Usually the simplest way is the most effective way. Unfortunately the forces of Jihad might have learned that fact this past week in India. Rather than hijacking a plane or sneaking bombs onto a bus, they sent 10 guys on rubber rafts who ended up killing over 200 people and maiming hundreds of others. Much simpler than people would expect but just as horrific. James Robbins in today’s National Review points out:
There have been five major bombings this year in India, killing around 200 and involving an average of nine bombs per incident, with no appreciable strategic impact. This time the attacks prompted Federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil to resign, which will encourage the terrorists. Maybe the attacks will also hurt the investment climate in India. The Bombay Stock Exchange was closed Thursday due to the attacks but opened as fighting continued on Friday and by the close of business the SENSEX index was up .73 percent. Tourism may be negatively affected, and was clearly targeted, but the current economic disruptions will cause much more harm in that sector. The incident will probably damage the slightly warming India/Pakistan relations. As for targeting the Chabad House, the main strategic impact is to remind everyone of the true nature of the enemy we are facing.
By using the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) strategy, the terrorists were more effective. What’s left to be examined is will it lead to those kind attacks elsewhere in the world, and how will other nations change their anti-terror strategy to meet this new challenge:
Is Mumbai the future of terrorism?
By James S. Robbins
The terrorist assault in Mumbai is being called India’s 9/11. Of course, so were the
July 11, 2006, Mumbai attacks, but in some ways last week’s violence is a more troubling portent of future terrorist activity. This small band of urban fedayeen may have pointed towards a post-9/11 style of terrorism that is grittier and more dangerous than what we have seen to date.
The terrorists showed more sophistication in that they executed a less-complicated attack than 9/11. The “spectaculars” that were conceptualized by al-Qaeda in the 1990s reached their epitome in the 9/11 “Holy Tuesday Offensive.” They were good techniques to utilize against a target that was not quite on alert. They are complex, require long-term planning, involve a lot of people and have multiple moving parts. But the August 2006 break-up of the plot in Britain to blow up seven trans-Atlantic airliners demonstrated the limits of these kinds of complex plans when the civilized nations are paying attention. These attacks take too long to plan and involve too many people, which invites penetration and compromise by security services.
By contrast, the October 2002, D.C. sniper attacks were an example of very effective low-cost, low-tech terrorism. Basically it was two guys with a gun periodically shooting random victims. The plan was simple, flexible, and inexpensive. Also it built momentum; it wasn’t just a single big attack with no follow-up. Every new slaying garnered more media coverage, and generated more fear and frustration. It was the story of the year for 2002, and in the Washington, D.C., area the coverage was more dense than that given the 9/11 attacks. All this was achieved without a concerted media strategy.
In Mumbai we saw a middle-ground style of terrorism that combined the spectacularism of 9/11 with the flexibility of the sniper attacks. The terrorists chose to hit multiple targets simultaneously, but used small teams whose mission was not to seek immediate martyrdom (like the 9/11 teams or any suicide bombers) but rather to generate as much chaos over as long a period as possible. In that respect they were successful; the attack started at 9:20 P.M. Wednesday and ended 8:50 A.M. Saturday — two and a half days of fighting, and of dominating the news cycle. Being an urban assault, it was difficult to root out, and in the end it was a room-to-room battle. Because the terrorist teams did not have to seize and hold terrain they were free to move from place to place sowing chaos as they went. They could have done more damage had they not holed up in a few locations (they may have been trapped and not had a choice). The terrorists hit transportation targets, a hospital, a café, luxury hotels, people who happened to be on the streets, and the Chabad House. One sour note: Gunfire was reported at the Times of India office. Very bad form for terrorists to attack the journalists who tell their stories.
Tactically, this is smarter terrorism than most of the attacks we have seen in the last decade. But one wonders if it will have the intended strategic effects, whatever they may be. Terrorism has a questionable track record in linking tactics to strategy. A one-off attack creates a momentary disruption, but then what? 9/11 clearly did not have the strategic outcome al-Qaeda intended, unless cave-dwelling was one of bin Laden ’s planned objectives. There have been five major bombings this year in India, killing around 200 and involving an average of nine bombs per incident, with no appreciable strategic impact. This time the attacks prompted Federal Home Minister Shivraj Patil to resign, which will encourage the terrorists. Maybe the attacks will also hurt the investment climate in India. The Bombay Stock Exchange was closed Thursday due to the attacks but opened as fighting continued on Friday and by the close of business the SENSEX index was up .73 percent. Tourism may be negatively affected, and was clearly targeted, but the current economic disruptions will cause much more harm in that sector. The incident will probably damage the slightly warming India/Pakistan relations. As for targeting the Chabad House, the main strategic impact is to remind everyone of the true nature of the enemy we are facing.
The most significant impact at the strategic level is probably in demonstrating an effective and replicable mode of attack. It is the type of thing that could be done anywhere; the hardest part would be inserting the teams, and if they were placed in position without the unnecessary complexity of being deployed simultaneously it would make the plan that much easier to execute. The United States is not defenseless against this type of attack; U.S. law-enforcement and domestic-security services are extremely capable. Yet to seize and hold the information domain, the random bad guy only has to walk into the middle of a crowded mall and open fire, especially if he doesn’t care whether he gets out of there alive. The coverage would be non-stop.
And imagine the scenario in which terrorists seek to combine the disruption effects of Mumbai with the momentum generated by the D.C. snipers. A few gunmen could create chaos in New York one day, followed by Los Angeles the next. Then Chicago, Miami, Nashville, wherever. Every day a new target, and a new statement from the enemy reminding us that there is nowhere to hide. Couple that with the financial uncertainties and the disruption of the holiday shopping season when small businesses make most of their yearly profits and the impact could add up. Plus picture the political dance as the Bush administration tries to respond with varying degrees of effectiveness while the president-elect has to balance his own media perceptions in which any statement he makes could backfire and divert attention from the agenda he wants to set for his first months in office. Talk about strategic impact.
I would like to think that Mumbai was a one-of-a-kind incident, but there are a lot of fist bumps being traded in the jihadist underworld right now, so I suspect they will try it again. Hopefully no time soon.