Friday, December 23, 2016

A Repeat of Nice in Berlin - Terror Attack on Christmas Market

Berlin, on the night of 19th December 2016, became a target of an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror attack when a Scania R-450 semi-trailer truck belonging to a Polish delivery company Ustugi Transportowe (Transport Services) laden with steel beams meant to be delivered to ThyssenKrupp, plowed into a crowd of holiday revelers at the market in front of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz killing 12 people and injuring 48 others. The black semi-trailer with Polish license plates drove into the sidewalk at the market at about 8.00 pm barreling more than 200 feet, according to eyewitnesses. 

The Berlin Attack was identical to the attack carried out by a Tunisian-born French citizen during the Bastille Day celebrations in July 2016 in Nice, France which claimed the lives of 86 innocent civilians. In both the attacks the perpetrators were of Tunisian origin and the responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the ISIS. The attacker, later identified as a 23 year old Tunisian, Anis Amri took over the truck driven by a Polish citizen identified as Lukasz Urban before driving into the crowd at the Christmas market. A suspect, Naved Baloch of Pakistani origin was detained briefly but was released for want of evidence. Amri was known to German intelligence and was under surveillance for trying to acquire weapons. (It is indeed strange that most of the jihadi terrorists responsible for carrying out attacks in Europe since January 2015 have had a police record or were placed under surveillance of intelligence agencies at some point of time). After the truck attack in Nice and many attacks in Israel using the same modus operandi, namely, ramming a vehicle into a crowd, or using Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED), the European agencies ought to have been alert to movement of suspicious heavy vehicles near markets and religious congregations. In fact the training manuals of ISIS and Al Qaeda contain details of carrying out a successful vehicular ramming attack. 

Al-Qaida published several training manuals on how to carry out a successful vehicular ramming attack since Inspire magazines volumes 1 & 2 (2010). In the 13th (2014) and 16th (2016) Volumes of Inspire magazine, the organization provided examples of successful vehicular ramming attacks, noting the ramming of Canadian soldiers and the attack in Nice as exemplary lone wolf attacks.

ISIS as well published its own “user manuals” on how to carry out a successful vehicular ramming attack; the most recent of which was published just a few weeks before the Berlin attack (Rumiyah, Issue 3, November 7, 2016). The publication calls for the individuals to initiate vehicular ramming attacks, pointing out the benefits of such attacks, giving detailed instructions on how to select and operate the vehicles and recommending the types of targets.

The advantages, according to the article, of using vehicles for vehicular ramming attack are the fact that a vehicle can serve as 'a weapon' which is easy to use for anyone who knows how to drive, it is significantly less suspicious than other weapons (such as a knife, for example), it is easy to obtain and can cause a large numbers of casualties. The organization summarizes these advantages: “It is for this obvious reason that using a vehicle is one of the most comprehensive methods of attack, as it presents the opportunity for just terror for anyone possessing the ability to drive a vehicle. Likewise, it is one of the safest and easiest weapons one could employ against the kuffar, while being from amongst the most lethal methods of attack and the most successful in harvesting large numbers of the kuffar”.

ISIS notes that the vehicle of choice to carry out these attacks needs to be heavy weight and as large as possible while still being able to reach high speeds. Vehicles can be bought, rented, lent, and if necessary, even acquired by theft or kidnapping of the driver.

Finally, the article provides several targets of choice such as outdoors events and/or markets, pedestrian crowded streets, festivals, parades and political rallies.[1]

To contend or conclude that the attacks in Nice and Berlin were “ISIS inspired” lone wolf attacks is utterly idiotic. The Berlin attack is still under investigation and as yet it is not clear as to how the perpetrator or perpetrators got hold of the truck which was used in the attack. This attack seemed to have been carefully planned and executed and the target, namely, the Christmas market was not randomly chosen. This is evident from the extract given above.

The writing was on the wall!
Europe had been on the crosshairs since the beginning of January 2015 when the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo was attacked by Islamist gunmen. This incident was followed by the Kosher Market hostage taking and later the November 2015 attacks in Paris and the Brussels airport bombings in March 2016. Germany itself witnessed some not so major terrorist incidents in 2016 and it was not a question of if but when Berlin would be targeted by ISIS.

