London, Dec.3 : The counter-terrorism sub-committee of Britain's House of Commons has called for the recruitment of a special and quick reaction force of about 500 personnel to keep the country safe from a terrorist strike similar to what happened in Mumbai last week.
Undertaking a review of Britain's national security policy, the sub-committee said that the security agencies are aware of the possibility of homegrown Muslim extremists attempting to carry out copycat assaults on "soft targets" in the UK.
Patrick Mercer, the chairman of the sub-committee, said: "What can happen in Mumbai can happen in Manchester or Birmingham. Events in Mumbai demonstrate the great urgency of such a review. There is little doubt that we need to examine whether our counter-terrorist forces are capable of dealing with this kind of attack. This is a style of attack which is very difficult to cope with and, with the Olympics coming up, we need a thorough review."
The former Tory security spokesman and an ex-Army officer said that while Britain had "excellent" forces to deal with terrorist emergencies, they were too few in numbers and the Government should consider setting up a "battalion strength" of about 500 military and police as a quick reaction force in the event of an attack.
At present, one squadron of the SAS, about 80 men, known as the Special Projects Team, is on standby in Hereford. This squadron, however, is believed to be below full strength because of commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Police armed response units also carry out continuous mobile patrols to deploy during an emergency. Additional forces would be called in during a prolonged operation or those that turn into a siege situation.
The Independent has said that security experts have backed Mercer's call for a re-evaluation of current security policy.
Peter Clarke, who recently retired as head of Scotland Yard's Counter-Terrorism Command, said: "Is it possible that Britain could suffer carnage on the scale of what happened in Mumbai? Could hotels, restaurants, railway stations and community centres be raked with machine-gun fire? It's more than likely that is what one terrorist wanted to do."
Tobias Feakin, the director of the Royal United Services Institute's homeland security and resilience department, said: "The problem in Mumbai was that there were just too many different law enforcement agencies involved and there was a lack of co-ordination. The command and control would be much more structured here. But the sensible thing to do would be to look at what is going on abroad and see what lessons can be learned. We need to stay one step ahead of the terrorists to maintain safety for citizens."
Robert Emerson, a security analyst, warned: "There is a lot of talk about 'dirty bombs' being used by terrorists, but what Mumbai showed was you don't need that kind of technology to have a lethal impact. All you have to do is look at underworld shootings to see how plentiful guns are in this country. I don't think we have a system in place at the moment to cope with such multiple attacks in this country."