Ed Note: Two weeks ago, less than a dozen militants held at bay some 800 well-trained police for 60 hours, throwing a major metropolitan area into utter chaos, and leaving law enforcement officers around the globe thinking: “What will we do when this happens on our watch?”
PoliceOne has collected the thoughts of several people in law enforcement with the purpose of kick-starting a dialog about how the events in Mumbai provide an opportunity to consider the nature of the threat we may one day face here in the U.S. We encourage you to read the opinions and analysis here and to participate in this discussion.
The following contribution represents the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of PoliceOne, Praetorian Group, or our sponsors.
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Counterterrorism on the front lines
By Sgt. Glenn French, Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department
The recent Attacks in Mumbai serve as a warning for U.S. Law Enforcement and if we fail to acknowledge this warning we will fail as this nation’s Guardians. Police departments across the United States need to prepare for such an event. Through training, equipment and the warrior spirit our officers can prevail when these terrorist knock on our doors.
Sergeant Glenn French has 18 years police experience and currently serves as the Sergeant of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau, Crime Prevention and DARE unit. He has ten years SWAT experience and served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, & Explosive Breacher for the Macomb County SWAT team. He also is the President of the Detroit Special Operations Group tactical training company.
Here is what we know as of today: one terrorist was captured and 10 others were killed. The captured terrorist told authorities he belonged to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant Islamic group. Lashkar e Taiba assaulted two hotels, a restaurant, a Jewish center and other sites killing at least 174 people, including six Americans. Three of Mumbai’s top anti-terrorism officials were gunned down in a van when the assault started. Some of the targets chosen by the militants, such as the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, would challenge most police and security organizations.
The alleged attacker, identified as a Pakistani national Mohammad Ajmal Qasam, told interrogators that they wanted to go down in history for an "Indian 9/11" and were also inspired by the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. The gunmen had booked a room in the Taj Mahal hotel to store explosives. The captured militant told investigators the gang aimed to blow up the hotel and hoped to kill a total of 5,000 people.
Mumbai has no equivalent of a SWAT team. It took hours to decide to send in the nation's rapid-response National Security Guards, based in New Delhi. The capital is three hours away by air, but no military aircraft were available and the unit evidently lacked authority to requisition a commercial plane. Military transport was flown in from elsewhere.
On reaching Mumbai, the guards were driven to the hostage sites by bus and then briefed. By the time they took up positions, many hours had passed. At the two hotels, a few militants kept hundreds of commandos at bay for two days. Senior commanders would announce that sections of the buildings had been cleared, only to see the attackers move back in.
Government forces lacked hotel floor plans, although the militants seemed to have had them and apparently had stockpiled explosives and ammunition at the sites. And the commandos lacked an effective command structure or a good communication system, experts said, whereas the terrorists reportedly used BlackBerrys and GPS devices to navigate and monitor news coverage.
Onlookers were allowed to watch from a few feet away, hampering police operations. A night counterattack was nixed, reportedly because it was too dark.
The attackers had night vision goggles. The police didn't.
Conventional theory suggests that commandos move quickly once there's indication that hostages are in imminent danger, in hopes of getting at least a few out alive. Yet days passed until, in the end, all hostages at the center were killed.
"You can wait, but you use that wait to engage the terrorists and plan," said Yoram Schweitzer, an international terrorism expert at Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies. "Then you engage them quickly, with shock, prepare for a maximum one to two minute strike."
Assaf Hefetz, a former Israeli police commissioner who created the country’s police anti-terror unit three decades ago, watched the slow-motion operation in disbelief. The commandos should have swarmed the building in a massive, coordinated attack that would have overwhelmed the gunmen and ended the standoff in seconds. “You have to come from the roof and all the windows and all the doors and create other entrances by demolition charges.” The slow pace of the operations made it appear that the commandos' main goal was to stay safe. “You have to take the chance and the danger that your people can be hurt and some of them will be killed, but do it much faster and ensure the operation will be finished quickly.”
So where does U.S. Law Enforcement begin? We must first acknowledge that it’s only a matter of time before this type of terror strikes the U.S.A. and take lessons from 9-11, Columbine, and the many other domestic terror events that have already stricken this country. Then we must look at the Beslan siege and the many other international terror events that have occurred around the world.
Once we come to terms with the fact that we live in a world that wants to destroy democracy and western culture then we can properly prepare. We must train our officers to be Warriors as they face these dangers. They must be taught to fight Chaos with Chaos, to use speed and surprise to their advantage when doing room and building clearing tactics. They must be trained to “Dominate the stronghold with an overwhelming amount of force.”
Then when they start thinking as Warriors they must be taught that as the first arriving officers to an active shooter or terrorist event “their actions will dictate the course of events for that event.” The point is that if our police officers decide to deal with the problem immediately then it’s less likely their adversary’s will have time to further murder innocent victims and less time to fortify their stronghold.
We must then provide them with tactical training, such as tactical room entries, tactical building entries, single officer entries, the diamond formation and Emergency Rapid Deployment tactics. Equipment is as important as any other area. If we expect our patrol officers to handle an event like Mumbai, Columbine or Beslan and we want them to be successful then give them the proper tools. Every officer in this county should have access to a patrol rifle, ballistic helmet and a level III tactical vest. Patrol officers also need access to breaching tools (including explosive breachers), night vision goggles, pole camera’s and tactical gas munitions.
Our Patrol Supervisors need basic tactical command training so they can deal with a critical incident that requires an immediate response. All of the concepts, training and equipment I have mentioned are not foreign to SWAT officers. These things are standard for most SWAT teams. So it comes down to this; if we want our patrol officers to deal with SWAT problems then they need tactical training and equipment and when that’s the standard for patrol officers our country will be prepared to deal with these terrorists.