Another anti-terror exercise aimed at testing Norway’s preparedness has revealed ongoing coordination problems between the military and the police. One terror researcher at the University of Bergen said the problems almost seem insurmountable.
“I was a bit suprised that it (the exercise) went as badly as it did,” said Kjetil Stormark, leader and editor of the project Aldrimer (Never again), which concentrates on Norwegian defense and security issues.
Stormark’s website and Tromsø newspaper Nordlys revealed over the weekend that results of the anti-terror exercise known as “Gemini” must have been a big disappointment for the officials involved. Major efforts have been made in recent years to improve Norway’s emergency preparedness, not least after all the criticism surrounding the slow response to a lone gunman’s and bomber’s attacks on the Norwegian government and Labour Party’s youth camp in 2011. The military and police were all but ordered to improve communication and cooperate in emergency situations.
Their recent exercise, conducted last summer, was based on a scenario that militant environmental activists had boarded a supply ship and a drilling rig and taken more than 200 hostages. It took more than 28 hours to bring an end to the mock hostage crisis.
That’s because special forces taking part in the exercise had to wait hours for transport flights, the police did not gain access to helicopters from the military and Sea King rescue helicopters were not available either. “We had to take repeated and long breaks during the exercise so that Beredskapstroppen (Norway’s special police forces) could reach us,” one participant told Aldrimer.no and Nordlys. “In a real situation, all the hostages would have been dead by then.”
Lise Rykkja, a researcher specializing in preparedness at the University of Bergen, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday that “it’s often mentioned that there are tensions and a lack of communication between the police and the military.” She thinks it’s caused by “different traditions” and the fact that “there’s always been a distinction between the police and the military, as there should be.”
Coordination in a crisis, however, remains difficult. “It requires specialization, expertise within individual areas and that people must be able to cooperate across their lines of expertise,” Rykkja told Dagsavsien.
Changes in the world’s political situation since the attacks in Norway in July 2022, especially the heightened tensions with Russia, have also strained the military’s resources, Stormark noted. The military’s primary duties, he said, will always have precedence over its contribution to civilian society and the police. It’s been suggested the police special forces shouldn’t therefore have to rely on getting helicopter transport from the military, but would be best served with their own.
All those taking part in the exercise were asked not to reveal its poor results. Both Stormark and Nordlys were also asked not to report on them, with a military spokesman saying that the results were considered classified information. The military therefore had no comment.