Thursday, December 3, 2009

10 big mistakes in 26/11 attacks

The nub of a successful anti-terrorist operation lies in the initial hours of an attack when a delay by the first responders could mean the difference between success and catastrophic failure. In Mumbai on 26/11, most of the mistakes, it now transpires, took place in the initial hours. The first responders were the Mumbai city police. Unable to distinguish a fidayeen attack from an underworld shootout, hobbled by a lack of even basic firearms, inadequate anti-terror forces and a clueless senior leadership, the men in khaki lost the plot.

Mumbai police overlooked standard drills

A year after 26/11, has anything really changed?

The National Security Guard (NSG) commandos arrived in the city nearly seven hours after they had been mobilised at their base in Manesar on the outskirts of Delhi. They had to play a deadly game of cat and mouse against 10 hardened, motivated and well-trained terrorists with enough ammunition to last days. During the three-day siege, nearly 900 hotel rooms could not be entirely cleared of guests. When the dust had settled on one of India's longest anti-terrorist operations, the mistakes were glaring.

09.30 p.m.

Inability to distinguish between terror attack and gang war

The confusion surrounding the attack gave enough time for the terrorists to wreak havoc

At 9.38 on Wednesday night, two Lashkar gunmen Abdul Rehman and Abu Umer tossed in grenades and sprayed bullets from their assault rifles at the hapless diners in Leopold Cafe, starting a 60-hour siege of Mumbai. For the next half-hour, the five fidayeen buddy pairs ran through South Mumbai, wreaking havoc with guns and grenades. In the span of half an hour, calls of attacks at multiple locations kept pouring into the police control room. The initial assessment: it was an underworld attack. Two IEDs, which the terrorists planted in taxis after boarding them soon after alighting from the rubber dinghy at Colaba, went off at separate places in Vile Parle and Crawford Market an hour later. This further added to the confusion. It took the police nearly three hours to decide that it was a terror attack. These precious hours allowed the terrorists to achieve complete surprise and gain the dominant ground at the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels, Nariman House, and take hostages.

10.00 p.m.

Mumbai Police outgunned

The Mumbai Police's obsolete weaponry was no match for the terrorists'automatic weapons

The Lashkar gunmen came armed with AK-47s, grenades and IEDs. Ranged against them was the Mumbai Police constabulary who made a feeble attempt to respond with vintage weaponry. The results were heartbreaking, and nowhere was this more evident than the platforms of the CST station where Ajmal Amir Kasab and Abu Ismail strolled about firing at passengers. After the gunfire started, many railway police personnel ran across to the railway police storeroom a few blocks away to fetch their weapons. One of them who did try and fire at the fidayeen duo found that his archaic .303 rifle jammed after firing a single round. In sheer frustration, a policeman even flung a plastic chair at the terrorists. At other places like the Taj and Oberoi, policemen found their 9 mm pistols were no match for the barrage from Kalashnikovs and area denial weapons like Arges hand grenades. ATS chief Hemant Karkare lay dead an hour later, let down by a bulletproof vest of dubious quality which the state Home Department had purchased in circumstances that are yet to be explained. In the first three hours, 16 Mumbai policemen, including eight officers, were killed.

10.30 p.m.

No planned or coordinated response from the Mumbai Police

With no rapid action plan, the police was in disorder and senior officers were out tackling terrorists

When the police finally decided a terror attack was underway, they did not respond effectively. Both Bhagwant D. More, joint commissioner (Administration) and K.L. Prasad, joint commissioner (Law and Order), who should have been in charge of the control room were out tackling the terror situation. Though police commissioner Hasan Gafoor was found parked outside the Oberoi soon after the terror attacks began, he made no attempt to coordinate with other officers, the Quick Reaction Team or even with the NSG who came in later. Gafoor was, quite literally, caught napping. Instead, it was Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria who took command and state Chief Secretary Johny Joseph manned the control room at Mantralaya and called in the local army unit and the Marine Commandos (Marcos). Maria was handling the situation from the control room in the police commissioner's headquarters at Crawford Market and state police chief A.N. Roy at the police headquarters near the Taj.

The initial lack of central coordination turned the operation into individual acts of courage, whether it was rescuing hostages or attending to the injured. The stand-off could have ended earlier had the police evacuated the guests at the Taj and Oberoi once the Marcos had entered.

11.50 p.m.

Killing of the ATS leadership

The death of three senior ATS officials was a serious psychological blow to the Mumbai Police

Soon after Kasab and Ismail fled the CST station and entered the nearby Cama Hospital and took hostages, three senior ATS officials reached the spot from different directions- Karkare, Additional Commissioner Ashok Kamte and senior inspector Vijay Salaskar. They were responding to a police control alert which warned of terrorists at the hospital. Armed with AK-47s and donning bulletproof jackets, the trio bundled into a police jeep with their bodyguards and headed towards the terrorists who had, by then, fled the hospital. In hindsight, the jeep ride proved to be a critical error of judgement.

When splitting up into small teams to pursue the two terrorists on foot would have been an easier option, sitting in the vehicle made the policemen easy targets and restricted their firing options. The jeep with the three senior police officers packed in the front seat was ambushed by the two terrorists. A hail of bullets killed the leadership of the Maharashtra ATS, which severely demoralised an already shaken police force and resigned it to waiting for anti-terrorist forces.

