Thirteen years have gone by since Mumbai was rocked by the worst ever terror attack witnessed by India on November 26, 2008. Since then, the management of coastal security in the country has undergone a paradigm shift.
The Buck Stops On the Coast With the NSG
The coastal security is layered with the various stakeholder. Indian Navy(IN) forms the outermost layer where IN ships and aircraft patrol the waters well beyond the Indian mainland/islands. The ICG forms the second layer with ships patrolling the EEZ and Territorial waters.The third layer comprises marine police, Customs and Port Authorities (CISF) patrolling close to the coast in shallow waters . Once the ‘threat’ reaches the mainland, it is under the State Civil Police and the handing over of the incident to NSG is decided by the State Govt. If the issue escalates beyond the capability of State Police, intervention by NSG/Indian Army is sought by State Government.
Commando Operation By LeT fidayeen
Ten brainwashed suicide operatives were controlled by handlers from Pak Army. Lashkar-e-Taiba terror groups , military curriculum was managed by ex-soldiers from the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group , the Zarrar Company, the SSG’s counter terrorist team. Terrorists operated like commandos, moving swiftly in buddy pairs and carrying their combat loads on a man-pack basis. On average, each was kitted out with an assault rifle, roughly 300 rounds of ammunition, a sidearm, several grenades, communications gear, emergency rations and night vision goggles.
They should be aggressively engaged by police before the arrival of NSG units , with view towards restricting their freedom of movement. Regular policemen and all security forces personnel need to have basic proficiency in firearms usage and maintenance, as their initial reaction is crucial in deciding the outcome of a fidayeen attack. Force 1 has been created by Maharashtra police and regular training is carried out. Rather than the specialized skills required for hostage rescue, police need to know is how to shoot moving targets whilst themselves being fired upon and confine terrorists to limited area .
26/11 as a Commando Operation
The terrorist attacks were simple to execute, because killing unarmed civilians is a simple affair. The only real challenge was in transporting the attackers on-site.The LeT developed a sea-borne attack capability. Secrecy was preserved by tight personnel vetting – LeT compartmentalized the attack preparations, such that barring a few key personnel, nobody had access to the entire operational plan. Rehearsals were carried out based on topographical intelligence collected. Speed was attained by vehicular movement, while the police struggled to reach the affected areas. Real-time control and encouragement was done from LeT handlers who were safely ensconced in Pakistan, aided by Indian media who provided real time coverage.
Operation Black Tornado- The 26/11 Operations
The National Security Guard (NSG) was inducted into Mumbai at 0300 h on 27 November 2008 after covering a distance of 1163 Km from New Delhi by air . Initially, two targets were identified- The Taj Palace hotel and the Oberoi- Trident in South Mumbai. Accordingly, forces were divided into two parts. Preliminary briefing was provided by Mumbai Police and the hotel staff.
Later, a terrorist situation was confirmed at a third location- the Nariman house, hence the task force was further divided into three sub-task forces, one each for the Taj, Oberoi-Trident and the Nariman house. The second contingent arrived on 27 November and the third along with support elements on 28 November. The Task Force comprised of 195 army personnel drawn from the 51 and 52 Special Action Groups (SAG). Two sniper detachments from the Taj were sent to the Nariman House to pin down the terrorists present there, within the building.
The operational strategy was to neutralize the terrorists through ‘shock’ action using varied methods of insertions(helidropping) and tactical manoeuvring:-
Using small ‘HIT’ teams of 5 personnel each.
Inter and Intra coordination and communication.
Top-down innovative tactics.
Use overwhelming small arms fire to pin down the terrorists.
Render safe procedure to sanitize and secure the buildings.
Conduct of Operations by NSG
Operations at the Taj Towers and the Taj Palace Hotel
Length of each corridor per floor is about 840 ft, total length of the hotel being about 1.80 Kms. There were330 rooms, 2-3 rooms in each suite, 140 miscellaneous rooms including generator plants, etc. 17 suites in each floor. The Taj Towers had 21 floors with 17 rooms in each floor, a total rooms - 323.
Difficulties in Conducting Operations
Time to break open, enter and conduct quick search of one room took four-five minutes. Inside the building only 200 SAG personnel operated. Safety of civilians was important. Limited hotel staff was available, with knowledge of various small rooms and the corridors which could be used as hiding places. Occupants were too scared and never identified themselves or opened the doors upon knocking or calling. Some occupants had ventured out of their rooms earlier and were shot by the terrorists and the hotel staff had advised the guests to shut themselves inside their rooms.
The Taj Chambers and the restaurants were cleared and secured first. At the Taj Palace, the ground floor was secured and the OP base was set up there. Top-down operations were launched by approaching the terrace from the service stairs. Inputs had suggested that two terrorists were present inside the Taj. Contact was established at the first floor during floor clearance. Fire was coming from two terrorists from the left corner of the corridor.
