The Nigerian Air Force has launched a special counter-terrorism exercise codenamed ‘Exercise Steel Dome’, to be replicated at all the airports in the country.
The first simulation for Operation Steel Dome held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Wednesday, with military commandos from the Nigerian Air Force Regiment, the Nigerian Army, the Navy and other security agencies.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, told journalists shortly after the exercise at the NAIA that Steel Dome was designed to put in place a force that would be effective in the event of attacks at the nation’s airports.
Abubakar said the simulation was put in place to ensure that there were no gaps in operational plans in the event that such rescue operations became necessary in the nation’s airports.
He stated that the counter-terrorism simulation, which involved a mock rescue operation for passengers held hostage by terrorists, would be repeated in all the airports in the country.
According to him, the NAF will carry out the next round of counter-terrorism simulation at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, the Port Harcourt International Airport, the Aminu Kano International Airport and others.
He said the NAF had enough trained special personnel to carry out the exercise at the airports.
Abubakar added that the NAF had deployed the special force from the Air Force Regiment in most of the airports in the country.
He stated, “This exercise is very significant because the Regiment Forces and the Quick Response Forces are participating in this exercise. They were trained by the Nigerian Air Force using taxpayers’ money.
“What we want is to have a force that is actually going to be effective in the event of any problem in our airports. You can have all the training, you can have all the skills, unless you are tested from time to time, you will not be able to know whether there will be gaps.
“The whole essence of this exercise is to ensure that there are no gaps. You also need to have the cooperation of the other agencies, coordinating with other agencies. It must be evaluated from time to time to know whether there will be problems in real situations; but with what I have seen this morning, I think I am very satisfied.
“Certainly, we are starting with the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport; we are going to Lagos; we are going to Port Harcourt; we are going to Kano, and we have enough special forces to undertake this type of operation.”
The air chief denied that the NAF was carrying out the counter-terrorism simulation in anticipation of a possible hostage situation in any of the nation’s airports.
Abubakar added, “No, we are not anticipating anything, (hostage situation at the airports). Like I said, this is just an exercise. “So, this is not done because we are anticipating anything, no. If you have to do any anticipation, then, it would be too late.
“Right now, we have deployments in most of the airports of these special forces. So, if there is anything outside what we are expecting, it is to quickly mobilise the forces and they are in different parts of the country. They can be mobilised without any difficulty.”
The Director of Regiment, Headquarters, NAF, Air Commodore Olusegun Idowu, said the CAS directed the Chief of Training and Operation to conduct a practical counter-terrorism operation to respond to any terror attack on the nation’s airports.
The Abuja exercise was coordinated by the Commander, Quick Response Force, Minna, Air Commodore Mishelia.
As part of the operation, a NAF helicopter dropped commandos through the roof of the airport to coordinate with troops, who had taken strategic positions within and outside the airport.
The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria made repeated announcements to notify passengers about the exercise, which attracted high security presence and gunshots within the airport complex.