U.S. Embassy Tirana Trains for Better Preparedness in Albania

May 19, 2016

Date: 04/02/2016 Location: Tirana Description: Albanian State Police tactical trainees home in on the location of ''hostages''' during a training exercise hosted by Diplomatic Security's Regional Security Office and the Defense Attache's Office in Tirana, Albania, April 2, 2016. (U.S. Department of State photo) - State Dept Image

The Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s (DS) Regional Security Office (RSO) at U.S Embassy Tirana, Albania – in partnership with the Defense Attaché’s Office (DAO) – hosted three separate training events in the past year to better prepare local law enforcement for worst case scenarios.

This was possible due to a strategic partnership between the RSO and DAO that makes Department of Defense (DOD) resources available for training the Albanian State Police tactical team (RENEA) to enhance their response capability.

In the past, U.S. military programs in Albania focused on tactical training initiatives solely for Albania's Army Special Forces Battalion. That was because Albania's military is a NATO partner and deployed units to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as NATO's role in those wars diminished, new threats emerged closer to home, which required RENEA to enhance its ability to respond to a possible terrorist attack.

Given recent high-profile soft target attacks, it made sense to focus training efforts on a possible active shooter incident at a school or shopping mall. RSO Tirana staff studied lessons learned from terrorist attacks on soft targets around the world to develop training scenarios for this intense three-week training session for RENEA.

The RSO identified, selected, and obtained approvals for the non-embassy venues for the training exercises. They also enlisted embassy staff to role play civilians and terrorists to make the training scenarios more realistic. Instructors from elite units within DOD did the bulk of the preparations and made it possible for Albanian police and military tactical teams to train together to respond jointly to a potential terrorist attack.

The final training exercise took place in October 2015 at an upscale shopping mall in Tirana. The scenario involved inert explosives and six “armed terrorists" role-players spread out on two floors. To carry out the counter-assault, participants from RENEA snuck in through the mall’s service entrances under the cover of darkness and carried out the skills they had just learned to take control of the situation. One of the most important takeaways for them was how important it is for tactical teams to move quickly and decisively when dealing with active shooters.

The second soft target final training exercise for RENEA participants took place in April 2016 at an international school in Tirana. The training scenario involved four “armed terrorists" role-players who were looking for victims in every corner of the school. Due to the size of the school, over four dozen tactical officers role played aggressors, including four covert sniper teams hiding in the wooded area of the school perimeter.

The recent physical security upgrades at the school – conceived and designed by RSO Tirana – helped trainees deter, detect, delay, deny, and defend the site, and made it nearly impossible to for the bad guys to find the “hostages.”

Last but not least, RSO Tirana partnered with DOD to host the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team-Europe (FASTEUR) for a tactical exercise at Embassy Tirana in September 2015. Nearly 60 Marines called the housing compound pool area home for a week-long training session with RENEA, Marine Security Guard (MSG) Detachment Tirana, and RSO responders. The training culminated in an armed intruder drill at the embassy which morphed into a building evacuation and security sweep of the compound. View this USMC video from the armed-intruder exercise.

The key to a successful training exercise is all about teamwork and a shared vision of how to prepare for a potential terrorist attack. At U.S. Embassy Tirana, DAO controlled the DOD assets; the public affairs section crafted public messages; the MSGs volunteered to be "terrorists;" numerous members of the embassy community volunteered to be "victims;" and the embassy front office and DS headquarters fully supported the three training initiatives. RSO Tirana thanks each office for providing the support that made these training events such a success.