Tactical assault group
The tactical assault groups (TAG) are military counter-terrorism units in Australia. At present there are two tactical assault groups based on opposite sides of the country. As such they are individually identified as being either TAG East, based in Sydney or TAG West, based in Perth. Both groups are structured to conduct offensive domestic counter-terrorist operations focusing on direct action and hostage recovery.
Each assault group maintains a short notice capability to conduct military operations beyond the scope of State and Federal Police Tactical Groups. These aims are achieved through various highly specialised skill sets, niche capabilities and supporting Australian Defence Force (ADF) units such as those from the Special Operations Engineer Regiment and 171st Aviation Squadron.
The anti-terrorist agencies (the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) were placed on heightened alert and a Protective Security Coordination Centre was established. The Prime Minister proposed the establishment of a Standing Advisory Committee on Commonwealth State Cooperation for Protection against Violence, which would be primarily responsible for the coordination and funding of various organisations involved. He also directed that police forces around Australia absorb the counter-terrorist role. However, a study by Sir Robert Mark, at that time recently retired from the London Metropolitan Police, concluded that this was a task for 'sophisticated soldiery' and should not be given to the police but rather to the Army. Sir Robert’s advice was further strengthened by the Ironbark Report, written by Colonel John Essex-Clark, in which he advised the urgent formation of a special counter-terrorist force within the Army.
In August 1978, it was proposed to allocate the task of raising, training and sustaining the conter-terrorist force to the Special Air Service Regiment to follow similar lines from the British Army with their counter-terrorist team from within their SAS. The force was to be called the TAG and was to be commanded by the Commanding Officer SASR. On 3 May 1979, the Government approved the raising of a dedicated counter-terrorist force in the SASR, with final authorisation to raise the TAG given on 31 August 1979.
The tasks allocated to the group included:
- The neutralisation, including capture, of terrorist groups, which might include snipers, hijackers, kidnappers, bombers or assassins, and the neutralisation of aircraft or ships;
- The recovery of hostages and property held by terrorists; and
- The recovery of buildings and installations held by terrorists.
The training began officially in March 1980 and the force became fully operational in the following May. In July 1980, the SASR was directed to develop an offshore (maritime) capability, concerned primarily with retaking Bass Strait oil rigs in the event of terrorist capture. These operations were to be handled by a dedicated water operations team which included 17 Navy personnel from the RAN’s Clearance Diving Teams, who were placed under operational control of the SASR from 4 August 1980 as part of the TAG.
TAG (East) was raised on 22 July 2002 in order to increase the ADF's domestic counter-terrorist capability. TAG (East) mirrors the original Tactical Assault Group, which was redesignated TAG (West). The dual basing enables the ADF to readily respond to simultaneous and geographically separate domestic incidents.
At present there are two tactical assault groups, TAG East and TAG West. Each belongs to a different parent unit and each protect a different domestic geographical area of Australia.
TAG East draws its members from the 2nd Commando Regiment, and rotates one company through the role for a pre-determined length of time. It is also supplemented with personnel from the Royal Australian Navy's Clearance Diving Teams. The Royal Australian Navy component consists of an operations officer, a clearance diver (CD) assault platoon, one team of CD maritime snipers, and an underwater medic. Approximately 30 Clearance Divers are permanently attached to the group at any one time. TAG East provides the primary response to terrorism within Australia
TAG West draws its members from the Special Air Service Regiment and rotates one squadron through the role for a pre-determined length of time. TAG West has primary responsibility for offshore recovery operations, such as ship-boarding or incidents on oil platforms, and also international/overseas incidents.
Both participate in NATEX (national anti-terrorism exercises). Several times each year, exercises are conducted to test elements of the Australian Defence Force including the two tactical assault groups, Special Operations Command (Australia) and the Incident Response Regiment. The exercises also involve relevant components of state and territory police forces, such as police tactical groups and intelligence agencies such as ASIO. TAG-West conducts annual training courses for police tactical group members from each state and territory. Each year as part of the National Counter-Terrorist Committee Skills Enhancement Course, each state and territory sends several members of its PTG to participate in a concentrated three-week course to strengthen standards of policing in urban counter-terrorist tactics and ensure all states are training consistently to the same codes and standards of counter-terrorism.
- 2001 South Tomi boarding:
- 2003 Pong Su boarding:
The Pong Su incident occurred during April 2003 when members of Special Operations Command (Australia) intercepted and boarded the Pong Su, a 4,000 ton North Korean ocean freighter in Australian territorial waters. The ship was flying the flag of Tuvalu at the time, known as flying a flag of convenience. The boarding of the freighter was carried out by members of both TAGs and the Incident Response Regiment whilst the ship was underway in rough seas. The reason for apprehending the ship was that it was suspected of being involved in smuggling almost 125 kg (300 pounds) of heroin into Australia. The Pong Su was berthed in Sydney and the crew extradited to Victoria for prosecution. The Pong Su was later sunk by a Royal Australian Air Force F-111, using two 2000 lb laser-guided bombs.
- Special Operations Command (Australia)
- Royal Australian Navy Clearance Diving Team
- Australian Special Air Service Regiment
- 2nd Commando Regiment (Australia)
- 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
- 1st Commando Regiment
- Police Tactical Group
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