One SAG commando got injured in the middle of the staircase leading to the first floor. It was then that Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan,7 BIHAR pulled him down to the basement and asked his squad to stay there and charged the staircase himself, firing at the terrorists. At this moment, two more terrorists unexpectedly fired from the right corner of the first floor corridor, injuring Maj. Unnikrishnan. He later succumbed to his injuries. Eventually, the four terrorists got killed here.
Operations at the Oberoi-Trident
11 floors, with 33 rooms on each floor two terrorists and after the initial shooting of guests on 26 November, lied low in a room. They opened fire only while changing their location They were fixed in room number 1856 which was opened using a master key and fire was drawn from the terrorists. One terrorist was killed while escaping near the lift on the corridor, while the other hid himself inside and was killed.
Operations at Nariman House
Nariman House is located in a densely populated neighbour -hood in South Mumbai. Inhabited by Jews, even residents of the area had no access to it, nor did anyone possess any knowledge of the layout inside. The maid while escaping with baby Moshe, informed that the terrorists had moved over to the adjacent Merchant House. At one time, the locals had speculated on the possibility of six terrorists being present inside.
The force slithered down the helicopter at 0715 h on 28 November, while the support element brought down observed fire on the building. The sixth and the fifth floors were cleared first and contact was established with the terrorists at 0800 h on the fourth floor.It was at this moment, when Hav Gajender Singh, while attempting to break into the room from the front door was fired upon by the two terrorists from divergent locations inside the room. He was martyered. In all, eight terrorists were killed during the operation by the NSG and a total of 610 hostages/guests rescued from all the three locations. The NSG suffered two fatal and 18 non-fatal casualties.
Several Failures On 26/11
To this day, perceptions of 26/11 are dominated by memories of security forces/police confusion, with a degree of personal incompetence attributed to national and state-level politicians. Why was a strike againsts Pakistan not ordered? Failure on the part of security forces/local police is the most obvious. Once the gravity of the situation set in, top police officials showed a lack of nerve, abdicating responsibility and waiting for the NSG to arrive from Delhi.
State and national politicians issued public statements without any regard for operational security. A central minister revealed the timeframe , according to which the NSG would reach Mumbai and begin operations – information which LeT handlers in Pakistan put to immediate use. Another politician revealed his hiding place in the Taj Palace Hotel and that of 200 other guests in a cell phone interview. Many Irresponsible media persons helped the terrorists handlers by providing real time videos and news.
The most important challenge facing NSG is to recognize what kind of a crisis it is,how many sites have been attacked, are the attackers in contact with their Pakistani handlers, and are they mobile or static? The answers to these questions will not be held by any one agency; they need to be fused together. It would be worth creating such a cell with IB,police , NSG headquarters.
Lest We Forget
We must pay tribute to all police men and NSG Commandos were responsible for killing the terrorists.
Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Ashok Chakra, 7 BIHAR, 51 SAG (Posthumous)
Hav. Gajender Singh, Ashok Chakra, 10 PARA (SF), 51 SAG (Posthumous)
The 51 and 52 Special Action Groups of the NSG were conferred with 1 Kirti Chakra, 1 Shaurya Chakra, 6 Sena Medals (Gallantry), 1 Sena Medal (Distinguished) and 1 COAS Commendation Card for OP Black Tornado.
Police ASI Tukaram Ombale, Ashok Chakra
Ombale joined the police as a constable in 1991 after retiring from the Indian Army's Signal Corps as a Naik. He was an ASI with the Mumbai Police. His team managed to kill one terrorist and arrest the only terrorist taken alive — Ajmal Kasab. Unarmed, Ombale held on to the rifle of the injured Kasab, enabling others to apprehend him. In the process, Kasab fired several shots, martyring Ombale.
The performance of the NSG during 26/11 was outstanding. In all, eight out of 10 terrorists were killed during the operation by the NSG and a total of 610 hostages/guests rescued from three locations. The most important lesson is that the nature of security threats is changing very fast. We should be able to out think the enemy so that next security breach can be prevented.
They have been no terror attacks in last13 years. Nature of security threat to coastal areas and metro cities is rapidly changing .Narco terrorism, illegal trade and smuggling are real threats to metro cities. We therefore need to modify our security responses accordingly. Protecting coastline and metro cities poses tremendous challenges as adequate resources will never be available. We therefore need to think of innovative ways to protect ourselves. Even Pakistan cannot protect its coastline. If a terror attack is launched from the Sea, can we think of surgical strike in the maritime domain? In fact, we should be ready for it should such situation ever arise.
National Security Guard (NSG) hubs have been set up in four more cities – Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai. No terrorist will go back alive, if they again repeat 26/11.