Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Everything we know is wrong?

Posted by Ron Coleman on November 29, 2008


JOHN THOMPSON: The Mumbai attacks represent a scenario that few Western police and security forces have dared envision. Fewer still have prepared for it.

The basic strategy: use a large number of attackers to overwhelm a target city’s ability to respond, and then suddenly switch focus to high value targets and seize hostages.

I guess Glenn Reynolds would call that An Army of Davids.  Why are we surprised that such a strategy can be a force for evil as well as for good?

A partial response, actually, is the big and rather eye-opening discussion Glenn’s having on the topic of ubiquitous gun ownership / carrying at that first link, especially as juxtaposed with the depressing story he links to later:  Indian police refused to shoot back, evidently being poorly trained for situations requiring … what you’d want police with guns, in a democracy, to do.

But the bigger response to Thompson’s point is this:  We will always have a problem of terrorists’ originality.  Their 9/11 strategy worked all right:  Once.  It will never work again, now that I can’t take a nail clipper onto an airplane.  Granted, this sounds like a hairier one to combat, but it’s not surprising that Western police and security forces haven’t thought of every possible tactical approach that these Davids — and, really, terrorism is all about being a David; all about using focused and conceptually distinct force to knock out a Goliath who could never be overcome by brute force — will cook up.  Frankly they’re more motivated toward originality, and they’re, well, more wicked.

They’ll always have one up on us if we, Goliath-like, think we have to guess everything they might do in advance.  The only way to turn this formula on its head (not to say that more and better security, training and planning isn’t called for) is to better manage the way we allow terrorism to affect policy — to make these “stunning victories,” if not less stunning, less victorious.  The pre-9/11 message to terrorists such as the PLO (and the one Israel is still sending, unfortunately) was bloody our nose enough times and, okay, we’ll honor you at the UN, give you a Nobel prize, provide you with your own provisional government to loot and we’ll arm you, too.  It’s going to be a long time until that is unlearned.


2 Responses to “Everything we know is wrong?”

  1. It was at this stage in the immediate post-9/11 discussions that people would bring up “nuking Mecca”.

    Surely nobody would support such a policy these days, and rightly so (especially in the case of India, which has a Muslim president and a very large and peaceful Muslim population). But it’s nonetheless one of the few cards one could play that would provide some hold over the terrorists, some way of checking them at the gate, telling them they do have something to lose after all.

    Or would it? I seem to recall we’ve tried a whole lot of these “creative” solutions—burying terrorists with pigs, for example—and they haven’t seemed to work. Fighting smarter, not harder, seems to be the watchword, but they just laugh at those attempts, like we would laugh at Cargo Cultists trying to understand how runway signaling works. Somehow I imagine that even if we nuked Mecca, the bin Ladens of the world would just smirk that we’d played right into their hands (as indeed we’d earn the everlasting enmity of every Muslim on Earth), and remain confident that their goals would still be attained one way or another.

    Is there another approach that you mean to suggest? What attackable assets do terrorists have that non-terrorists don’t?

  2. What attackable assets do terrorists have that non-terrorists don’t?

    In some ways, terrorist militias operate like a standard army. The military branch (soldiers and strategists) are supported by a community of bankers, politicians and businessmen. This community is not as well defined as the nations or states that support standard armies, but a little bit of research can usually reveal their identity.

    The biggest strength of the terrorist army is the fact that their soldiers and their non-violent supporters are hidden within the community. The biggest rule of al Qaeda’s fight club – there is no fight club.

    Their biggest weakness is – the terrorist army is well protected and hard to find, but their supporters are not. We know who their supporters are in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen, etc., but for a variety of reasons, we’re afraid to publicly acknowledge their involvement, or to fight back. Therefore, we never strike at terrorism’s weakest point. It’s as if we’re waging war against the SS while still considering Germany and Hitler to be friends.

    According to one of the footsoldiers, the Mumbai attacks were arranged by Lashkar-e-Taiba. This site has some good info about the group:

    While the Salafi LeT represents one part of the Pakistani jihadi community, the other major grouping consists of the more numerous Deobandi sect with terrorist groups like the Sipah-i-Sahaba-Pakistan (SSP) Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM.) Unlike the Ahle-Hadith, the Deobandis have built a powerful political movement within Pakistan but their political participation has also resulted in periodic bouts of serious tension with the Pakistani Army, which although highly supportive of jihad in Afghanistan and India, nevertheless brooks no challenge to its vice-like grip on political power within the nation. In contrast, the LeT led Ahle-Hadith movement has traditionally stayed apolitical and instead focused on its main goal – the dream of establishing an Islamic Caliphate that stretches from Indonesia to Morocco, including Northern Australia by means of a violent jihad.

    Due to its eschewing of political confrontation with the Pakistani army and thanks to the strength of its ties to Saudi Arabia the LeT steadily grew in to one of the largest and most capable jihadist groups in Pakistan, despite the relatively small size of the Ahle Hadith followers in that nation. Even though the LeT elects not to take part in politics, it does have an unarmed wing, the Markaz Da’wa wal-Irshad (MDI) or “Centre for Religious Learning and Social Welfare”. At the inspiration and by some accounts seed money from Osama bin Laden, Pakistani Salafists Zafar Iqbal and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed of the University of Engineering and Technology of Lahore, founded the MDI in 1987….

    ..To finance its day-to-day activities, the LeT leverages its contacts in Saudi Arabia as well as launches donation campaigns with overseas Pakistanis, especially middle class and wealthy Punjabis in Britain, Australia and the Middle East. According to Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre, Osama bin Laden has also financed LeT activities until recently. The LeT, under its new name JuD, uses its outreach networks including schools, social service groups and religious publications to attract and brainwash recruits for jihad in Kashmir and other places..

    If we or the Indian army had plans to fight terrorism, the Markaz Da’wa wal-Irshad and all leaders of the ‘unarmed’ wing would be attackable assets.

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