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Mumbai Attacks and the Need for Enhanced India-US Defence Cooperation

Colonel Arvind Dutta was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • December 11, 2008

    The staggered attacks on Mumbai across seven places were extremely demanding on time and resources required for counter operations. The attacks have also amply demonstrated that there is no scope for any lacunae in India’s security apparatus. The guard has to remain up to prevent the real ‘9/11 of India’.

    The overall role of Indian security personnel and their sense of dedication were exemplary as has been widely acknowledged. Most experts agree that a terrorist takeover of a hotel as large as the Taj Mahal Palace is a daunting task for any counterterrorism outfit, given the enormity of the place and the problems faced in effectively sanitising such an area. However, some analysts, especially from Israel, have been critical of conduct of the Indian security forces operations in Nariman House, where five Israeli hostages were killed by the terrorists. They also consider the 12-hour battle to liberate this building as "unreasonable".

    In a complex hostage-type situation, it is essential that counter-operations are launched speedily and with surgical precision to ensure quick neutralisation of the terrorists and safety of the hostages. Towards actualisation of the same, it is essential that Indian specialised troops continuously hone their skills, remain well trained and respond effectively when facing a threat. To optimise on the expertise available with other nations, a series of defence cooperation events with suitable countries to enhance training standards and further strengthen Indian counter-terrorism capabilities should be undertaken on a priority basis. In this context, the news of the co-option of investigating agencies from the United States and the United Kingdom in the Mumbai probe is indeed a welcome step. To enhance synergy of action in the field of counter-terrorism between India and other countries, Indian defence forces must devote greater focus to co-operation in sub-conventional areas.

    As far as the United States is concerned, its defence forces (including the Marines and the Special Forces), after their Iraq and Afghanistan deployments, have built significant skills. Indian security forces should endeavour to utilise this American experience to enrich their own combat capabilities. India currently has a large number of bilateral defence co-operation events with United States. In the wake of Mumbai, an added thrust could be given to the following to learn from the American experience, expertise and technological lead:

    Brainstorming Sessions. These could be held between the perspective planners and representatives of Special Forces who may also get embroiled in such challenging tasks. Lessons from this incident could be gainfully utilised for brainstorming the Course of Action followed and better options, if any , available, with American counterparts. Additionally, the preferred course of handling similar challenges in future could also be discussed.

    Command Post Exercises. Armies of both countries could conduct command post exercises, wherein mechanics of exercising optimal command and control over multi-organisational agencies involved in an incident can be debated. There is also a need to share ideas and experiences on the establishment of suitable Command Centres in such situations.

    Intelligence Sharing. Counter-terrorist operations warrant rapid dissemination and sharing of intelligence. This calls for a paradigm shift from ‘Need to Know’ principle to ‘Need to Share’ principle, since terrorists invariably plan, train and strike in different countries. The exact methodology of intelligence sharing also needs to be crystallised. Though there are a number of joint working groups currently in place in this domain, there is however a need to make them more meaningful and shed the misconstrued image of symbolism alone. Therefore, sharing of quality intelligence, even in the mutually decided ‘Classified’ fields, may also have to be resorted to.

    Military Operations in Urban Terrain. With trends of terrorist activities shifting to high value targets in urban areas, there is a need to share views on the conduct of such operations (especially operating in small teams), and the identification of ‘Friend or Foe’ to obviate fratricide occurrences. It is important that tactics, techniques, procedures and best practices available with American forces, as well as doctrinal innovations, where relevant, should be imbibed by Indian defence forces.

    Employment of Non-Lethal Weapons. Many operational tasks in urban areas may necessitate the use of non-lethal weapons especially when there is risk to lives of own citizens with whom the terrorists may have mixed together. Non-lethal weapons may reduce non-combatant fatalities and collateral damage. The US Marine Corps Pacific conducts periodic Non-Lethal Weapons Executive Seminars, which, in addition to paramilitary personnel, should also be regularly attended by Indian Army representatives.

    Technology Upgrade. It is prudent that India constantly upgrades the equipment profile, including night observation devices, of its forces likely to be tasked with counter-terrorist operations so that terrorists can are denied any technological advantage.

    Miscellaneous Activities. Some of the other areas where India must undertake meaningful programmes are in the fields of amphibious warfare, counter ‘improvised explosive devices’ measures, management of casualties in case of terrorist strikes, simulated exercises for assessing own response and identifying weaknesses.

    Considering the international dimension of threats posed by terrorists, both India and the United States would benefit by sharing their counter-terrorism expertise and increasing joint activities to address regional and global terrorist threats.