The terrorists who laid siege to Mumbai, India, last week, killing 179, must have had special operations training, according to a counterinsurgency expert today at a panel discussion on what has been referred to as India’s 9-11.
“This was a lot like a special forces raid,” said David J. Kilcullen, departing special advisor for counterinsurgency to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a principal architect of the surge strategy in Iraq. “A [Navy] SEAL team would have had trouble mounting this mission.”
The sophistication of the attack, he says, means that the terrorists had professional help, although it’s much too early to say from whom.
"We must be extremely cautious about laying blame," Kilcullen said, as Indian and U.S. officials continue to point at Lashkar-e-Taiba
, a Pakistani-jihadist group that fights for Muslim control over Indian-administered Kashmir, as the attack's perpetrator.
Panelist Farhana Ali, a former RAND and CIA analyst, quoted a trusted Pakistani source as saying that the attacks were masterminded by Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus, the ISI, and carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba. The terrorist organization's goal, she says, is restoration of a pan-Islamic Caliphate starting in India.
Kilcullen, however, later told Security Management that he wasn’t sure ISI had the capability to train the terrorists. It’s instead possible that elements within the Pakistani military, possibly retired, trained the terrorist commandos. He also wouldn’t rule out that whomever trained the Mumbai terrorists may have received military training from the United States. The U.S. government has given enormous sums of money and training to Pakistan’s military, such as its Special Services Group, to fight jihadist insurgents and terrorists inside the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
"It's just too early to say, but it is a possibility," said Kilcullen.
During the panel discussion, Kilcullen said the attacks had all the hallmarks of a commando raid. The terrorists were armed with good technology, such as GPS and cell phones. They entered Mumbai from its most vulnerable gateway: the sea, after launching from a Pakistani ship they pirated. The initial attacks against hospitals, the train station, and other locations were diversions, a ruse to draw first responders away from the terrorists’ real target: the Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotels and the Mumbai Jewish center. The terrorists in at least one hotel had knowledge of its security, says Kilcullen, suggesting detailed reconnaissance and other co-conspirators. Inside the hotels, terrorists booby-trapped bodies with grenades and kept moving during the hotel hostage situation to make themselves harder to kill.
Kilcullen estimates that there may have been more than 10 terrorists, up to 15. Ali said her sources in Pakistan report the total number of terrorists were approximately 23.
Although there is considerable interest whether or not al Qaeda had anything to do with the attack, Kilcullen says its much too early to tell. The terrorists inside the hotel did follow al Qaeda methodology, but he noted that the terrorists could have downloaded al Qaeda tactics from the Internet. Kilcullen also added that al Qaeda has never attacked a land target from the sea.
Another panelist, Walid Phares
, director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, also cautioned about casting blame before the evidence is in.
By calling themselves the Deccan Mujahedeen, the terrorists have tried to place an Indian identity on the attacks, Phares said. The Deccan Plateau is a region of India where the Indian Mujahedeen, a jihadist group, has waged a bombing campaign over the last year. Nevertheless, the terrorists left a satellite phone behind that had been used to make calls to Pakistan.
The attackers may have left such ambiguous clues to increase tensions between India and Pakistan, each bitter, nuclear-armed rivals in the region, says Phares. He doesn’t rule out that the same group that carried out the Mumbai attacks may attack inside Pakistan and frame India for it.
Their "long-range goal," he says is for India-Pakistan relations to deteriorate enough so that Pakistan's military has to be redeployed east toward India and give jihadists, such as al Qaeda and the Taliban, room to breath.
Abdullah Muntazir, a spokesman for Lashkar-e-Taiba's political wing, Jamat-ud-Dawa, told Kohlman that Lashkar-e-Taiba had nothing to do with the attack.