12 midnight

Mumbai Police failed to engage the terrorists at the Taj Hotel

Apart from lack of arms, there were not enough policemen to keep the pressure up on terrorists

For three crucial hours after the attack, all the four terrorists were holed up in the upper floors of the Taj after killing over 20 persons in the lobby. The policemen who engaged them for the first few hours were too few in number to prove effective to maintain 'contact' with the terrorists. Contact is the military term which refers to the act of keeping the enemy pinned down in a firefight; it puts the enemy on the defensive and prevents them from moving or achieving their objectives. What the police lacked in firepower, they could have made up in sheer numbers but sufficient policemen were not deployed in the hotel. Contact was broken and the terrorists left to have a free run of the hotel as the police waited first for the Marcos and later the NSG to arrive. It was at least three hours before the Marine Commandos arrived and resumed the engagement with the terrorists at around 2.30 a.m. By then, the four terrorists had valuable time to study the layout of the hotel; they were also being constantly briefed by their handlers in Pakistan.

09.00 a.m.

The NSG arrived late

The bureaucratic hurdles that led to further delay of the NSG proved advantageous for the terrorists

The NSG was alerted within two hours of the attacks but it took them nearly seven hours to reach the besieged city. They were summoned by Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta who called NSG chief J.K. Dutt at around 11.30 p.m. The commandos were first transported by road from their base in Manesar, Haryana, nearly 28 km from Delhi airport because they did not have dedicated airlift like helicopters with night-flying capability. At least an hour was spent at the airport loading the aircraft and waiting for home minister Shivraj Patil who then accompanied the Black Cats on their flight to Mumbai. When the NSG eventually arrived at Sahar airport at 5 a.m., they were bundled into BEST buses and taken to the Mantralaya for a briefing. It was nine in the morning by the time they reached the two hotels. The second batch of commandos arrived, but was not briefed. All attention was focused on the Taj and Oberoi hotels; nobody was aware of the hostage situation at Nariman House where Abu Akasha and Abu Umar were holding Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife hostage, along with four others.

09.00 a.m.

No detailed layouts or maps of the buildings under attack

Relying on hotel staff and locals delayed the rescue of hostages and prolonged operations

One of the precepts of a successful building intervention operation conducted by anti-terror forces is a detailed knowledge of the layouts of the buildings to be assaulted. This is why special forces often stock building plans of all vulnerable areas and buildings, and sometimes even practice mock hostage rescue drills in them. In Mumbai, the terrorists had the advantage of a detailed hostile reconnaissance conducted, as it is now suspected, by David Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

Later, the 10 terrorists who had arrived at the three spots at least 12 hours before the NSG, evidently had plenty of time to study the layouts of the buildings and site their defences. These were crucial lapses which played a decisive part in prolonging the siege. At all three locations-the Oberoi, Taj and Nariman House-NSG commandos went in blind without having the building plans of the structures. Most of them were entering the hotels for the first time. They either relied on their instincts or on locals or employees to find their way around the darkened buildings. Not only did they have the challenging task of locating and rescuing guests in over 1,000 hotel rooms at the Taj and Oberoi , but they had to simultaneously fight the terrorists as well.

11.00 a.m.

No unified, consistent communication with the public

With no one-point source of information,everyone was out feeding the media, leading to further chaos

Among the basic rules of media briefing in a crisis is a unified, consistent communication from a single reliable point of contact. During the Kargil War, there were just two spokespersons, one for the Foreign Ministry and another for the armed forces. In Mumbai, not just there was no single spokesperson. The state government did not even set up a media briefing room. Evidently, mirroring the chaos after the breakdown of command and control, a sheer diversity of officials took over to brief the media. Everyone, from the NSG chief, the GOC-in-C Maharashtra and Gujarat Area, the southern army commander and the western naval command chief, were briefing the media or giving interviews during the conduct of operations. Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who returned to the city at 3 a.m. on November 27 maintained a stoic silence.

12.00 midnight

Intercepts of conversations not given to the NSG

Not passing on the information delayed the conclusion of operation and saving of lives

What made the 26/11 strikes chillingly different from others were the sentient voices of Pakistan-based handlers advising the terrorists on strategy, firing tactics, giving regular news updates and pep talks. Many of these mobile phone conversations were quickly intercepted by the ATS but were not passed on to the NSG commandos waiting outside the buildings. In hindsight, these conversations could have helped pinpoint the location of terrorists and save lives. In the case of Nariman House, intercepted conversations revealed that Akasha and Umar were using the hostages as bargaining chips with the Israeli Government. By the evening of November 27, the handler had instructed the terrorists to kill them. This information was not passed on to the Black Cats who are trained to storm a building when the death of the hostages is imminent. Nariman House was overrun only the next morning when the hostages were already killed.

07.30 a.m.

No efforts made to block live telecast of the operation

Live telecast of the rescue operations by the media made it easier for terrorists to plan their response

Technology was a double-edged sword during the operations. If it allowed anxious friends and relatives to keep in touch with their besieged kin through cellphones, it also enabled the terrorists to keep in touch with their handlers in Pakistan. Inadvertently helping these handlers were the news TV cameras at various spots, broadcasting live footage of the operations. One emotional MP, part of a parliamentary committee delegation of four MPs staying at the Taj, went live on TV. After watching it, an LeT handler directed the terrorists to go look for the lawmakers and take them hostage. Crucial information like the arrival of the NSG was also broadcast, allowing terrorists to plan a response.

At the Oberoi, the NSG erected a 500-m cordon around the hotel allowing the Black Cats to enter and carry out the operations in conditions of a near total blackout. At the Taj, however, the media continued to show live footage even 48 hours after the attack began. The media was directed to telecast a 'deferred' live programme after instructions from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry on the afternoon of November 28.

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Tags:Mumbai Attacks.26/11 attacks,Mumbai,Mistakes done in Mumbai attacks,10 Big mistakes,News Center,Today News


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