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Friday, November 28

Mumbai Massacres: At the intersection of piracy and terrorism

On November 18 and again on November 23 I wrote urgently that unless governments and the shipping industry treated pirate attacks as acts of war and acted accordingly, they were opening the door for terrorists to use piracy as a cover for capturing ships to use in terrorist attacks. The scenario I feared has already played out. This morning Bill Roggio, writing for Long War Journal, relays news that the Mumbai terrorists used at least one hijacked sailing vessel:
[...] Reports indicate at least two of the assault teams arrived from outside the city by sea around 9 p.m. local time. Indian officials believe most if not all of the attackers entered Mumbai via sea.

Indian Coast Guard, Navy, Mumbai maritime police, and customs units have scoured the waters off Mumbai in search of a "mother ship" that transported one or more smaller Gemini inflatable boats used by the attackers. A witness saw one of the craft land in Colaba in southern Mumbai and disgorge eight to 10 fighters.

Two ships that have been boarded are strongly suspected of being involved in the attacks: the Kuber, an Indian fishing boat, and the MV Alpha, a Vietnamese cargo ship.

Both ships appear to have been directly involved. The Kuber was hijacked on Nov. 13, and its captain was found murdered. Four crewmen are reported to still be missing. [...]
This use of hijacked ships is not the scenario I fear most, which is turning ships into WMD in the way the 9/11 hijackers did with jet planes. But it doesn't require transforming a hijacked ship into a WMD for terrorists to use piracy to wreak devastation, as the assault on Mumbai amply illustrates.

Someone had better pull Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Paul Van Riper out of mothballs again and ask him to brainstorm an overarching plan for dealing with piracy.

Years ago ZenPundit told me about Van Riper and brought up his name more recently in our discussions about piracy. For those with a short memory or those who never knew, not since the Carthaginians beat the Romans in Ridley Scott's Gladiator has there been such a military upset as the one staged by Van Riper in a 2002 war game:
At the height of the summer, as talk of invading Iraq built in Washington like a dark, billowing storm, the US armed forces staged a rehearsal using over 13,000 troops, countless computers and $250m. Officially, America won and a rogue state was liberated from an evil dictator.

What really happened is quite another story ... In fact, this war game was won by Saddam Hussein, or at least by the retired Marine playing the Iraqi dictator's part, Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper.

In the first few days of the exercise, using surprise and unorthodox tactics, the wily 64-year-old Vietnam veteran sank most of the US expeditionary fleet in the Persian Gulf, bringing the US assault to a halt.

What happened next will be familiar to anyone who ever played soldiers in the playground. Faced with an abrupt and embarrassing end to the most expensive and sophisticated military exercise in US history, the Pentagon top brass simply pretended the whole thing had not happened. They ordered their dead troops back to life and "refloated" the sunken fleet. Then they instructed the enemy forces to look the other way as their marines performed amphibious landings.

Eventually, Van Riper got so fed up with all this cheating that he refused to play any more. Instead, he sat on the sidelines making abrasive remarks until the three-week war game - grandiosely entitled Millennium Challenge - staggered to a star-spangled conclusion on August 15, with a US "victory."
So it's not as if the U.S. doesn't have the brainpower. But just as India's crack team of NSG commandos sat sidelined during the first critical hours of the assault on Mumbai, the unorthodox thinking needed to halt today's piracy is being ignored in favor of lumbering, traditional military approaches.

Yet the stakes couldn't be higher for civilization if terrorists continue to use piracy to serve their plans.
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