This is a tricky one. Do we really need a permanent SAS unit on standby 24/7 in London? Well, we’ve got one:
The basing of a unit from the elite special forces regiment “in the metropolitan area” is intended to provide the police with a combat-proven ability to deal with armed terrorists in the capital. The small unit also includes surveillance specialists and bomb-disposal experts. Although the Metropolitan Police has its own substantial firearms capability, the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian electrician who was mistakenly identified as a terrorist bomber on the run, has underlined the need to have military expertise on tap.
Something had to be down to prevent another innocent person being killed by the security forces, but is bringing in the SAS really the answer? Now we have a situation where something that begins as a police action can quickly escalate into a military one. Who should be more worried about that? A terrorist or someone simply identified as a probable terrorist?
Let’s say a building is taken over or a firefight breaks out on Oxford Street. Having the SAS on tap would be handy then. But so far the attacks we’ve suffered have been nothing like that and seem to have been as much of a surprise to the intelligence services as to us. After a bomb has gone off there doesn’t seem a lot of use in having a bunch of guys sitting around in a van somewhere itching to rapel down a building and blow some windows out.
Now a 24/7 intelligence gathering operation would be a good idea. And if that’s already ongoing then maybe throw some more money at it. Prevention rather than reaction.
We still can’t help but think that the quickest way to make the UK safer from any attack is to stop giving the extremists a good excuse to target us, which would mean rethinking our whole foreign policy. Not quite as simple as appealing to tabloid readers with ‘Who Dares Wins’ headlines perhaps, but the question should be do we really want soldiers on the streets, no matter how elite they are?