WAR ON TERROR UP-DATE WINTER 2008/9
By Dennis Andrews
Indian Navy commandos in November fought floor by floor through luxury hotels, battling terrorists armed with AK-47 assault rifles, explosives and grenades, following a shocking attack from the sea on a number of targets in the city of Mumbai (Bombay). There was also a search at sea by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard for the vessels from which the unprecedented assault was launched. By the time this magazine went to press, details were emerging of how the ten-strong terrorist team allegedly prepared for, and mounted, the amphibious raid on India’s financial capital. Under interrogation, the one surviving terrorist, Ajma Amir Kasab, said to be from Pakistan, revealed how the group, believed to be part of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror organisation, had been trained for five months in Kashmir and Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and had undertaken a specialist beach assault course. They sailed for Mumbai around November 16, from an isolated creek at Karachi in an unidentified vessel. During the crossing of the Arabian Sea the group found the Indian Navy and Coast Guard were monitoring all merchant vessels and decided to commandeer a smaller, and less conspicuous, craft. They hijacked the Indian fishing boat, the Kuber, killing four of the crew outright and forcing its skipper to head for Mumbai. According to Indian sources, Kasab told interrogators the trawler was intercepted 310 miles north of Mumbai, off Porbanda, by two Indian coastguard officers in a small patrol boat. Kasab allegedly revealed that the two officers were allowed aboard Kuber, when one of them had his throat slit by a terrorist and was thrown overboard. The other man was then forced to help the militants reach Mumbai, he said, but was executed when they reached their destination. Kasab reportedly claimed three speedboats met the fishing boat a mile and a half off Mumbai’s foreshore. When it was dusk they moved off with the attack teams aboard, transferring them later to two inflatable dinghies for the final run in. The young men carried large, heavy bags containing all their weapons and ammunition, coming ashore at three different places.
Three inflatable boats were later found abandoned on the waterfront. The terrorists split into small groups to begin their murderous rampage. They attacked ten targets simultaneously, including two luxury hotels, a restaurant, a railway station and two hospitals. Throughout the chaos and carnage that followed, Indian Navy and Army commandos spearheaded efforts to free hostages held by the gunmen in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The elite Special Forces Marine Commandos, known as Marcos, dressed in all-black overalls and black facemasks, were prominent in the floor-by-floor, room-by-room effort. Formed in 1987, the Marcos has three Quick Reaction Sections solely for the purpose of counter-terrorist operations. Vice Admiral J.S. Bedi, of the Indian Navy, said the marine commandos came up against highly motivated terrorists. The Marcos operatives discovered the attackers were using professional techniques, firing in short bursts and setting traps as they moved capably through the maze of corridors and rooms of the 105-year-old building. Ultimately, the commandos brought 300 people out from the devastated Taj Mahal Palace. Indian marine commandos also rescued around 250 people from the Oberoi Trident, the other luxury hotel targeted in the killing spree.
IT was apparent that the terrorists, a little known Islamist group called the Deccan Mujahedeen, had been deliberately seeking out American and British citizens. To prove how well prepared they were, Vice Admiral Bedi produced pictures of hand grenades, tear gas shells, AK-47 magazines, knives and credit cards, all recovered by his men. In the aftermath it became clear that at least 175 people had been killed and hundreds more injured. At sea, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard searched for suspect vessels, including the MV Alpha and the Kuber. The Veer Class guided-missile corvette INS Vipul, and a Coast Guard T-81 Fast Attack Craft, along with two Dornier medium-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, were deployed to track and intercept the Alpha. In an effort to prevent the suspect vessel from reaching the coast of Pakistan, the Leander Class frigate INS Vindhyagiri was also diverted from her routine patrol to join the hunt. The Alpha was eventually stopped off the coast of Gujarat and subjected to a thorough search. There were reports that nothing suspicious was discovered by the search and she may well have not been involved after all. The trawler Kuber, by now reported missing, was discovered adrift five nautical miles off the Mumbai shore. Coast Guard sources confirmed a GPS map of South Mumbai and a satellite phone were found aboard. The trussed up corpse of the trawler’s skipper was also discovered in the vessel. In the wake of the Mumbai terrorist outrage and evident vulnerability to attack from the sea, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have stepped up operations patrolling the Indian coast.
OPINION: The Mumbai Attacks Came Through the Open Door of the Sea
As happened with September 11 2001, on November 26 2008, the terrorists took advantage of an open door in security, seizing their opportunity to stage a ‘spectacular’ that horrified the world. That ‘open door’ was the sea, a neglected front in the War on Terror. Both Somali pirates and Caribbean drug smugglers have in recent months displayed daring, plus previously unsuspected levels of technical and tactical competence, so why should terrorists be any different? Show them a blind spot and they will be sure to seize the opportunity to cause maximum damage. Even after the amphibious assault at Mumbai, so-called security experts in the UK and elsewhere, continued to propose land-based solutions to a problem that can best be eradicated at sea. If the Indian Navy had been running dedicated counter-terrorist patrols as effective as its anti-piracy deployments, it may well have detected and blown the terrorists out of the water. However, close to home, and with the Mumbai-bound maritime terror group unlikely to reveal its hand until it stormed the beach, that was not such an easy task. The Indians just didn’t believe that such an attack, of such savagery and planned so well, could develop from the sea. This attitude is shared by many in the West who remain sea blind. The UK is among those nations who are wide open to terrorist attack from the sea. Forming battalions of Special Forces on land is a useless exercise when your territorial waters and coast are virtually undefended and when there are no ships or people left in the Navy to prevent the threats from coming ashore in the first place.
Pictured: An Indian Navy warships on exercise in the Indian Ocean off Mumbai with warships of the US Navy. India’s naval forces did not detect terrorists using the same seas. Photo: US Navy