Norway’s preparedness for a terrorist attack remains in question, just a week after the threat level was raised from “possible” to “probable.” Conflicts continue between the military and police, also over use of boats and helicopters, while critics note that the police’s own emergency response boats are outdated and have been taken out of service.
Justice Minister Per-Willy Amundsen claimed last week, when the terror threat level was raised following an attack in Stockholm and a bomb scare in Oslo, that Norwegian police have never been “in a better situation than we are now to handle these types of incidents.” Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reports, however, that anti-terror experts point to “clear holes” in the overall preparedness.
Seven years after police were frustrated in their efforts to get special forces to the island of Utøya, where a lone gunman was carrying out a massacre, and five years after work began on acquiring new emergency response boats, they’re still not in place. The old boats used by Norway’s anti-terror unit Beredskapstroppen (Delta) have also been taken out of service, reported DN.
Now the police need to rely on military vessels being available in an acute situation, and they can’t. While the Delta force’s high-speed rib boats were always standing by in Oslo’s harbour, the military’s boats are based in other locations.
“We are now in a situation with somewhat reduced preparedness,” Jørn Schelderup of the state police directorate told DN. “This is a risk we are aware of.” He claimed, however, that “we have tight and good cooperation with the military and will get the necessary assistance when we ask for it.”
Since vessel preparedness is considered classified information, Schelderup wouldn’t say who made the decision to allow the police’s own boats to be retired before new ones were in place, or whether Amundsen was involved in that decision. He couldn’t say when new police boats will be in place. Inspector Ole Vidar Dahl of the Oslo Police District confirmed that the old boats from 2006 had been taken out of service, adding that “we are now in a re-acquisition process.”
Several Members of Parliament say they’re surprised and troubled by the lack of police boats, with MP Hadia Tajik of the Labour Party claiming that whoever is responsible “has put the country at unnecessary and unwanted risk.” MP Abid Raja of the Liberal Party, one of the government’s two support parties, was also alarmed. “We can’t afford to make mistakes like this,” Raja told DN.
Ståle Ulriksen, a researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI, said the boat situation reflects the ongoing problem of unclear lines of command within the police and the military. Deficiencies in national security recently outlined by the State Auditor General “are just the tip of the iceberg,” according to Ulriksen. “Here we see what it’s like under the surface. This is a big problem for the nation. Several years have gone by with no one taking the initiative. That’s quite sad.”
Part of the problem appears rooted in rivalry between the military and police. The police are supposed to be responsible for emergency operations on Norwegian soil in peacetime, but the Auditor General’s report revealed difficult relations between the police and military, not the “tight and good cooperation” described by Schelderup. DN reported on Tuesday that there also are conflicts over the locations of, and police access to, military helicopters that are earmarked for use in a national emergency. They currently don’t meet police needs either.
Justice Minister Amundsen dismissed much of the criticism, claiming that Tajik’s own Labour Party failed to make preparedness a priority during its eight years in government power, despite Norway’s strong economy at the time. The former left-center government was assailed by the commission appointed to assess preparedness, or the lack thereof, when terror struck Norway on July 22, 2011.
Amundsen claimed that staffing of anti-terror units has increased by 50 percent and reaction time has been cut to five minutes during the current Conservative government’s term that began in 2013. He confirmed he was aware of the lack of police boats at present, but couldn’t go into detail about it.
“This is in a process and there will be an upgrade,” he said.