Saturday, November 29, 2008


A lack of basic equipment is inexcusable

As the Mumbai attacks draw to an end and as we all keep on feeling stunned, horrified and helpless, for some reason one question more than others keeps making me feel outraged and keeps on riddling my mind- Why didn't those courageous NSG commandos who fanned out in the Taj have any maps when they went in? As they stormed the complex hotel full of a maze of corridors and rooms, they were immediately at a disadvantage since the terrorists knew the hotel inside out. As the leader recounts in this interview, the commandos stepped in the dark without any maps and were confronted with gunfire and hand grenades coming from all directions. In addition, the terrorists knew the hotel well enough to vanish in the middle of an attack and resurface elsewhere. Can we imagine police in New York City not having any maps of the Waldorf hotel if terrorists take over it?

As if lack of maps did not erect enough barriers, the commandos also did not seem to have night vision goggles which would have been invaluable in these circumstances. Another report lists the lack of high-quality rifle telescopes that would have helped far-away snipers to distinguish between hostages and terrorists and possibly take the terrorists out cleanly from a distance. And all this before we even get started on the relatively late response, the dearth of advanced firearms in the hands of local police, and the already existing great difficulty that the commandos faced of making out hostages from terrorists and convincing hostages that they themselves were not terrorists. To me it all sounds atrocious.

The thorniest situations are usually described by an analogy involving looking for a black cat in a dark room, a cat that might not even be there. This scenario comes close to that most absurdly nightmarish of all scenarios. Shouldn't there have been at least a few copies of maps of major hotels in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation? Would it have been too much to ask that maps for a major city building not just be confined to the custody of people inside the building itself? When we see a team of top commandos getting ready to storm a building besieged by terrorists even in Hollywood blockbusters, one of the first things we see is the leader or someone else pulling up a map and intensely scrutinizing it with his team on top of a car hood or on the ground. This is not fiction. It should be basic preliminary protocol and basic common sense. Not having access to equipment as fundamental as maps, night vision goggles and high-quality rifle scopes is an insult to our army, police and special operations personnel and it makes me want to barf.

There is only one thing more disturbing and heartbreaking than watching a superb team of well-equipped operatives trying hard and failing to quickly finish off a terrorist operation. It is to watch a top team of brave operatives rush into an operation without being well-equipped. Especially the sort that should have been essential and readily available. Systems which do not provide such basics should be abolished and cast into the bin of antiquity. Our brave men and women deserve this much, even from our lackadaisical and spineless political leaders.

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