ibnlive » India

Jul 02, 2009 at 01:17am IST

26/11 lapses and the road ahead

New Delhi: India would like to put the events of Mumbai terror attack behind it, but the costly lessons that have been learnt can never be forgotten.

On November 26, 2008 crack commandos of the elite National Security Guards (NSG) waited to storm the Taj Mahal hotel in Colaba, Mumbai in their bid to rescue dozens of hostages from terrorists holed up inside.

However, the Mumbai police had just finished the first pre-operation briefing of the commandos on the layout of the hotel and its occupants. It was more than nine hours after the hostage drama first began in India's financial capital - a time lag which has now left security and counter-terrorism experts aghast.

"Normally, the NSG is ready to scramble in minutes, but there seemed to have been a delay in granting the go ahead," said former director general, NSG, Ved Marwah.

The handling of the Mumbai hostage crisis suggests two disturbing outcomes.

While experts agree there was an inordinate delay by the government in ordering commandos to the crisis spot, a near amateurish method seemed to have been used in scrambling them.

It was a mistake committed once earlier in 1999 while trying to block the path of Indian Airlines IC 814 when it took off for Kandahar.

Sources told CNN IBN that the go-ahead for airlifting commandos came well past midnight. It took over three hours for them to scramble and take off for Mumbai. The commandos were brought to the encounter spots in BEST buses and the commandos had no precise maps detailing hotel layout and access points.

All this, while the Mumbai police struggled to figure out the unprecedented situation.

"It seems there was lots of initial confusion, the Army is not at all equipped to handle such civilians hostage situations," said former director general of Punjab Police, KPS Gill.

The NSG, marine commandos and the Army special forces units are the only ones equipped to deal with hostage rescue. Sources tell CNN-IBN that it took the killing of Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare for the Maharashtra ATS to realise it had underestimated the terror threat. It therefore decided to bring in the NSG.

An early morning coordination meeting decided that the navy commandos also be brought in. Anti-terror and commando units are now grappling with a new scenario - unprecedented hostage situations in high profile enclosed buildings, never encountered in metropolitan India.

(With inputs from Mansi Sharma)