Soon after the Paris attacks on November 13 this year, Coast Guard teams launched a mock attack on Mumbai by approaching the city and surrounding through the coast lines, just like the Mumbai attackers had done in 2008. Sadly, the exercise was successful in showing how security protocols still fail to scan incoming dangers as several of the Coast Guard teams succeeded in slipping through.
Officials stated that the test was not a complete disaster, but exposed India’s continuing vulnerability to outside attacks.
“There was a mixed result,” said a navy spokesman in Mumbai. “We do find weaknesses, but over the years the number of people who can go through (our defenses) is much less,” he added.
In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, in which 10 gunmen infiltrated the city after landing on the shores by boat, and proceeded to attack high profile sites, the city took certain steps in defense. A National Security Guard (NSG) unit was deployed to the financial capital, the Mumbai police received better equipment, and knowledge about the sea-borne threat was imparted to the fishermen population, while giving them a helpline to call on in case of suspected threat.
‘Force One’—a counter-terrorism police force, was also set up in Maharashtra.
However, security experts reported that the initial defensive rush faded fast.
“A lot of effort goes in at first. But over time, people lose interest. Momentum is lost. There is no leadership continuity,” said Govind Sisodia, who was a senior NSG commander at the time of the Mumbai attacks.
The immediately reporting police personnel during the attacks were too poorly trained and equipped to deter the heavily armed gunmen attacking multiple spots simultaneously.
Sisodia said that even after 12 hours after the Mumbai attacks started, the elite force wasn’t able to leave their New Delhi headquarters as no plane was available.
Though seven years have passed since the attack, Force One still hasn’t moved into its proposed headquarters and shares a fourth floor office with the police academy in a shabby Mumbai building.
“From every incident, we take a lesson, we revise our protocols,” inspector general of police running the unit, Sanjay Saxena, said on the Paris attacks.
Saxena said little on how the squad operated, including his plans to deal with the city’s high traffic which seriously hinders the journey time of any military personnel to reach the venue.
Security experts cite the evolving military tactics of terror forces as a major source of concern.
The Paris attacked were quite similar to the ones in Mumbai, but they differed in their use of suicide belts, which ruled out capture while maximizing casualties.
“Mumbai ushered in a new era,” said GK Pillai, India’s home secretary after the Mumbai attacks. “This is a new type of terrorism: multiple, very well-trained teams striking a variety of targets.
“The lesson was that in cities you need to have a few hundred of these elite commandos available within 10-15 minutes, whether it is Paris or London,” he said.
India’s main security focus is on containing Kashmir’s separatist tendencies, and as such the country has little force to spare for other regions. Militants crossing in from neighboring Pakistan, who usually target urban settings, is the major source of worry. Apart from the Mumbai attacks, this was also evident in the police station raid in Punjab in July.
“Any urban area remains a target,” said Home Minister P Chidambaram, who took over just after the Mumbai attack. “In a city anyone can burrow themselves and remain invisible for weeks, months, even a year.”
Intelligence sources don’t have adequate information on the tens of thousands of Indians working in Gulf countries. Iraq, which is partly under IS control, houses around 18,000 Indians, according to the government, though the actual number might be a lot higher.
“Our data (on labourers) working abroad, especially in the Gulf, who are usually targeted for joining IS, is woefully inadequate,” said Vappala Balachandran, a senior foreign intelligence specialist who had led an inquiry into the Mumbai attacks.
Islamic State had recruited 23 Indians, according to a recent Indian intelligence report. However, they were considered “inferior fighters” by the terror group.
With incoming threats from terror groups, India has to work fast in gathering any and all loose ends to terror-proof the nation.