Homeland Security

Assessing challenges posed by domestic police agencies in countering terrorism
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 29 Nov , 2017

Nine years ago ten militants “hailing” from the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) landed on the shores of Mumbai. Trained in “military assault tactics”, their targets varied from restaurants to prominent hotel in the “financial capital” of India, Mumbai. Lashkar-e-Taiba or the “Army of the righteous”, came into existence in 1989 with its base at Kunar, Afghanistan, with a clear “agenda” of “establishing a caliphate” in Kashmir. The attack on Mumbai resulted in the loss of over 166 souls, temporary halted the “momentum” of India’s “financial capital” while significantly shifting the attention of media.

The attack on Mumbai was a “shift” from “traditional militant tactics”of using roadside bombs or improvised explosives or use of “jihadist volunteers equipped with suicide vests”, making it one of the principle “eye opening” lessons for domestic security agencies deploying traditional police tactics. Across the world, there are handful law enforcement agencies that are equipped to respond to terror attacks of such nature. The “military styled” attack on Mumbai was significantly complex and “first of its kind” to be ever carried by any militant group. This sudden shift in militant tactics posed a grave challenge to domestic security agencies particularly the agencies which acted as “first responders”, in the light of the training mechanism and weaponry employed by these forces. The paper “explicitly” focusses on the “complexities” faced by local law enforcement agencies particularly the first responders in countering such attacks.

Terror attacks: A shift in tactics?

Since 1970s, terrorist tactics have evolved drastically especially from the terror acts of militant factions such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine which, in an effort to attract media attention, took hostages. In that era, information and communication technologies were “limited”, forcing them to initiate a “communiqué” with the hostage negotiator seeking an interview with a prominent news outlet in an effort to ensure that their “message” is heard back home. The success of terror factions were “predominantly” dependent on media outlets, a “dependency” which is diminished by technological advancements today.

The massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich Olympics in 1972during which the militant faction Black September relentlessly threatened the lives of Israeli athletes under their captivity, resulting in the deaths of all hostages at the end of the siege. However, the terror attack in Munich resulted in the formation of specialised police units, quick reaction and military hostage rescue teams. One such “successful” actions involving special units was witnessed during the siege of Iranian Embassy in London, which ended only after the intervention of 22nd Special Air Service Regiment.

This “scenario” where the hostages are held by militant factions in an effort to fulfil their demands followed by the use of media to spread their voice globally, posed enormous “pressure” on domestic security agencies. This “pressure” was significantly enhanced by the use of “suicide bomber”, as domestic security agencies could no longer isolate the individual in a place and storm or negotiate for a peaceful solution. Domestic police are now challenged by militants who equip themselves with explosive devices or place them in areas with large population in an effort to inflict mass casualties, then detonate the device on their own will. This tactic is predominantly used my Islamic militants looking for a way to inflict heavy casualties and greater loss of lives, in an effort to maintain “significant” media coverage. Security experts argue that, in a siege, media outlets are focussed on an individual who in a particular hostage scenario wants to spread his message all over the world, who in the digital age of today, as numerous means.

Suicide attacks and specific placement of bombs have resulted in massive casualties in London, Bali and Madrid. Although, the use of “military styled” attacks in Mumbai indicates the drift from traditional militant tactics. It is evident from Mumbai that terrorists have the ability to “analytically” assess their target zones and employ “classic” law enforcement tactics. The attack on Mumbai was a particular case highlighting the “efficacy” of militants to employ “classic” battlefield tactics in an urban scenario, especially outside a conflict zone. This results into a direct confrontation between well-armed militants and “out-gunned” and “out-matched” patrolling law enforcement officers. The “first engagement” between the two could result in initial casualties, forcing the militant to employ “close in” manoeuvres during subsequent fire engagements.

26/11 Mumbai attack

The city of Bombay, or Mumbai called today, is the financial capital of India. One of the most densely populated urban cities, Mumbai hosts a population of roughly 20 Million. Hosting the populous with diverse economic backgrounds (from the wealthy to slums), the city continues to host a significant population of families depending majorly on commercial fishing, which was “exploited” by terrorists in an effort to reach the shores of Mumbai, “cloaked” under the darkness.

The ability to easily access the sea while hosting a large percentage of foreigners and significant population of the rich, painted Mumbai as a “target”. It was not the first time for Mumbai to be attacked, in July 2006 terrorists used “high explosive” devices and bombed train, killing over 209 persons. The intensity of the recent siege on Mumbai highlights the militant factions “capability to adapt”, which poses a grave challenge to India’s domestic security agencies. Mumbai is the home to “financial capital and hub of India’s entertainment” sector, Bollywood thrives in the city. This “diverse” mixture of people and culture forced ten armed militants to sneak into the city nine years ago and instigate a “horrendous” saga of violence and terror against innocent civilians, who were systematically and specifically targeted.

