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Innovative responses to terror attacks

Innovative responses to terror attacks​

Ejaz Haider
30TH JAN, 2022. 10:21 AM
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The Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) attack on an army post in Kech district of southwest Balochistan requires close analysis, not least because since last year the frequency of such attacks has increased as have the numbers of security forces personnel (including police and paramilitary troops) killed and injured by terrorist groups ambushing patrol parties and raiding posts.

At the time of writing this article (Thursday afternoon), there was no word on the terrorist attack from Inter-Services Public Relations. Inquiries made by me on Wednesday night begot cryptic responses with no details. I was told that information was awaited because the attack had happened in a “far-flung area” (no response came forth on inquiries made on Thursday morning).

But let’s get to why it is important to treat and analyse such attacks with greater diligence than the perfunctory statements issued by ISPR or the platitudes about the bravery of the fallen. There are three levels of analysis in ascending order: tactical, theatre and strategic-political.

Tactical Level

Terrorist groups conduct two types of tactical operations: ambush and raid (suicide bombing is another which can either be an isolated attack with the bomber and his handler or a raid that combines the use of direct fire systems with attackers wearing IED belts).

Ambushes by these groups are generally point ambushes, meaning the attackers deploy to target a particular area or what is called a single kill zone (to my knowledge, there haven’t been incidents of area ambushes where the attacker deploys forces for more than one point ambush — but I could be wrong). The elements and objectives of an ambush are simple and common sensical.

Neither an ambush nor a raid is meant to hold ground. The attacking force remains in the area only for the duration in which it is setting up an ambush and the time it takes to engage the force being attacked. The attacking force withdraws immediately after the attack and, generally, before the force under attack can get ground reinforcements or air support. The duration for which an attacking force remains in the area would depend on a number of factors — whether the ambush is simple (sometimes a target of opportunity) or complex, terrain, lines of communication of both the attackers and the attacked and the attackers’ exfiltration route.

Depending on reconnaissance, the target, the terrain, the objective, the security of the lines of communication of the attacking force and safe exfiltration, the attacking force can use IEDs, direct fire weapons and, in some cases, indirect fire systems like mortars. Every ambush has a kill zone, the area where the attacking force will concentrate its fire and where the force under attack has tactical disadvantages.

A raid, like an ambush, exploits the element of surprise. It can be conducted against a post (position), an installation, a building or a complex. Unlike an ambush, a raid is mounted against a static target. Its planning and success require first-rate intelligence on the vulnerable points of the target both in physical terms as well as in terms of any procedural weaknesses exhibited by whoever is defending the position. Again, like an ambush, a raid has a specific objective or objectives but is not meant to seize or hold ground. It can be conducted to destroy a position or installation, kill personnel of a defending force, harass the adversary, secure release of hostages, gain critical information and so on. During the attack phase, the attacking force makes every effort to isolate the target so it can accomplish its mission before the defenders can get ground or air support.

This is just a bird’s-eye view of these tactical operations (though they can be conducted in support of a broader strategic objective). Any further discussion detailing the technicalities of these operations is outside the scope of this article.

Theatre Level

This level of analysis has to focus on the commands and procedures in a bigger area (Corps-size) where troops (whether army or paramilitary) are vulnerable and likely to be targeted/attacked. Given the size of Balochistan, the theatre has already been divided since some years in Frontier Corps’ North and South Commands. The Quetta Corps sits at the apex of this force structure. At this level of analysis one has to look into plans, training, logistics, Corps tasks/objectives, procedures in the service of those objectives, the ability of officers to lead at subordinate levels (Division, Brigade, Battalion, Company, Platoon) and read the troops into what they are supposed to do.

Given the nature of this kind of conflict — call it irregular, low-intensity or COIN — it is also important to create what I once called “adaptive NCOs” in an article for Hilal, the armed forces magazine. The United States army worked on the concept of the adaptive soldier for over a decade and in 2015 came up with what it calls ASLTE (Adaptive Soldier Leader Training and Education). The concept doesn’t just focus on completing a task to a standard but stresses developing initiative and the ability to think on one’s feet.

