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Posted on Dec 9, 2008 in War College

iGuerrilla Version 2.0 – The Terrorist and the Guerrilla Converge at Mumbai

By John Sutherland

An Indian soldier aims his weapon toward The Taj Majal Hotel in Mumbai, Nov. 29, 2008. Indian commandos killed the last Islamic militants holed up inside the hotel, ending the more than two-day terror assault on India's financial capital. Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Image.

News reports claim that the attackers carried handheld GPS navigators, the tool that probably guided the speedboats to their insertion points and then would get the teams very quickly to their targets.

The recent attacks in Mumbai, India, may have opened a chilling new chapter in terrorism and guerrilla warfare. John  R. Sutherland, senior analyst and division chief at the Joint Center for Operational Analysis, explains in this article for Armchair General.


We introduced the iGuerrilla in the May ‘08 issue of Armchair General as the New Model Techno-Insurgent, a high-tech guerrilla motivated by religious fanaticism. We stated that the terrorist Hizballah paramilitary force that fought the ‘06 Lebanon War was the modern-day embodiment of the new wave warrior / iGuerrilla. Hizballah had made the leap from boonie-hopping bands of AK-toting, would-be revolutionaries pulling off the occasional raid or ambush to a well-trained force consisting of semi-professional troops executing a well-conceived elastic defense while armed with anti-tank missiles, computers, night vision, and long range rockets. These guys ran Lebanon from the shadows, built bunkers, established an extensive network of caches, took on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and, all the while, managed to retain their non-state actor status. The fighters of the 2006 Lebanon War were highly trained, well equipped, and even better armed with modern weapons and technology than any non-state guerrilla force we’ve ever seen … but they were still guerrillas.

As if the rise of the iGuerrilla wasn’t enough, the threat has morphed yet again. Like a virus, the iG has reorganized its DNA in order to form a new and more lethal variant. The latest version of the iG has taken on a more terrorist-like flavor while preserving its original guerrilla foundations. It can now strike at a new host. iG v 2.0 has exploited technology just as the original did in order to facilitate its attack. The new virus doesn’t fight with state armies; rather, it prefers to commit a sort of prolonged and theatrical suicide that maximizes media exposure, generates massive societal disruption, and inflicts maximum mayhem, violence, and destruction. The iG 2.0 employs guerrilla tactics, techniques, and procedures while in pursuit of terrorist effects and objectives. For this to make sense, we’ll have to initiate the discussion by paraphrasing a few sources that address some basic definitions and descriptions.

What is a Guerrilla? According to The American Heritage Dictionary, a guerrilla is a member of an irregular, usually indigenous, military or paramilitary unit operating in small bands in occupied territory to harass and undermine the enemy, as by surprise raids. Guerrilla is the diminutive form of the Spanish word for war (Guerra). One can envision in the mind’s eye a group of plotting, armed, Robin Hoods who seek the overthrow of the Sheriff of Nottingham and his replacement by their own exalted leader.

What is Guerrilla Warfare? For this description, we’ll rely on the definition from the International Relations Program at University of California, Davis. Guerrilla war is unconventional warfare (not army against army) and combat with which a small group of combatants use mobile tactics such as ambushes and raids to fight a larger and less mobile formal state army. Guerrilla war includes certain kinds of civil wars and is warfare without front lines or boundaries. The irregular forces that fight guerrilla wars operate among the civilian population and are often hidden or protected by them. The purpose of guerrilla war is not to engage the state army directly but rather to conduct continuing operations to harass and punish it so as to gradually limit its operation, liberate territory from its control, and erode its support.

In guerrilla war without lines there is territory that neither side controls; both sides exert military leverage over the same place at the same time. This makes guerrilla wars extremely painful for civilians because conventional armies fighting guerrillas often cannot distinguish them from civilians and so punish both. This aspect allows non-state actors to exploit international law—a concept known as Lawfare. Guerrillas operate from bases established in remote and inaccessible terrain, such as forests, mountains, and jungles. They depend on the support from the local inhabitants in the form of recruits, food, shelter, and information. Striking swiftly and unexpectedly, guerrillas raid supply depots and installations, ambush patrols and convoys, and sever lines of communication with the goal being the disruption of the state’s activities and the capture of equipment and supplies for their own use.

What is a Terrorist? This is a bit tougher to pin down since there are literally hundreds of definitions for terrorists out there. We’ll go with Princeton University’s WordNet on this one. A terrorist is a radical who employs terror as a political weapon, usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells, and often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities. For this one we envision a Guy Fawkes–type of character packing the sewers under the Parliament with gunpowder with the plan of blowing up the place while in session, or maybe we see the skulking PLO gunman, complete with full face ski mask, patrolling the roof of the Olympic Village in Munich.

What is Terrorism? We’ll stick with Princeton University’s WordNet. Terrorism is the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political, religious, or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear. Terrorism requires violence that provokes psychological impact and fear that is perpetrated for a political goal. Terrorism deliberately targets non-combatants, is executed (at least in part) incognito, and is viewed as unlawful by the population at large.

