Decision-making in terrorist-hostage situations: Observations from the Mumbai case

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  thinks any developing terrorist situation suffers from Clausewitz’s “fog of war”, viz., “The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonshine — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.”

Subroto Roy thinks that in terrorist-hostage situations, the commander of the first-responding units should be the prima facie decision-maker whose directions need to be followed even by (more high-powered) reinforcements because of the Hayekian reason that person may be presumed to have the best/deepest/longest knowledge of the particular circumstances.

Subroto Roy is led to think DCP Patil, the first responder at the Taj, had correctly identified where the terrorists were and begged for reinforcements which came far too late because the Army captain given orders to surround the hotel refused to move inside without further orders, and the Navy commandos did not turn up. Mumbai police were as brave as they could be — the military (including the NSG) have a lot to answer for.

Subroto Roy is coming to the view that the Army general who sent the contingent to the Taj without orders to assist the police fully was a key person yet to be held accountable.

Subroto Roy says: Of course one has to go location by location. But the Taj was in a sense the most signficant and the one where victory was closest and possible the earliest. DCP Patil was the first responder who was in position and had pinpointed the room the terrorists were in for long. This was *before* the handlers ordered the fire. Patil repeatedly pleaded for an armed force to attack, which he would have joined. The Army turned up and then the Captain in charge said he could not join this attack without further Army orders. Had that attack occurred, say by 40 men against 2 or 4, the Taj would have been secured, perhaps prisoners captured.  Secondly, the capture of Kasab was entirely done by the police, no military involved. The commando operations at Nariman House looked rather ham-handed, even inept. The single most critical failure appears to have been that Army Captain saying he did not have orders to join an attack inside the Taj. (And it was less the Captain’s failure than the General’s who had sent him.) The remainder was part of the “fog of war”.

Subroto Roy says: My assessment is that the police did what they could and knew how to given a surprise attack of unknown dimensions and given poor resources. I do not blame a policeman armed with a lathi or a .303 if he takes cover or flees from an assault-rifle. They told the Chief Secretary to ask for Army help who did so. The Army, Navy and NSG were where tangible failures of leadership may have occurred, though of course there were individual NSG men and officers who were exceptional. The initial attack that DCP Patil had recommended would not only have worked (because there was no fire/smoke at the time) but would have swung the battle decisively. As it turned out, it took 60+hours to kill 9 men, plus a lot of casualties and damage.


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