The “military assault styled tactic” was one of its kind employed by Lashkar militants, focussing the drift from “traditional militant tactical” approach. This approach resulted in local law enforcement officers “chasing/responding and confronting” militants at multiple locations. “Active shooter in place”, is a term specifically used in law enforcement agencies to describe a specific situation, which involves active deployment of law enforcement officers on the scene in an effort to contain the “shooter” in a specific location, preventing him to escape. This responsive mechanism requires a shift from traditional law enforcement practice of “cordon and contain” mechanism, in an effort to block the shooter from killing/physically harming any individual while limiting his manoeuvres to favour the response mechanism/deployment strategy used by law enforcement officers.

In an effort to respond to multiple active shooter incidents, especially to those attackers that have either barricaded themselves in hotels with significant civilian presence, requires a “massive-scale” well-coordinated response from local law enforcement. Cases such as militant attacks in Mumbai would test the “preparedness” and “responsive mechanism” of even the “most prepared” law enforcement agency in the world, forcing domestic security agencies to deploy strategies with reinforced planning, resource management and training effectively. The success of the operation will lay heavily on reliable intelligence in the hands of agency designated to respond. Hence, it is imperative for law enforcement agencies to reinforce their traditional intelligence on infrastructure, especially emphasising on “entry and exit” points, presence of any vital installations of strategic interests. Law enforcement agencies must maintain significant data on “hotels of importance” in an effort to gain primary initiative during response. Interestingly, the terrorists had prior knowledge about “security installations, pathways going in and out” of the hotel. They had precise knowledge of the roads, pathways, which enabled them to take routes which was “rarely” accessed by the public, pointing towards the fact that, the entire operation was “carefully and precisely” planned. The terrorists had prior knowledge of exact service access doors and corridors whereas the National Security Guard commandos went in “blind”.

The Mumbai police responded to multiple shooter incident sand temporary failed to gather the “overall” picture before losing some of the “finest officers in combat”. The attacks continued for a timeline of 60 hours, after which law enforcement agencies coupled with domestic and external intelligence agencies re-sketched the entire operational narrative.

The attack on Mumbai, nine years ago, was meticulously and carefully planned. The operation undertaken by the militants revolved around an urban terrain, which pose significant challenges to responding local police which not only responded to “shooters” but were also responsible to protect and defend the lives of the masses. It is imperative for law enforcement agencies to keep “reinforcing” their operational and training capabilities in an effort to contain, counter terror factions, particularly the ones with a “habit of employing non-traditional warfare” mechanisms, in order to anticipate and be prepared. Furthermore, it is imperative for law enforcement agencies to employ effective measures to collect credible intelligence, relieving their dependency on domestic and external intelligence agencies while implementing large scale operational mechanism suitable in urban and rural scenario.

Learning the tactics: Responding multiple active shooter incidents

The response mechanism in Indian police training manuals does not effectively cover tactics and response to multiple shooter incidents. The traditional tactics are far limited to “isolate and cordon, then wait for special armed units”. The concept of “active shooter” is an American law enforcement terminology which is used to describe law enforcement officer’s response to directly engage a shooter within the officer’s vicinity, tasking the officer to directly confront/eliminate the shooter even before he kills the civilians. However, the response to active shooter threats was not devised to directly confront armed militants. The threat posed by armed militants in Mumbai forced Mumbai police to indulge in an “unprepared” armed response during which the “fire superiority” completely suppressed armed responses of local armed police units.

Another incident which shares similarity on an armed “confrontational” level rose in Los Angeles in 1997. During a Bank heist in Los Angeles, the officers of Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)responded to a bank heist committed by “highly armed” bank robbers. The officers responding to bank robbers were equipped with 9mm side arms (baretta) and 12 gauge shot guns whereas the robbers were equipped with 7.62mm assault rifles and state of the art body armour, which pinned most of the responding LAPD officers due to extensive fire superiority. This scenario shook the leadership of LAPD forcing them to change the “arming” policy. Today, the LAPD officers are equipped with AR-15 rifles which ensures that the officers are capable to respond to any active shooting incidents and are able to defend themselves and civilians in case of a similar situation.

Furthermore, training is imperative for responding officers, hence domestic security agencies must strengthen the training mechanism with respect to modern policing. Moreover, right equipment is a must, hence police agencies could interact with multi-national police organizations in an effort to equip the officers adequately. Moreover, reinforcing the local law enforcement with tactical units irrespective of “vulnerable or light” jurisdictions will play an effective role in eliminating the shooter, however, its effectiveness can only be of virtue if the units are deployed in time. The aforementioned experience faced by patrolling officers of the LAPD highlights the issues faced by “first responders” equipped smaller calibre handguns while pursuing armed criminals with heavy calibre rifles. The decision taken by top police leadership to reinforce their smaller calibre weapons with additional large calibre semi-automatic rifles enhances their ability to respond. Officers would then enforce a cordon, and if challenged with fire power, they will have the initiative to respond, “affectively and immediately” denying any further loss of life.

