10 things you need to know about anti-terror Operation Temperer

Nathanael Williams

CommonSpace looks at what the emergency security measure is and what will follow

OPERATION TEMPERER was launched yesterday night (Tuesday 23 May) by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in response to a national security assessment by the UK’s counter-terrorism body Cobra and the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre in a meeting at 10 Downing Street.

It follows the devastating terror attack at the Manchester Arena on Monday (22 May) which saw 22 people, mostly children and young adults, killed and 59 people injured. 

With its requirement that troops from the British Army be posted at key sites around the whole of the nation to aid regular and armed police, we look at what the security operation is and what its consequences will be.

1). Military force

People around the UK have been primed to expect to see troops helping police at sensitive security points like rail stations, parliament and other destinations or events with big crowds.

Up 5,000 troops will be on 24 to 36 hours’ notice to be deployed across the country, though initially only a few hundred will be deployed.

Military assets have been used before to protect against terrorist threats such as in February 2003 when UK troops were brought into Heathrow alongside armoured vehicles by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in response to fears that extremists possessed surface-to-air missiles. 

According to a review of London’s terror preparedness from early 2016, “only in the most extreme situations would the military be deployed in routine patrolling of the streets of London” under Operation Temperer.

2). An Established Protocol

The operational protocols was first revealed in 2015 when May was then Home Secretary struggling with an ongoing dispute with police forces in England and Wales over pay and work structures.

This military contingency plan was revealed in the minutes of a National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) meeting held in April last year in Leicester.

The documents state such a protocol would aim to allow UK soldiers to replace armed police in many areas so that that police can patrol in key areas.

3). What is a critical threat level?

Both the prime minister and Home Secretary Amber Rudd have confirmed the threat level of “critical”, meaning that security services believe a terrorist attack is imminent and advise a constant state of readiness.

The decision to raise the threat level to critical was taken because of the potential that the suspected Manchester attacker may have been part of a wider network that could attempt further attacks.

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent organisation, cooperated with the UK Government and security services to come to the conclusion of a “critical” threat level. 

4). Have we been here before?

It is the first time in over 10 years that the threat of a terror attack has reached the highest level. The only part of the UK to see such a significant presence of armed troops was Northern Ireland during the troubles, which saw 21,000 soldiers deployed at its peak.

The threat level has been increased to the maximum twice before, first in 2006 following a liquid bomb plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners and a year later after failed gas-cylinders attacks at Central London and Glasgow airport. In both cases, the “critical” level only lasted a maximum of six days.

5). Active armed actions

According to the counter-terror review by Lord Harris last year: “In addition, specialist troops can be authorised to take part in a direct operation to confront and neutralise a terrorist threat if required. This increases the police capacity and capability to respond, for example, if there were multiple attacks on different sites of the kind seen in Paris in November 2015.”

This means the British Army could undertake active operations in a civilian sphere. There is great resistance to such a move within the military and for the time being investigations and raids will be carried out by civilian police, Special Branch and MI5.

 6). Doubts over the armed deterrent

Critics of the policy state that it has a number of practical limitations, in addition to questions over its long-term effects on civil liberties and claims that it represents a change in ‘our way of life’.

Opponents in the army – which has been cut down from 102,000 to 82,000, argue that it is already overstretched and that a deployment of 5,000 troops on the streets would leave significant gaps in military capabilities.

A morale problem could also develop with the army’s exposure to an unusual arena of operations and the boredom created by day to day guard duty and patrols. This assessment was heavily influenced by the British Army’s performance and limitations in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.

But the biggest single objection is that once troops are committed to the streets, it is hard to pull them back. It would require the security services to declare that the threat level had dropped sufficiently to allow them to return to barracks.

7). In line with Europe

European Governments have instituted wholesale security deployments like Temperer, with France putting 10,000 troops on the streets following the Charlie Hebdo attack. 7,000 of these troops would be on the streets for “the foreseeable future” according to former then French President François Hollande and newly sworn-in President Emmanuel Macron not rescinding the deployment order.

Italy also has 5,000 armed troops on the streets since February 2015 – a response to ISIS security threats.

8). Cuts in Police

Some critics of the UK Government, such as the UK Labour Party, have pointed to the reduction in 17,000 to 20,000 police officers which have seen police forces around the UK stretched and unable, according to regional chiefs, to meet their basic policing demands.

There has been an accusation that the Government is using the 5,000 troops to plug the hole in policing.

9). Police Scotland at the ready

Police Scotland have made it known that they will be reviewing their overall strategy as part of a UK-wide effort to bolster security. There are, however, no plans to commit armed troops to either so-called ‘hard spots’ such as major transport hubs in Glasgow and Edinburgh or ‘soft spots’ like shopping centres.

Chief Constable Phil Gormley said: “There is no intelligence to suggest there is any threat to Scotland but I would ask the public to remain alert and report anything suspicious.”

In the Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said military personnel would be sent to secure 12 sites in Scotland including nine Ministry of Defence establishments as well as three nuclear sites.

10). SAS in Manchester

A unit of SAS soldiers trained in shoot to kill tactics have been deployed to the city following Monday’s attack and is on high alert in locations around the city. 

Picture courtesy of Defence Images

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