Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lessons Learned: Terrorists At The Train Station

Azam Amir Kasab, the only one of the ten terrorists to be taken alive, in the main Mumbai railway station (Sebastian D'souza/AP - fair use)

In an armed encounter, the opportunity to end things early and go home often occurs... but all too often isn't acted upon.

Take a look at the 1:30 video above, or right-click here for a separate window, taken by CCTV cameras at the Mumbai train station at the beginning of the terrorist attacks. Note the two Indian Police (IP)officers to the lower right of the screen, one with a Lee-Enfield battle rifle. The terrorists first appear around 11 seconds into the video, and the police duck into a hallway to the right. The police appear again around 18 seconds and the terrorists shoot at them, the shots going high (note the dust from bullet impacts in the window above the entranceway frame). Note how one policeman actually tries to shoot the terrorist but evidently misses! He ducks back into cover, where they stay while the terrorists shoot some more and then move off out of view of the camera. The rest of the video shows them moving on to a restaurant section and opening fire on unarmed people who flee in terror through the kitchen. Several dozen innocents were killed by the terrorists until they were taken out (one killed, one wounded and captured) by responding IP and Army personnel, after a considerable delay.

The IP shown in this video had a perfect opportunity to end this incident within the first 30 seconds... yet they failed to act. Why? The IP have complained about being outgunned, but as the video shows, firepower wasn't the issue, and neither was bravery (although common sense might have been lacking in that the IP in the video evidently were in a state of disbelief until they were shot at). Instead, as the video shows, the IP we see had absolutely no clue as to what to do.

I'm not faulting the individual IP here; panic and general cluelessness is the untrained person's natural reaction to a deadly force situation. The stress is tremendous, adrenaline is pumping and the fight or flight reflex is fully engaged... and flight is the rational choice as opposed to a futile effort of resistance that only results in one's death.

Why did this happen? I assume that because India has very low rates of gun-related crime, and because Mumbai is over a thousand miles from the Punjab, the threat of terrorism was seen as very low. Additionally, India has inherited its philosophy of law enforcement from its British colonizers, where the gun is seen as a symbol of the authority of the state to use force instead of as a tool to enforce compliance. Therefore, there is no perceived benefit to train the IP beyond a minimal competency to ensure there are no accidents. The IP plan was more along the lines of, "This is India where Hindus are non-violent. We don't need a plan." So, what you have is a police force that has all of the drawbacks of being armed, and none of the benefits. The result is shown on the video.

What the video also shows is the lack of training among the terrorists, and how aggressiveness and motivation count for a lot. Again, this is the same sort of recklessness we saw in Iraq, where several Fedayeen (literally, 'self-sacrificers') would cram into a Fiat and charge a US armored column... and get shredded. Brave, but suicidal, because prepared and planned aggressiveness beats reckless aggressiveness. Of course, if your opponent hasn't prepared or planned....

What if this had happened in America? In New York? We all know that the police would come running, guns out, and quickly (maybe a little messily) end this. The Transit Authority police would have handled the two shooters at the subway station, and the Emergency Services Unit (NYPD's SWAT team), joined by their federal counterparts (since terrorism is a federal crime), would have gone in and cleaned out the terrorists. Would innocents have died? Yes... because the attackers seize the initiative. But not as many.

What if this happened in your hometown?

Bad guys always have the initiative. The lesson learned here is, Have A Plan. In the video above, if the IP with the rifle had shown the initiative to merely aimed and fired it at a terrorist 50 feet away he would have killed the terrorist, and doubled his own odds of getting the next one. What if two IPs had worked together, from opposite sides of the station, communicating by radio, and caught the remaining terrorist between them? One of them would have gotten a shot, and the second terrorist would be down. End of story.

Here in America, many states have recognized our right to keep and bear arms by providing for hassle-free concealed carry. How many people reading this have a concealed-carry license? Of those, how many actually carry? Of those, how many practice with their carry weapon and have a minimal level of competency? Of those, how many have taken armed self-defense training? Of those, how many have actually thought about what they would do when confronted with a deadly force situation such as terrorists opening up in the local mall or subway station?

Have. A. Plan.

See earlier articles in this series under the 'Lessons Learned' topic...

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