Terror perpetrators which inflicted wounds in Mumbai were more than just armed robbers, their ability to supress with “fire superiority” highlights their agenda to inflict wounds. Their objective was to kill as many masses as possible. This points to the fact that, until and unless they are completely neutralised by police forces, they will continue to kill. Mumbai police must understand the level of threat posed by these terror factions, rather relying on specific heavily trained officers, they must employ “fire superiority” initiative while deploying patrols on the ground.

Incidentally, the threat that challenged police officers in Mumbai has forced local law enforcement agencies in the UK to upgrade the skill set, training mechanism and weapons carrying capacity of coppers and armed response units, in an effort to counter/respond similar style attacks.

Policy makers must address the challenges faced by first responders of such attacks. The terror perpetrators of Mumbai attacks were equipped with multiple grenades, large “extended” magazine capacity and a Chinese AK-56. They were further equipped with improvised explosive devices which threw the police and intelligence responded mechanism into disarray, thus compromising their ability to initiate a joint response strategy. Furthermore, the law enforcement agencies were not equipped with a tactical unit out of which the responsibility to breach the Taj was given to the National Security Guards, which took over nine hours to reach Mumbai and confront the militants.

Role of Intelligence

In an effort to carry out operations similar to Mumbai, terror factions would need to train their elements in advanced weaponry and learn “classic” tradecraft techniques in order to “cloak” themselves from domestic and external intelligence agencies. Militant group would also tutor skills to “limit their activities without alerting law enforcement” agencies. With militant factions employing non-traditional means to achieve their ends, domestic and external intelligence agencies must not limit themselves to acquiring “knowledge” through traditional means. Their “alertness” remains vital to counter militant factions. In such scenarios, “information based on prediction” or “warning intel”, highlighting the possibility of an attack plays a vital role in preparing local law enforcement agencies in case of a “pre-emptive” attack. Although, the prediction on the basis of credible intelligence at such levels remains difficult. Intelligence agencies must “aggressively” interact with policy makers and draft necessary hypothesis based on numerous possibilities of infiltration, specifically highlighting/projecting points of infiltration, and the challenges it may pose before drafting a response. This is known as “pre-emptive engagement”, where the militants continue to execute their plans of operations without the slightest possibility of a strong fire engagement.

It is important to note that, traditional concepts of intelligences particularly the ones successfully employed during Cold War, cannot be applied here. The traditional concepts of intelligence will not be able to “effectively” counter the “non-traditional” methodologies used by militant factions, a different approach in contemporary terrorism. This new methodology employed in contemporary terrorism required the use of violent non-state actors, Islamic militant ideology that fulfils the political purposes of the state, reinforced with advanced communication means. Furthermore, policy makers must understand that, beside the efficacy of local law enforcement agencies, no domestic agencies will be “expert” in engaging with militants than the local patrolling officer.

Moreover, enforcement agencies, intelligence units must thoroughly understand local geography, offences in the vicinity, and criminal activities in an effort to assess a change from traditional scenario, prepping the first responder. In a scenario of traditional policing coupled by national monetary pressure and budget cuts, many intelligence agencies are unable to focus their attention or relocate their available resources to solely on counter-terrorism hindering them in providing “vital” intelligence to local law enforcement agencies.

Furthermore, intelligence agencies must be reinforced in a way it suits best to domestic and external security agencies, effective and efficient in providing timely knowledge. In an effort to use the “acquired knowledge” effectively, the domestic and external intelligence agency must be “flexible” enough to adapt with future challenges. Knowledge provided to relevant policy makers in time, could prove vital to the operation, resulting in timely implementation and desired outcomes.

In an effort to retain the productivity, the analysts sitting in the intelligence wings needs to produce timely intelligence keeping in mind the needs of local law enforcement agencies. This will forfeit the unnecessary flow of information, forcing the necessary agency to provide necessary operational oriented information to the local law enforcement.

It is important for domestic and external security agencies to address a large percentage of their attention on “strengthening human intelligence” which plays a vital role in separating “essential from immediate and urgent”. Moreover, policy makers must address their attention on the need to strengthen training the “best and the brightest” force within the intelligence community.


The choice of relying on “adequate” intelligence inputs coupled with the influx of information from the media, makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to draft a proper response. Furthermore, allowing access to media reports which have greater access on the scene questions the “deployment” policy of the local law enforcement agency. Coupled with the scenario of multiple shooting incidents and direct armed confrontation, the first responder begins to function with his instincts plus the information and skill the individual has received during trainings. This training in particular which the first responder uses during a stressful atmosphere needs to be evaluated, evolved in the light of non-traditional mechanism employed by militant factions. Furthermore, this training needs to be further assessed in accordance with tactical levels in the light of “actionable intelligence” received by the HQ. This will further enhance and strengthen the response mechanism of local law enforcement agency, which in any case/scenario are the first responders at the scene. Armed with necessary technical support and training, a mobile unit for round the clock intelligence further enhances the ability of law enforcement.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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