Lessons that the US learnt from Mumbai terror strikes
Mumbai, Nov 25: Days after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks stunned the world, leaving around 175 dead and 300-plus injured, multiple security agencies from the U.S. got down to study the strikes and learn lessons from it -- swiftly.
This emerged from the detailed two-session hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate, which were conducted on January 8 and 28, 2009. The committee was chaired by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, whose legislation had paved the way for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and attended by 15 other U.S. Senators and security experts.
Shortly after the 26/11 attacks, Sen. Lieberman had flown to New Delhi and met the then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan, followed by a visit to Pakistan for meetings with the then PM, Yousaf Raza Gillani, and the army's chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
"The terrorists wanted to divide and radicalise people in India and to provoke a war with Pakistan," Sen. Lieberman, who served in the U.S. Senate till 2013, noted. "But India's government, indeed, India's people have proven stronger and wiser than that, while being persistent in demanding that those responsible for these attacks be brought to justice," he added.
The US exercise was mainly intended to secure itself from a similar attack, for the one on Mumbai had proven to be unique on several counts, as the U.S. Senate committee concluded following a detailed autopsy by experts.
For starters, the 10 terrorists belonging to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT), which was then struggling to emerge from the shadow of its more dreaded cousin, Al-Qaeda, which became a household name after the September 9, 2001, strikes in the US, had chosen "soft targets" at private and public locations with the intention of inflicting maximum human casualties in Mumbai.
Charles E. Allen, the then Under Secretary for Intelligence & Analysis, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, observed that the 10-man mini-army used "fairly ordinary weapons" but wreaked havoc and destruction, indicating they were well-trained.
They had all possible information on their targeted sites -- all located within barely a 5 sq. km. area in South Mumbai. It was the result of extensive advance recces and ferreting information on traffic patterns, escape routes, and so on, which made it "a successful attack".
The 'low-tech' attacks, with weapons of a basic infantryman, were dramatically enhanced by tech enablers as they used satellite and cell phones, monitored the global media's live coverage of their brutality, and also took hostages to get latest information on the Indian government's response, besides real-time instructions from their 'handlers' in Pakistan.
The attackers, moreover, in a typical 'hit-and-run' operation, fully exploited the initial complete chaos that hit Mumbai, and slid onto new sites while the security forces still grappled with the first target, as there was an absence of a "unified command".
In his testimony, the then Chief Intelligence Officer of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Donald N. Van Duyn, said that with India's permission, aN FBI team had rushed to Mumbai on November 29, 2008, just as the 60-hour-long horror was winding down, and one attacker, Ajmal Amir Kasab, had been nabbed alive, to assist the Indian authorities with the probe.
The FBI team's agenda was to ensure justice for the U.S. citizens killed in the 26/11 attacks and to launch a prevention mission to ascertain who else (besides the LeT) could pose a potential threat to the U.S., its people and her allies.
Echoing the observations of Sen. Susan Collins, a ranking committee member, Duyn said that 26/11 proved terror groups don't need weapons of mass destruction or even large quantities of explosives, but they made the simplest weapons deadly with the help of a band of small, disciplined, highly trained team that could wreak unprecedented mayhem.
"Other terrorist groups will no doubt take note of and seek to emulate the Mumbai attacks," Duyn said. "We need to continue looking at both large and small organisations with the right combination of capabilities and intent to carry out attacks," he cautioned.
The committee, apart from Sen. Lieberman, comprised Senators Susan Collins, Carl Levin, Daniel Akaka, Tom Coburn, Thomas Carper, John McCain, Mark Pryor, George Voinovich, Mary Landrieu, John Ensign, Claire McCaskill, Lindsey Graham, Jon Tester, Roland Burris and Michael Bennet.