The theatre level, therefore, has to deal with multiple tasks and objectives apart from thinking at a higher altitude. If that is being done, the results on the ground at the tac level do not show it. For instance, as a former 3-star said to me, “Diluting troops in standing patrols is a wrong concept.” He was also clear that failure to detect and preempt enemy movement is intelligence failure. At a minimum, according to him, “They should have a target brief on a weekly basis and assess progress against hideouts and routes.”

The problem is that there is no system or mechanism for an independent audit of what the army does because it remains a closed club. It is also averse to opening up, especially about making mistakes public. Ideally, that needs to change. But since power is relational, that’s unlikely. Corollary: there won’t be any informed discussion of the various concerns that a researcher would like to engage with, know about and analyse.

Strategic-Political Level

As should be obvious, this is the highest level that brings the civilian principals and military leadership on a national security forum to ensure there’s no mismatch between foreign and security policies. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northwest Balochistan, most attacks emanate from Afghanistan; in southwest Balochistan they come from across the border with Iran.

The problem of what happens at the tac level on the ground rises to the highest level of interstate relations. It is a known fact that BLF has for long operated from Iran’s soil. Known also is the fact that other Baloch terrorist groups like BLA/BRA have relocated to Iran from Afghanistan since August last year.

The issue is on the table with Iran; the TTP issue is on the table with Kabul. But, and this is important, until such time that things can be resolved at the strategic-political level, we cannot afford to continue losing men to such attacks. This is where we return to the element and quality of command at the theatre level and the safety and effectiveness of troops at the tac level.

ISR — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — is crucial in support of troops on the ground. There’s no reason at this stage of our technological development to not be able to provide eyes to the defenders. Take the recent attack: a raid of this nature cannot be mounted without extensive preparation. It involves reconnaissance over a long period; the attacking force needs to have intel on the post’s lines of communication; it needs to have secure lines for infiltration and exfiltration, among other things. If counterintelligence fails to pick up the spoor of such activities, then we have a problem. Equally, and I have said this before at a different forum, we need to develop proactive counterterrorism capabilities: i.e., take out the terrorists before they get to us.

I realise that this is a very sketchy analysis of a much more complex problem. Much more can, and should, be written about what needs to be done. Innovation is important. While there are fundamentals and procedures, commanders have to take into account operational variables. The variables quite likely differ from one operational environment to another. That’s where the tac level has to inform the theatre level and the latter has to develop SOPs and gear the training and responses to those variables.

Corollary: the army has to move beyond desultory press releases praising martyrdom and begin to take these attacks and casualties with the seriousness they deserve.


The writer is a journalist with interest in foreign and security policies.

 

Bleek

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Eh, a delight to read as always. I talk about some solutions here: https://defence.pk/pdf/threads/poin...ss-manpower-constraints.734829/#post-13552133
It's pointless talking about solutions, it's not as if the voices are actually heard and acknowledged by anyone important. This country struggles to handle its own domestic issues let alone external issues, and the intelligence gathering seems to be sub-par, they are being defeated in every aspect. The economy doesn't help at all. Politics are being fuelled by ethnic chauvinism and there are rats roaming freely fueling sectarianism. We are being destroyed from within and outside, incompetency and corruption doesn't help either. Future is dim.
 

Pak Nationalist

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It's pointless talking about solutions, it's not as if the voices are actually heard and acknowledged by anyone important. This country struggles to handle its own domestic issues let alone external issues, and the intelligence gathering seems to be sub-par, they are being defeated in every aspect. The economy doesn't help at all. Politics are being fuelled by ethnic chauvinism and there are rats roaming freely fueling sectarianism. We are being destroyed from within and outside, incompetency and corruption doesn't help either. Future is dim.
The more the merrier when it comes to voices of reform.
 

R Wing

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What is "Innovative" in this Article?

Eh, a delight to read as always. I talk about some solutions here: https://defence.pk/pdf/threads/poin...ss-manpower-constraints.734829/#post-13552133

It's pointless talking about solutions, it's not as if the voices are actually heard and acknowledged by anyone important. This country struggles to handle its own domestic issues let alone external issues, and the intelligence gathering seems to be sub-par, they are being defeated in every aspect. The economy doesn't help at all. Politics are being fuelled by ethnic chauvinism and there are rats roaming freely fueling sectarianism. We are being destroyed from within and outside, incompetency and corruption doesn't help either. Future is dim.