In the beginning of December 2016, European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol warned that some intelligence services anticipated that several dozen people directed by the ISIS may be in Europe to commit terrorist attacks. Europol also stated in addition to France and Belgium, all other EU member states which were part of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State may be targeted by terrorists. Notwithstanding these alerts or warnings, Germany was unable to thwart the present attack indicating a failure of some sort, either in coordination between various security agencies within the German Republic or the threat assessment level pertaining to individuals who pose grave threat to national security. For years, according to critics  a lack of information-sharing was slowing down and weakening the effectiveness of Germany’s patchwork of federal and regional security agencies.

Within Germany’s federalized system, each of the country’s 16 states has its own state police force as well as its own domestic intelligence service, in addition to various federal agencies operating nation-wide.

The core problem, officials say, is that — partly due to outdated IT systems, and partly to Germany’s strict laws regarding data privacy — information obtained by investigators is currently stored by different services in separate information pools, which exist in parallel.

“You could say, ‘too many ‘pools’ spoil the broth,’” De Maizière said in a November 2016 address to the annual conference of Germany’s Federal Criminal Office (BKA). “They unnecessarily duplicate data and include the high risk of inconsistent, incomplete and inaccurate data.”

Officials can only access individual pools, rather than all of them at the same time, De Maizière complained back in November.

Likewise, on the European level, he has complained about the lack of data-sharing between EU intelligence and security agencies.

Germany’s Federal Crime Office (BKA) is monitoring 530 so-called Gefährder, radicalized individuals who officials suspect may commit serious crimes such as a terror attack or murder.

It is highly unlikely that redressing this defect would secure Germany from future attacks. The resources of the federal and state agencies have been stretched, thanks to the Merkel government’s foolish and short-sighted policy of allowing more than a million so-called refugees from the war zones of Syria and Iraq to enter the country without any system of vetting or verification. Thus the agencies were burdened with a herculean task overnight. (Around 1.2 million Muslims entered the country between May 2011 and the end of 2015).

It must be emphasized that the European governments must concentrate their efforts on tackling Islamist extremists owing allegiance to the ISIS rather than on Islamophobia.

[Update: Anis Amri, the Tunisian attacker was reportedly shot dead by Italian Police officers in the Italian city of Milan during a routine identity check on 23rd December 2016.

What started as a routine police check ended in the death of the Berlin attacker. Two police officers on a regular early morning patrol spotted a man acting suspiciously at 3:00 a.m. local time at a train station in Milan's working class neighborhood of Sesto San Giovanni. They approached the man, unaware of the fact that he was Anis Amri and asked for his papers. He reached into his pocket and instead of pulling out documents, he pulled out a .22-caliber pistol and shot one of the officers, who returned fire and shot him dead].

[1] The Berlin Vehicular Ramming Attack – What We Know & Insight from ICT Experts, International Institute for Counter Terrorism, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Uri Attack: India Responds

Eleven days after Pakistan-backed terrorists owing allegiance to the Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked the 12 Infantry Brigade HQ at Uri, the Indian Army struck back. According to Indian Army sources, personnel of the Special Forces were para (or heli)-dropped across the Line of Control (LoC). Five terror launch pads were destroyed by the SF personnel. This was not only a surgical strike but a pre-emptive strike as well, as precise information was available that terrorists were being assembled for infiltration across the LoC for carrying out attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere. The operation was meticulously planned post-Uri and perfectly executed by the Special Forces.

The Special Forces operation on terror launch pads lasted from 12:30 am to 4:30 am, the location was between 500 meters to 2 Km across the LoC, news agency ANI reported.

The announcement of the sudden action by the army to target terrorists was made by the Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Ranveer Singh at a hurriedly called news conference during which external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup was also present.

Gen Singh said India shared with Pakistani army details of the surgical strikes which followed “very specific information” that terrorists were positioning themselves in the launch pads along the LoC.

Based on specific intelligence input of terror groups ready to infiltrate into India and carry out terror attacks, Army conducted surgical strikes on terror launch pads at the LoC on the night of 28th and early hours of 29th. The strikes were carried out in Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel & Lipa sectors, on Pakistan's side of the LoC. Indian commandos entered three kilometres across the Line of Control to conduct the 'surgical / pre-emptive strikes. 5 terror launch pads were destroyed during the surgical strike. According to media reports about 35 terrorists and 9 Pak Army personnel were killed in the operation.

The strikes seemed to have been carried out by the elite para commandos (most probably units from 4 Para and 9 Para) who were heli-dropped two to three kilometers deep into Pak-occupied territory and were backed by ground troops. The insertion and exfiltration of the commandos was executed flawlessly. The unit executing the strikes had speed, surprise, stealth and superior tactics the four ‘Ss’ required for a successful surgical strike. The raiding party also had accurate and real time intelligence through human sources to inflict casualties and damage on the enemy. It is learnt that the targets were kept under close surveillance (probably through the use of UAV or HUMINT) for nearly a week before the strikes.

The Pioneer in its web edition dated 21st September 2016 had reported that one battalion each of 4 Para and 9 Para Special Forces trained for anti-terrorist operations had been asked to stand in operational readiness till further orders, indicating that the Centre has not ruled out retaliatory action for the Pakistan-sponsored attack. 

The new Indian Express too in its web edition dated 25th September 2016 had reported that besides movement of infantry brigades, multiple teams of elite Special Forces (SF) were camping at strategic locations. Sources claimed that troops from commando units like 2, 4 and 9 Para SF were gearing up on the Line of Control (LoC), as they were trained in unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance and to carry out cross-border surgical strikes. The units of 4 Para and 9 Para were probably assigned the task to take out the launch pads across the LoC on 29th September 2016.

This author has in the past urged that India was well within its right under international law to respond militarily by resorting to measures in the form of "Reprisals". The relevant extracts from two older posts are reproduced herein:

The military option that India must consider is not war but measures short of war. Reprisal, for instance, under such special and compelling circumstances could be considered legitimate and justified under international law. “A reprisal is an act of SELF-HELP… by the injured state, responding—after an unsatisfied demand—to an act contrary to international law committed by the offending state….Its object is to effect REPARATION from the offending state for the offense or a return to legality by the avoidance of further offenses." [Naulilaa Case (Portugal v. Germany), 2 UN Reports Of International Arbitral Awards 1012 (Portuguese-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, 1928)] A reprisal is a form of self defense and can only be used as a last resort; it must be executed with the view of restoring a sense of equilibrium in international relations and ensuring future compliance with legal norms.

What are the options available to India? 

India should retaliate at a time and place of its choosing. India under international law is entitled to take action in the form of reprisals. The Indian Army’s Special Forces have the means and capability to initiate an operation similar to the one carried out by Pakistan. However, more important is that the Army needs to have a contingency plan to carry out limited cross-border strikes at regular intervals to deter the enemy from engaging in such adventures. Of course, the essential pre-requisite for sanctioning a one-off military operation in retaliation or regular strikes as and by way of deterrence is the existence of a strong political will and the unqualified support of the political leadership.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Uri Attack - Pakistan's Ongoing War Against India

In consonance with its Kashmir policy and use of terror as an instrument of state policy, Pakistan backed  terrorists owing allegiance to the Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked an army installation in Kashmir inflicting heavy casualties. The Indian state's intransigence has only emboldened Pakistan to devise new ways of bleeding India.

In the wee hours of Sunday 18th September 2016, a group of four heavily armed fedayeen attackers belonging to the Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) struck at the headquarters of the 12 Infantry Brigade at Uri and killed 17 army personnel belonging to the 10 Dogra and 6 Bihar Regiments. (Uri is a town on the river Jhelum located in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir). After a fierce gunfight lasting more than three hours all the four attackers were neutralized. 

The JeM is a Pakistan funded and ISI-trained terror outfit whose main objective is to carry out attacks against high-value and high security Indian targets. JeM primarily attacks Indian police forces and other government targets, including army bases, camps, and public places in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. This is the same group which had carried out an attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 and earlier in April 2000 it was responsible for the suicide bombing outside the Indian Army’s 15 Corp headquarters in Badami Bagh. The group receives funds through charitable foundations such as the Pak-based Al Rashid Trust, (ART) a trust fund recognized by the U.S. as a financial facilitator of terrorists for raising funds for Al Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001.

A map recovered by the army personnel recovered from the deceased attackers had markings in the Pashtun language and indicated a detailed plan of action. Four AK-47 rifles and four Under Barrel Grenade Launchers along with ammunition were also recovered. Some of the items had Pakistani markings. The Director General of military operations, Lieutenant-General Ranbir Singh, said that there was evidence that the attackers belonged to JeM. The map retrieved from the terrorists revealed that they were to kill unarmed troops, then storm a medical aid unit near the brigade administrative block and blow themselves up in the officers' mess. 

