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YAMAM is the world’s most elite—and busiest—force of its kind, and its expertise is in high demand in an era when ISIS veterans strike outside their remaining Middle East strongholds and self-radicalized lone wolves emerge to attack Western targets.
YAMAM has devised new methodologies for responding to terrorist incidents and mass shootings, which it is sharing with its counterparts across the globe.
Off and on for a year, I followed N and his team as they traveled, trained, and exchanged tactics with their American, French, and German counterparts on everything from retaking passenger trains to thwarting complex attacks from cadres of suicide bombers and gunmen firing rocket-propelled grenades.
The conventional wisdom for how to deal with fast-moving terrorist incidents has evolved over time, most notably in hostage situations. Since the 1960s and 70s, first responders have sought to establish a physical boundary to “contain” an event, engage the perpetrators in dialogue, draw out negotiations while formulating a rescue plan, then move in with a full team. Similar principles were adapted for reacting to kidnappers, emotionally disturbed individuals, and mass-casualty incidents.
YAMAM goes in heavy, dispatching self-contained squadrons of breachers, snipers, rappellers, bomb techs, dog handlers, and hostage negotiators. Metaphorically speaking, they don’t send an ambulance to stabilize a patient for transport. They send a hospital to ensure survival on scene.
Major O, the 37-year-old who commands YAMAM’s sniper team, explained that one of the unit’s signature skills is getting into the assailant’s mind-set. “We try to learn every terrorist attack everywhere in the world to find out how we can do it better,” he noted. “Our enemies are very professional, too, and in the end they are learning. They try to be better than us.”
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