shooter to wear a load bearing vest to hold more ammunition, as well as armor for protection, and it may also be for psychological intimidation.
Islamic State terrorists like the one who attacked the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last summer have already shifted to “mass shooter” tactics in the United States. The increasing body counts of recent mass shootings, as well as the political divisiveness every shooting creates, guarantees this tactic will continue. It seems inevitable that as shooters and terrorists refine their tactics and techniques, Americans will soon be confronted with the reality of attackers dressed as first responders.
Image courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation