An unobtrusive vehicle pulls to a stop not far from the city's center. Inside are 10 heavily armed and equipped men—calm, cool, waiting. The 10 make their final weapon and equipment checks as their leader issues his final briefing orders. The 10 terrorists are about to embark on the deadly mission they've been training for and rehearsing for months. Their mission is Anytown, USA. Your town.
Picture your own city on a typical Wednesday night around 8 to 9 p.m. You're on duty, on patrol, and you're also a member of your city's SWAT team, which is most likely part-time. You're probably carrying your SWAT weaponry and gear with you, since you're on call 24/7. So far, your shift has been normal, nothing unusual happening…yet.
Then you get this message from dispatch:
"All cars in the vicinity of First and Main. Multiple shots fired. Suspects armed with automatic weapons. Victims down. All cars responding use caution."
Adrenaline pumping sky high, light and siren flipped on, you race toward the shooting scene, only to hear the following. "All cars responding, we're now getting multiple reports of shots fired, men with automatic weapons. Second and Main, the bus terminal, police station, and restaurants."
Now, virtually every car on duty is responding to the still unknown, unconfirmed multiple calls. Suddenly you hear these chilling words: "Shots fired. Officers down. Repeat, officers down."
All hell now seems to be breaking loose, and it is.
This is the exact situation that the Mumbai police found themselves facing the night of Nov. 26. That's when 10 heavily armed terrorists systematically carried out deadly missions at 10 to 12 target locations in India's financial capital.
That's when a responding police van (containing anti-terror police) was ambushed and commandeered by terrorists after they killed three police and seriously wounded two others. The battle for Mumbai was now fully underway, the city was embroiled in complete chaos, and the worst was yet to come.
During the next 60 hours, 166 people would be killed. At least 304 would be wounded. Included among the dead were 16 perhaps 17 police and as many as four commandos. Initially, only Mumbai municipal police were tasked with repelling the yet unknown number of terrorist attackers, who were now moving from target to target, killing all persons they encountered along the way.
Eventually—by some estimates 10 hours later—Indian military and paramilitary commandos arrived on scene, and engaged in raging gun battles with the determined terrorists who were armed with automatic weapons, grenades, and explosives. The fighting that raged for 60 straight hours very quickly bogged down into room-to-room urban combat between commandos and terrorists, with scores of innocent persons caught in the middle.
Picture your town as the target city for this atrocity. The initial reaction by most of you is likely to be denial. "It can't happen here."
My answer to that is why not?
The Mumbai terror attack was a basic raid. It was a version of the same highly effective tactics employed by most SWAT teams, especially for multiple, simultaneous raids and searches. It was a testament to the devastating and deadly effects of stealth, surprise, shock, and speed.
• Stealth: Training, rehearsing, preparing, briefing, moving into launching position.
• Surprise: Springing the attacks without warning on unsuspecting targets, including responding police.
• Shock: Terrorists employing automatic weapons, grenades and explosives, along with the effect these tactics have upon their targets, population and police.
• Speed: Initially rapid assault, followed by slow, methodical, urban combat to slow down police and military response.
Picture these same tactics employed in your city, and tell me how prepared your agency would be to handle something of this magnitude. Consider Columbine. That incident involved two active shooters armed with homemade explosives (that thankfully failed to detonate) and semi-automatic weapons. Yet, it tied up dozens of police and SWAT personnel and ended up changing America's entire tactical response protocol for active shooters.
Consider Virginia Tech. What if there had been two active shooters instead of one? What if there were three, four, or five?
In the aftermath of Columbine, time was recognized as the key to successfully countering active shooters. As many deaths as there were at Virginian Tech, had it been pre-Columbine, the death toll would have been even more horrific than it already was. All we have to ask is what if there were five or 10 hardcore terrorists instead? Does anyone think they'd still advocate immediate single-officer engagement? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Take any active shooter incident, before or after Columbine, and time is at the very top of the police response list. Talk is out. There is no negotiating with active shooters or terrorists who are there to kill as many persons as they can before being stopped physically themselves.
What the Mumbai massacre has done for the counter terrorist world is open everyone's eyes and show them that the old-fashioned, rudimentary, straight-forward direct attack approach is a terrorist tactic that still works and works to deadly perfection.
The question for us in SWAT is if a Mumbai terror-type attack were to occur in our jurisdiction, would we be ready?
Next week, I'll discuss what being ready entails, and what we can do to prepare—without extra funding—right now.
Mumbai: What Law Enforcement Learned
Mumbai: You Would Have Shot Back