Picking up the Pieces

The Indian government’s response to the Mumbai attacks highlighted several key weaknesses in the country’s general counterterrorism and threat-mitigation structure.

· Intelligence Failures: Though the Indian as well as US intelligence officials received prior warnings of such an attack, due to lack of coordination between the centre and state security agencies, there is doubt if Mumbai police received the information.

· Gaps in Coastal surveillance: Though the RA&W predicted the terrorists’ landing by sea route, the steps taken, if any, were insufficient. This may be due to the fact that the coast guard had a shortage of equipments. Although the central government has set aside funds for the purchase of 26 additional vessels to patrol the country’s coastal states, Maharashtra State (of which Mumbai is the capital) refused them on the grounds that it lacked the funds necessary for maintenance.

· Inadequate Equipment, training of Police: Constable Harshad Patil to court: “I tried to fire at the attackers armed with AK-47 rifles, but the very first bullet misfired from my…” Though the Railway Protection officers were armed, their weapons were inadequate and very less [1 for every 2 officers]. The force had little training to deal with well-planned terrorist attacks. To effectively manage a terrorist incident, first responders need to have appropriate equipment and training to neutralize or at least contain the terrorists. However, the Mumbai attacks graphically illustrated how ill prepared the Maharashtra police were to handle a major terrorist incident. Many police officers remained passive, seemingly because they were outgunned by the terrorists. The bulletproof vests that were available could not withstand AK-47 or AK-56 rounds (two batches had failed tests in 2001 and 2004, and the head of the ATS, Chief Karkare, died after bullets penetrated the vest he was wearing). Many officers had only been issued 5-mm-thick plastic protectors that were suitable for riot control but not for engaging terrorists. Helmets were of World War II vintage and not designed for modern combat, and most of the responding detachments involved in the incidents were carrying .303 bolt-action rifles of the sort used by the British Army in the 1950s.

· Response timing problems: Local contingents of the army arrived at the scene of the attacks at 02:50 hours, a full five hours after the first shots had been fired. It was not until 08:50 hours that the elite National Security Guard (NSG, or “Black Cat Commandos,”) arrived. The slow response of the NSG is especially noteworthy given its mandate to act as the country’s premier rapid-reaction force. This underscores two main organizational and logistical problems. First, the unit is headquartered south of Delhi and lacks bases anywhere else in the country; second, the NSG has no aircraft of its own and cannot count on dedicated access to Indian Air Force aircraft in an emergency. The only plane that was available to transport the 200 commandos to Mumbai was a Russian IL-76 transport carrier; however, it was in Chandigarh, which is 165 miles north of Delhi. The pilot had to be awakened, a crew assembled, and the plane fueled. The aircraft did not reach Delhi until 02:00 hours (five hours after the attacks began and most of the killing had been done) and took roughly 3.5 hours to reach Mumbai (compared to just two hours for a commercial jet). According to various counterterrorism experts, any rapid-reaction force must reach the scene of a terrorist incident no later than 30–60 minutes after it has commenced. In Mumbai, nearly 10 hours elapsed.

· Limitations of Municipal Fire and Emergency Services. Firemen were slow to respond. They failed to coordinate their actions with both the local police and national paramilitary forces and suffered from inadequate equipment. These limitations underscore the poor quality of India’s municipal services even in a major, bustling, economically vibrant city such as Mumbai.

· Flawed Hostage-Rescue Plan. In several respects, the NSG hostage rescue plans for the Taj Mahal and Trident-Oberoi Hotels suffered from serious defects. The unit’s senior command failed to set up an operational command center to coordinate the mission, and the storm teams went in “blind” with no understanding of the -And Mumbai is the financial capital of India, one of the most important cities.

Basic layout of either of the two buildings. Both hotels were designated “clear” when terrorists were still alive; room-to-room sweeps were hampered by insufficient intelligence on the numbers of hostages being held and the profile of the militants involved; and the possibility for a surprise raid under cover of darkness was effectively negated by the absence of suitable equipment, such as night-vision goggles and thermal imaging systems.

Poor Strategic Communications and Information Management. So badly did officials handle communications that an unprecedented public interest lawsuit has been filed against the government charging that it failed to discharge its constitutional duty to protect the country’s citizenry and uphold their right to life. More seriously, breaches of basic information security protocols provided the terrorists with vital operational intelligence. Major criticism was directed at a cabinet minister on the first day of the crisis, after he announced that 200 NSG commandos were to be deployed in the area in two hours. Not only did this alert the terrorists as to when a hostage rescue mission might occur, it also effectively confirmed that no forward operating units had yet been mobilized.
[For more: http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional_papers/2009/RAND_OP249.pdf]

—Imagine the rest of India if this is the condition of the financial capital and one of the most important cities…

People criticised their political leaders after the attacks, saying that their ineptness was partly responsible. The Times of India commented on its front page that "Our politicians fiddle as innocents die." Political reactions in Mumbai and India included a range of resignations and political changes, including the resignations of Minister for Home Affairs, Shivraj Patil, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, and Deputy Chief Minister of Maharastra R. R. Patil. In addition, there was condemnation of the attacks by Indian Muslim organizations and personalities and Naxalite insurgents. Prominent Muslim personalities such as Bollywood actor Aamir Khan appealed to the community members in the country to observe Eid al-Adha as a day of mourning on 9 December 2008. The business establishment also reacted, with changes to transport, and requests for an increase in self-defense capabilities. The attacks also triggered a chain of citizens' movements across India such as the India Today Group's "War Against Terror" campaign. There were vigils held across all of India with candles and placards commemorating the victims of the attacks. [Wikipedia.org]

Steps taken by the Government to strengthen security:

  • Force One, Maharashtra’s “elite security force designed on the lines of the National Security Guard (NSG)” been commissioned
  • Arms purchase has increased in India. Not just in Maharashtra but by the central government, and the Army
  • The Navy is also beefing up on infrastructure to protect India from the sea. From aircraft to boats, to the numerical strength of personnel is all being increased.
  • Vacancies in the Maharashtra police, which were at 230,567 on January 1, 2008 are now down to less than 150,000. The central government has ordered that this deficit be brought down further, and in fact brought down to zero by March 2010.
  • A 20 per cent increase in the budget for Coast Guard vessels. Manpower is also being increased.
  • The Maharashtra government has set aside Rs 150 Crore to buy speed boats this last June.
  • The government has opened four NSG hubs in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai, each having a strength of 241 personnel.
  • NSG will now be better mobilized: That time lag of Nov 26, 2008 when the National Security Guards (NSG) took about 10 hours to take up position to combat India’s worst terror attack will never be repeated, promises chief of the elite commando force N.P.S. Aulakh. “We lost time during the Mumbai serial attacks. But things have changed and now we can take up any challenge within just 30 minutes of notice and that too anywhere,’ NSG Director General N.P.S. Aulakh told IANS in an exhaustive interview. [http://nitawriter.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/improvements-in-security-arrangements-in-india-after-911/]


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