Ah, yes --- our "defense analysts" at it again with painfully obvious 'innovative ideas.'

The problem with these "excellent sheep" (a term coined by a Yale/Columbia professor to denote what have otherwise been called 'intellectual-yet-idiots') is that their entire thinking and consciousness is limited.

The basis of all strategy must be deterrence theory. This is a world, based on realpolitik, that operates on COSTS. Not a word in the entire 'analysis' on raising the cost for India. That is the only way this problem goes away. Those who have studied insurgencies and terror movements with foreign support and cross-border sanctuary (e.g., Afghan Taliban fighting NATO with some support from us) know that you can't win unless you raise the cost for the backers of the militants.

But, of course, you can't mention that to these doves. Are these generals or charlatans?
 

Pak Nationalist

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Ah, yes --- our "defense analysts" at it again with painfully obvious 'innovative ideas.'

The problem with these "excellent sheep" (a term coined by a Yale/Columbia professor to denote what have otherwise been called 'intellectual-yet-idiots') is that their entire thinking and consciousness is limited.

The basis of all strategy must be deterrence theory. This is a world, based on realpolitik, that operates on COSTS. Not a word in the entire 'analysis' on raising the cost for India. That is the only way this problem goes away. Those who have studied insurgencies and terror movements with foreign support and cross-border sanctuary (e.g., Afghan Taliban fighting NATO with some support from us) know that you can't win unless you raise the cost for the backers of the militants.

But, of course, you can't mention that to these doves. Are these generals or charlatans?
Both can be done simultaneously. Indians put their house in order and they are also playing offense.
 

R Wing

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Both can be done simultaneously. Indians put their house in order and they are also playing offense.

Exactly --- except you will NEVER hear about smart, deniable offense as a core part of our strategy from anyone.

You either get the current crop of pacifists like the COAS or the outright war-mongers --- neither help the discussion.
 

Pak Nationalist

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Exactly --- except you will NEVER hear about smart, deniable offense as a core part of our strategy from anyone.

You either get the current crop of pacifists like the COAS or the outright war-mongers --- neither help the discussi
Warmonger is exactly what no one wants to be called. Everyone knows that these problems don't sort themselves out by offering the other cheek. Even in the 90's when we were rampaging in IoJK Indians engaged us via Karachi. It seems like a one-sided affair now. I made a comment about the current crop of military leaders and was handed an official warning. When you can't discuss these things on a Pakistani DEFENCE forum, good luck!

Military leaders of this country have accepted the daily attrition rather than risking an all-out conflict by quid pro quo in the subcon ream. It is an "acceptable" cost for them. Here comes the second warning! However, I would say what needs to be said. Someone has to in a crowd of conformists and yes-sirs.
 

R Wing

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Warmonger is exactly what no one wants to be called. Everyone knows that these problems don't sort themselves out by offering the other cheek. Even in the 90's when we were rampaging in IoJK Indians engaged us via Karachi. It seems like a one-sided affair now. I made a comment about the current crop of military leaders and was handed an official warning. When you can't discuss these things on a Pakistani DEFENCE forum, good luck!

Military leaders of this country have accepted the daily attrition rather than risking an all-out conflict by quid pro quo in the subcon ream. It is an "acceptable" cost for them. Here comes the second warning! However, I would say what needs to be said. Someone has to in a crowd of conformists and yes-sirs.

You've hit the nail on the head.

BTW, we don't respond because of limitations of both capacity/capability AND will --- this combination is particularly dangerous, since coming back from it requires extraordinary effort and vision (both are not forthcoming or visible anywhere across the entire civ/mil leadership).

The short story is that the US now places great importance in Indian stability and territorial claims, as it sees India as the primary vehicle through which it can try to contain China. This means India gets real-time top-sec SIGINT from the NSA and benefits from US 'information dominance' (war of narratives) in the Western press.

India, with Doval heading the nat-sec establishment, has taken great advantage of this predicament and has pushed for modernization, with several new cyber-related agencies propping up in the past few years --- we've had none. This combination has made our methods and existing capacities essentially useless, since they aren't deniable anymore. Back when India didn't have US backing, we could run multiple insurgencies there without any issue. We failed to modernize and anticipate the seismic US shift to align with Indian regional interests. Now, all our tradecraft and methodologies don't work. And --- to be frank --- how can they work? No premier foreign intel agency in the world is led by army officers, most with zero experience and/or aptitude.

