Lessons From Mumbai

Stratfor offers interesting observations on the Mumbai terror attacks and their significance in the American and European context. Stratfor notes that the Mumbai tactics, essentially an armed assault with small arms and grenades, were nothing new. To a degree, however, the attackers made novel use of technology like satellite imagery and GPS technology, and they used cell phones to receive instructions from their superiors in Pakistan, who had the benefit of news coverage of the attacks.

Stratfor is critical of the Indian response to the attack:

Among the most troubling aspects of the Mumbai attack were accounts by journalists of Indian police shooting at the attackers and missing them. … In the end, the attackers outclassed the Indian police with their marksmanship far more than they outclassed them with their armaments.

By and large, U.S. and European police officers are better-trained marksmen than their Indian counterparts. U.S. and European officers also must regularly go to the shooting range for marksmanship requalification to maintain those skills. This means that in a Mumbai-type scenario in the United States or Europe, the gunmen would not have been allowed the freedom of movement they were in Mumbai, where they were able to walk past police officers firing at them without being hit.

For other reasons, too, a similar attack in the United States would encounter more formidable resistance:

The overall tactical ability of the average street cop is important. … In the United States, local police would be aided during such a confrontation by the widespread adoption of “active shooter” training programs. … In the United States, armed off-duty cops and civilians also can make a difference in armed attacks.

I was puzzled by the security video of terrorists standing in the open, without cover, firing at people in a Mumbai railway station where there were supposedly something like 60 policemen present. In today’s world, there is a good deal to be said for having a populace, not to mention a police force, that is well-trained in the use of firearms. As Stratfor emphasizes, centralized resources like SWAT teams are not the most effective response to this type of diffused terrorist attack. Rather, policemen and armed civilians who are on the spot are the critical line of defense.

I think it was Glenn Reynolds who wrote that in any “shooter” scenario, including but not limited to a Mumbai-type terrorist attack, there is only one group of people that by definition are present–the victims. Only if some of them are armed, they aren’t necessarily victims.

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