Sources said the map deciphered by military experts indicated that the terrorists were drawn from the banned terror group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) that recently started working under Jaish command and calls itself "Guardians of the Prophet". The SSP cadre directly operates under Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar.

According to reports there was specific intelligence input two days earlier that militants were planning to strike army formations close to the Line of Control. Furthermore, Business Standard learns the Uri brigade was given pinpoint intelligence warnings about an impending attack. The intelligence agency had said that three fidayeen squads were launched from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. One of them attacked Uri, another went to Poonch where it was engaged by the security forces, and the third was untraced. 

Indian’s political dispensation has so far failed to take any concrete action against the Pakistanis or the groups funded and backed by Pakistan till date, notwithstanding the regular terror strikes carried out on Indian soil. India has been unable to muster the political resolve to hit Pak where it hurts most. India’s action has largely been confined to rhetoric and soft options such as economic sanctions or boycott or diplomatic isolation. These actions in the past have not deterred Pakistan or its thugs; these have been mere pinpricks. Pakistan will be deterred only if its very existence is threatened. In order to hit Pakistan effectively, India will have to revise its “No first use” nuclear doctrine and declare that India will respond in a manner that it deems appropriate including a first use of nuclear weapons depending on the exigency. With a revised nuclear doctrine, India can and should counter Pakistan, if need be militarily.

Time and again this blog has called for targeting Pakistanis and Pakistani strategic and commercial interests world-wide. In fact, when in 2008, Pak-backed terror groups attacked and destroyed the Indian Embassy in Kabul, Pakistani missions should have been targeted in retaliation. India failed to respond effectively and the result was Mumbai 26/11. The then National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, according to an article appearing in The Hindu, called for action. “Talk-talk is better than fight-fight,” he said, “but it hasn’t worked. I think we need to pay back in the same coin.” 

Mr. Narayanan, intelligence officers serving at the time recall, authorised India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to begin a quiet dialogue on doing just that with its Afghan counterparts. It found a willing partner in Amrullah Saleh, the then head of the Riyasat-e Amniyat-e Milli, or the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Following the 26/11 strike, the officials said, RAW even explored the prospect of targeting Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, using NDS’ assets inside jihadist groups hostile to the Pakistan Army. India’s intelligence czar, though, never got the political clearance he hoped for. The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh remained committed to the dialogue process with Pakistan, believing that bomb-for-bomb strikes would increase terrorist violence. In early 2010, foreign service officer Shivshankar Menon replaced Mr. Narayanan as the National Security Adviser, and the doves came to control policy-making. 

“Keep your hands in your pockets,” a senior R&AW official recalls Mr. Menon as telling Afghan desk officers in mid-2010 — effectively putting an end to any hope of tit-for-tat strike.

India must appreciate the harsh reality that this ongoing undeclared war with Pakistan must be fought alone; neither the US nor the Russians can be expected to fight India's war. At best the international community can be expected to extend technological assistance to India. And importantly this war needs to fought on all fronts - political, military, diplomatic and economic. And India hopefully having learned the lessons of 1965 and 1971 would not leave the "business unfinished" in this undeclared war.

A few options that India may consider in the present scenario are:
  • High precision surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) targeting the enemy's logistics and infrastructure. This may result in a certain degree of escalation, which is only to be expected.
  • Air-strikes on Pakistani bases responsible for aiding infiltration of terrorists and Pakistani irregulars.
  • In order to explore the possibility of countering Pak-sponsored and backed terror, Indian security agencies must start developing covert action capabilities in Pakistan and elsewhere to effectively strike at Pakistani interests. Options such as covert action cannot be discussed in great detail in blogs and news studios given the deniable nature of the acts. 
  • Targeted killings of military/ISI personnel could be cost effective.
  • Pakistani society is fragile and prone to sectarian violence and India must not hesitate to exploit this weakness. 
  • India can also abrogate the Indus Waters Treaty on the ground of rebus sic stantibus effectively crippling Pakistan’s sustenance.
  • Normal trade and bus and train services between India and Pakistan may also be suspended. This action would be more cosmetic and symbolic.
It must be reiterated that should India fail to act ‘decisively’ meaning thereby using the hard power options, India as a state would have failed in discharging its primary role, namely, of protecting and defending its territorial integrity and sovereignty and the international community will cease to take India seriously as a dominant power.