The actual solution is to double down, get the best and brightest into intel, and dare greatly --- but the solution our civ/mil leadership has opted for is to bury their head in the sand and pretend like peace can come without painfully and strategically building deterrence down to the subconventional/proxy level. The results are in front of us, particularly in Balochistan.

It's really as simple as that. We lack the vision, will, and capacity --- all three are interlinked, but with the vision and will, we can eventually build the requisite deniable 'gray zone' capacities.

PS: Every single thing mentioned above is a fact, not an opinion. And all of it is verifiable if one knows where to look. I can link US declassified documents here (from as recent as 2018) that clearly spells out this strategy.
 

Pak Nationalist

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You've hit the nail on the head.

BTW, we don't respond because of limitations of both capacity/capability AND will --- this combination is particularly dangerous, since coming back from it requires extraordinary effort and vision (both are not forthcoming or visible anywhere across the entire civ/mil leadership).

The short story is that the US now places great importance in Indian stability and territorial claims, as it sees India as the primary vehicle through which it can try to contain China. This means India gets real-time top-sec SIGINT from the NSA and benefits from US 'information dominance' (war of narratives) in the Western press.

India, with Doval heading the nat-sec establishment, has taken great advantage of this predicament and has pushed for modernization, with several new cyber-related agencies propping up in the past few years --- we've had none. This combination has made our methods and existing capacities essentially useless, since they aren't deniable anymore. Back when India didn't have US backing, we could run multiple insurgencies there without any issue. We failed to modernize and anticipate the seismic US shift to align with Indian regional interests. Now, all our tradecraft and methodologies don't work. And --- to be frank --- how can they work? No premier foreign intel agency in the world is led by army officers, most with zero experience and/or aptitude.

The actual solution is to double down, get the best and brightest into intel, and dare greatly --- but the solution our civ/mil leadership has opted for is to bury their head in the sand and pretend like peace can come without painfully and strategically building deterrence down to the subconventional/proxy level. The results are in front of us, particularly in Balochistan.

It's really as simple as that. We lack the vision, will, and capacity --- all three are interlinked, but with the vision and will, we can eventually build the requisite deniable 'gray zone' capacities.

PS: Every single thing mentioned above is a fact, not an opinion. And all of it is verifiable if one knows where to look. I can link US declassified documents here (from as recent as 2018) that clearly spells out this strategy.
I would like to disagree when you say we do not have the capability. Last December's events in Poonch are evidence that the capability exists but has entered into latency due to the state policy. We just launch probing attacks every now and then. I do agree with what you say about the growing capability of the Indian security infrastructure. Their signals intelligence work is next level. Either that or Kashmiri resistance is extremely dumb (under-equipped when it comes to comm systems, unlike the terrorists in Balochistan or tribal districts of KP).
 
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R Wing

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I would like to disagree when you say we do not have the capability. Last December's events in Poonch are evidence that the capability exists but has entered into latency due to the state policy. We just launch probing attacks every now and then. I do agree with what you say about the growing capability of the Indian security infrastructure. Their signals intelligence work is next level. Either that or Kashmiri resistance is extremely dumb (under-equipped when it comes to comm systems, unlike the terrorists in Balochistan or tribal districts of KP).

That is the max capability we have. A few more of those, and we exhaust most resources / assets.

Whereas what we need is a sustained insurgency and ways to organically weaponize the legitimate anger that is present against the illegal and immoral occupation.

All the comms systems given to them would light up in NSA collection programs and, recently, even Indian ones. They've invested in a highly sophisticated 'grid' that monitors everything from satellite phones to frequency-hopping radios. Don't forget that our officers exercise poor tradecraft.

When I see it is a lack of capacity --- I don't mean we have (literally) none.

Baloch and TTP terrorists benefit from much greater support and by their backers AND much weaker defense/SIGINT/deterrence (raising the cost for the backers) by us. These are the key differences. The borders are also significantly more porous on our Western flank.
 

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