Friday, November 28, 2008

Amphibious Mumbai Terror Attack

Tagged India's 9/11 the Mumbai terror attack lay siege to the city on the evening of 26th November. Having started off in Chatrapati Sivaji Terminus at 21:21 hrs it spread across the city targetting Leopold cafe-an iconic tourist spot that finds ample mention in Shantaram-that saw indiscriminate firing by terrorists. Soon the gun wielders hijacked a cop's car and went on a rampage blowing up a petrol bunk. This was followed by attacks on The Oberoi and The Taj, both seafront star hotels . The Taj's heritage wing and roof caught fire once explosions went off and as for the Oberoi, it's lobby was burning. A hostage situation ensued with American and British nationals being targeted. Apart from these sites two hospitals and grenade attacks at several other locations occurred across the city.
It's been more than 24 hours now and current reports state that guests at the Taj have been evacuated and the National Security Guard is ploughing its way through various floors to flush out terrorists. The Oberoi however still has a hostage situation with 30-40 people being held by a reported 15 terrorists. For update on this latest attack by an all new militant outfit, the Deccan Mujahideen, do take a look at

The terrorists are reported to have sailed in from Karachi using the Rann of Kutch as a base. Apparently they hijacked a cargo vessel, the MV Alpha. This vessel has been intercepted by the Indian navy. Its claimed route is to have been from Saudi Arabia and its return destination as Kuwait. The MV Alpha seems to have escorted the terrorists to Mumbai's coast from where they used three inflatable Zodiac Gemini boats to reach their targets. An eyewitness previously reported that the terrorists had docked at Sasoon dock, 1km from the Taj were seen unloading crates, possibly filled with ammunition. The navy has been put on alert and has blocked of entry into Pakistan's waters in case the terrorists returned by sea and that route.

The Indian navy is the fifth largest navy in the world and plies the only Aircraft carrier, INS Viraat in Asian waters. In a couple of years it is set to include 3 aircraft carriers and 3 nuclear submarines. It currently has 8 Destroyers, 13 Frigates, 24 Corvettes, 6 Offshore patrol vessels, 12 Minesweepers, 10 Landing Ships, 2 Missile Boats, 3 Training Ships, 8 Fleet Auxillaries, 9 Survey & Research Ships, 6 Seaward Defence Forces and 16 Diesel-powered submarines. All this apart from the Navy aircraft. This list is not to say that by any means that our Indian Navy is incapable of intercepting terror attacks. It is only to say three things:
- History tends to repeat itself
- Intelligence plays a key role in gaining the maximum potential out of the service offered by the navy
- 'When you make a net for the big fish, the small one's slip out'

It's not the first time that a terror attack has come in by sea or launched from the sea. World War I & II were fought as much from sea as on land. The Indian navy battered Karachi in the 1971 war in the notorious Operation Trident. It maybe no surprise that the terrorist chose to target Oberoi, the Trident after the above successful mission. But speculations apart, the sea has been the most favoured route/method to launch a surprise attack that's not necessarily successful but nerve-wracking at the least.

Be it the Battle of the Delta that Rameses III faced from the Sea Peoples in ancient time, the Siege of Constantinople in the middle age, the Siege of Malta by the Ottoman empire, the Falklands war in 1982, the Korean War, all employed amphibious assault.

India's coastline is vast, flanked on three sides by sea and not so friendly neighbours on the other. The Bay of Bengal is the weak coastline which is probably why it is well patrolled also considering the LTTE conflict in Sri Lanka. The Arabian sea on the other hand too is patrolled but as a friend who had served with the coastguard said: "the only thing that's holding those vessels together is bird crap."

Let's forget the well-meaning coast guards for a while. Cruise liners today can't be messed with. As much as they come padded up in luxury, they come equipped with Sonar and radar equipment with a 50-mile radius and with something more bombastic - the LRAD or Long Range Acoustic Device that gives out a wall of deafening high-decibel noise. With this they are more than capable of deterring pirates. And in cases when they aren't the Indian Navy has pitched in to support anti-piracy measures in Somalian waters. The INS Tabar brought down the mother ship of Pirates on the coast of Oman in Novemeber 2008.

While the Indian navy is capable of intercepting the vessel that brought the terrorists to Mumbai's coast, tailing it, stalling it and preventing it from going any further, it is not possible to have prevented them from leaving for land on Zodiacs. Cause the lapse doesn't lie in the lack. It lies in the lack of awareness. As Nelson said, 'a ship's a fool to fight a fort.' In this case there was no fort but just to 'soft' targets, an easy access on to land, and intelligence that fell short or went unheeded.

The clutter of boats need to be cleared away from the Gateway of India and land must be fortified apart from investing in sonar equipment for the coast guard vessels to ensure that the 'tiny fish' don't get away easy. well if nothing, at least it'd give the coast guards a chance to exclaim, "Sir, it's the Orlando. Someone just dropped 45 cents."

Update: It's 29 hours now. The operation may go on till morning at The Taj and The Commandoes are yet to flush out the terrorist from The Oberoi. 7 hostages have been rescued from Nariman house.

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