Indian forces battle pockets of militants

As the crisis in Mumbai neared its 48th hour, Indian commandos were battling to overcome stubborn resistance by militants on Friday, seeking to end the bloody assault on India’s financial and entertainment capital that has shaken the nation and raised perilous regional tensions with Pakistan.

Shortly before night settled over the stricken city, the police said the death toll had reached 143 with the discovery of 24 bodies in the luxury Oberoi hotel, where guests were set free on Friday after being holed up in their rooms as security forces re-asserted control of the building. But officers did not explain why the operation to flush out a handful of assailants in other places had taken so long.

Commandos slid down ropes from a hovering Army helicopter on Friday morning as they stormed a Jewish center that had been seized. The blue-uniformed troopers landed on the roof and soon made their way inside Nariman House, home to the Hasidic Jewish group Chabad-Lubavitch. The caution and pace of their maneuvers suggested the authorities were keen to avoid civilian casualties. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — For the individual gunmen involved in this attack their motives may have been personal and diverse. Time reports: “A gunman, holed up in Mumbai’s Oberoi Trident hotel where some 40 people had been taken hostage, told an Indian news channel that the attacks were revenge for the persecution of Muslims in India. ‘We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?’ he asked via telephone.”

Given that the tactical choice of using guns instead of bombs meant that the perpetrators inevitably risked capture, it seems possible that this team of gunmen may have been made up of groups of two, three or four men each of which had its own ideological agenda and none of which shared or necessarily were aware of the agenda of their sponsors. Even so, the broad character of the operation — it’s focus on Mumbai’s internationalism, its novelty, and its potential to have a far-reaching geopolitical impact — all of this strongly suggests that this was not simply a blood-curdling cry of vengeance from a group that sees itself standing up for India’s oppressed Muslims. Were it such, the target would have unambiguously been Hindus.

Attributes suggest outside help

Counterterrorism officials and experts said the scale, sophistication and targets involved in the Mumbai attacks were markedly different from previous terrorist plots in India and suggested the gunmen had received training from outside the country. But they cautioned it was too soon to tell who may have masterminded the operation, despite an assertion from a previously unknown Islamist radical group.

Officials in India, Europe and the United States said likely culprits included Islamist networks based in Pakistan that have received support in the past from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

Analysts said this week’s attacks surpassed previous plots carried out by domestic groups in terms of complexity, the number of people involved and their success in achieving their primary goal: namely, to spread fear.

“This is a new, horrific milestone in the global jihad,” said Bruce Riedel, a former South Asia analyst for the CIA and National Security Council and author of the book “The Search for Al Qaeda.” “No indigenous Indian group has this level of capability. The goal is to damage the symbol of India’s economic renaissance, undermine investor confidence and provoke an India-Pakistani crisis.” [continued…]

India says trawler may have delivered attackers

An Indian-owned fishing trawler may have been used to deliver militants who attacked Mumbai from the sea, a top coast guard official said on Friday.

“Whether the trawler was hijacked or not is being investigated, but some of the things found on the trawler are bad news,” he said, declining to be named. “The boat was used to drop off men.” Indian investigators say the militants who attacked Mumbai, killing around 120 people, arrived by sea in rubber dinghies, but are trying to trace the ship which ferried them close to the city.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pinned the blame for the attacks on militants based in a neighbouring country, usually meaning Pakistan. [continued…]

India’s suspicion of Pakistan clouds U.S. strategy in region

The terrorist attacks in Mumbai occurred as India and Pakistan, two big, hostile and nuclear-armed nations, were delicately moving toward improved relations with the encouragement of the United States and in particular the incoming Obama administration.

Those steps could quickly be derailed, with deep consequences for the United States, if India finds Pakistani fingerprints on the well-planned operation. India has raised suspicions. Pakistan has vehemently denied them.

But no matter who turns out to be responsible for the Mumbai attacks, their scale and the choice of international targets will make the agenda of the new American administration harder. [continued…]

Claims emerge of British terrorists in Mumbai

It is too early to tell whether British-born Pakistanis were among the Mumbai terrorists, Gordon Brown said today in response to claims at least two Britons were involved.

The Foreign Office is investigating reports on the Indian channel NDTV that quoted Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister of Mumbai, saying there were British links to the attacks. [continued…]

City under siege

Today, the platitudes flow like blood. Terrorism is unacceptable; the terrorists are cowards; the world stands united in unreserved condemnation of this latest atrocity. Commentators in America trip over themselves to pronounce this night and day of carnage “India’s 9/11.” But India has endured many attempted 9/11s, notably a ferocious assault on its national Parliament in December 2001 that nearly led to all-out war against the assailants’ presumed sponsors, Pakistan. This year alone, terrorist bombs have taken lives in Jaipur, in Ahmedabad, in Delhi and (in an eerie dress-rehearsal for the effectiveness of synchronicity) several different places on one searing day in the state of Assam. Jaipur is the lodestar of Indian tourism to Rajasthan; Ahmedabad is the primary city of Gujarat, the state that is a poster child for India’s development, with a local GDP growth rate of 14%; Delhi is the nation’s political capital and India’s window to the world; Assam was logistically convenient for terrorists from across a porous border. Mumbai combined all four elements of its precursors: by attacking it, the terrorists hit India’s economy, its tourism, and its internationalism, and they took advantage of the city’s openness to the world. A grand slam.

Indians have learned to endure the unspeakable horrors of terrorist violence ever since men in Pakistan concluded it was cheaper and more effective to bleed India to death than to attempt to defeat it in conventional war. Attack after attack has proven to have been financed, equipped and guided from across the border, the most recent being the suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, an action publicly traced by American intelligence to Islamabad’s dreaded military special-ops agency, the ISI. The risible attempt to claim “credit” for the Mumbai killings in the name of the “Deccan Mujahideen” merely confirms that wherever the killers are from, it is not the Deccan. The Deccan lies inland from Mumbai; one does not need to sail the waters of the Arabian Sea to the Gateway of India to get to the city from there. In its meticulous planning, sophisticated coordination and military precision, as well as its choice of targets, the assault on Mumbai bore no trace of what its promoters tried to suggest it was: a spontaneous eruption by angry young Indian Muslims. This horror was not homegrown. [continued…]

Keeping Robert Gates as secretary of defense is a great idea

If the reports are true that Robert Gates will stay on as President Obama’s defense secretary, the move is a stroke of brilliance—politically and substantively.

In his nearly two years at the helm of the Pentagon, Gates has delivered a series of speeches on the future direction of military policy. He has urged officers to recognize the shift in the face of warfare from the World War II legacy of titanic armored battles between comparably mighty foes to the modern reality of small shadow wars against terrorists and insurgents.

More than that, he has called for systematic adjustments to this new reality: canceling weapons systems that aren’t suited to these kinds of wars and building more weapons that are; reforming the promotion boards to reward and advance the creative officers who have proved most adept at this style of warfare; rethinking the roles and missions of the individual branches of the armed services; siphoning some of the military’s missions, especially those dealing with “nation building,” to civilian agencies. [continued…]

Iraq backs deal that sets end of U.S. role

With a substantial majority, the Iraqi Parliament on Thursday ratified a sweeping security agreement that sets the course for an end to the United States’ role in the war and marks the beginning of a new relationship between the countries.

The pact, which still must be approved by Iraq’s three-person presidency council, a move expected in the next few days, sets the end of 2011 as the date by which the last American troops must leave the country.

Its passage, on a vote of 149 to 35, according to a parliamentary statement, was a victory for Iraq’s government as well as for the often fractious legislative body, which forged a political compromise among bitterly differing factions in 10 days of intense negotiations. [continued…]

Cyber-attack on Defense Department computers raises concerns

Senior military leaders took the exceptional step of briefing President Bush this week on a severe and widespread electronic attack on Defense Department computers that may have originated in Russia — an incursion that posed unusual concern among commanders and raised potential implications for national security.

Defense officials would not describe the extent of damage inflicted on military networks. But they said that the attack struck hard at networks within U.S. Central Command, the headquarters that oversees U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and affected computers in combat zones. The attack also penetrated at least one highly protected classified network.

Military computers are regularly beset by outside hackers, computer viruses and worms. But defense officials said the most recent attack involved an intrusive piece of malicious software, or “malware,” apparently designed specifically to target military networks. [continued…]

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