All in all, terrorists and guerrillas are quite a bit alike … and yet are somewhat different. Both represent weak forces taking on much stronger opponents and because of that, the guerrilla and terrorist are forced to resort to asymmetric warfare techniques. Historically, guerrillas tend to focus locally. They attack state sources of power in pursuit of a pragmatic goal while trying to win over the populace. Terrorists, on the other hand, tend to be more sporadic and are willing to strike anywhere if it promotes their cause. They seek the de-legitimization of the state through coercion of the public. Much like a protection racket, they’ll protect you from their own attacks if you turn on the police who are supposed to protect you. Guerrillas resort to terrorism as a tactic from time to time when they are weak, while terrorists typically cannot resort to guerrilla tactics and thus rely almost exclusively on public displays of violence. Let’s do a hasty comparative analysis to see if we can sort out one from the other.

When we think of guerrillas we think of Lawrence of Arabia, Mao, and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. When we think of guerrilla wars the Vendee Uprising in the early days of the French Republic comes to mind—if you do a little homework—or more likely, you’d conjure up the Boer War, the Malayan Emergency, the Battle for Algeria, or the mujahedeen of Afghanistan. All of these scenarios are familiar. They remind us of partisans, freedom fighters, and communist insurgents. We approve of some guerrilla movements and we oppose some, but they all seem conventional and somewhat respectable—at least we understand them. Guerrillas are hard but rational. They negotiate, and even the sectarian guerrillas will strike a deal if concessions are made that address their perceived grievances.

When we think of terrorists we think of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigades, Shining Path, and Al Qaeda. We think of unsavory characters like Abu Nidal, Usama Bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos the Jackal). These guys are relentless zealots, nihilists, and utopians. They will kill, kidnap, and bomb their way through anyone to get what they want. They don’t cut deals; either you’re with them or you’re dead. When we think of terrorism we remember airline hijackings, bombings, and assassinations of famous leaders like Lord Louis Mountbatten and President Anwar Sadat. We see Munich, the Achille Lauro, and 9-11. Terrorist events seem more criminal than warlike, and they even shock the terrorists’ supporters. They come across as unjust—why toss Leon Klinghoffer, in his wheelchair, overboard on the Achille Lauro? How does this simple act of very personal cruelty help to liberate Palestine? Unlike guerrillas, these guys come across as irrational. The guerrilla resembles Robin Hood, while the terrorist resembles Jack the Ripper.

The writings of Chinese leader Mao Zedong helped shape modern guerrilla warfare.Convergence. Mao Zedong shaped modern-day guerrilla warfare and, in a way, made room for the terrorist and guerrilla to coexist. The Maoist theory of People’s War divides warfare into three phases. In phase one the guerrilla earns the population’s support by distributing propaganda and attacking the organs of government. In phase two, he escalates his attacks against the state’s military forces and institutions—there is room for some terrorism here, but it must be measured so as not to undo phase one. Phase three sees the conflict shift to conventional warfare in which guerrilla armies seize key terrain and cities, overthrow the government, and take control of the country. The initial phases of insurgency see a blurring of the lines between terrorism and guerrilla warfare, making a clear-cut designation problematic at times.

Similarities and differences. Guerrillas seem larger than life and even somewhat romantic—see Che Guevara T-shirts—while terrorists come across as wild-eyed maniacs. Guerrillas attack what they see as their inherently guilty and corrupt enemy, while terrorists attack the innocent in order to indirectly coerce their enemy. Both use asymmetric techniques but guerrillas seem to take a more or less legitimate, if aggravating, path that holds out the promise of political resolution. Terrorists follow a bloody and uncompromising path.

What is iG v 2.0? As I watched the Mumbai attack unfold over several days in late November I got the feeling that this was something different. It wasn’t a high-tech, one-shot deal like 9-11, nor was it another garden-variety, chaotic bombing like the one that struck the Marriot in Karachi. This was more like a military raid that had no planned withdrawal. It seemed to have been launched with the surgical precision of a special operation. It was quick and slick. It seemed like the iGuerrilla had left the battlefield arena and entered the realm of the terrorist.

iG v 2 is a hybrid that includes genes from the guerrilla, the terrorist, and techno genes from the iGuerrilla. I suspected that Mumbai had the latter and news reports on that came in on December 3 and 4 bore out my suspicion. The attack itself wasn’t all that original but the tools that made it so precise were. Mumbai was an outbreak of the iG v 2 virus—a Hizballah-like iGuerrilla entity augmented with an Al Qaeda–like flare for public suicidal violence. The Mumbai attack was very guerrilla but the end state was very terrorist and the innovation was very iGuerrilla.

The Mumbai attack represents the merger of the terrorist and the iG. For five days, from Nov 30 to Dec 1, somewhere between 10 and 40 operatives captured and held the world’s attention by pulling off at least seven attacks in the high visibility heart of Mumbai, India.

The Guerrilla Element. The Mumbai attackers employed old-fashioned guerrilla tactics. They used speedboats for rapid insertion. They were broken down into several small assault teams. They hit soft targets and they used small arms, grenades, and explosives in their attacks.

The Terrorist Element. The attack was very visible; there was no attempt at stealth. They took hundreds of hostages, some of whom they tortured and killed. The casualty figures were around 170 with another 300 or more maimed (none of these figures are final at the time of this writing). The targets were not political or military; as usual, the victims were non-combatants. The sites they attacked were not government buildings, they were innocuous civilian hangouts like the Leopold Café, the Chhatrapati Shivaji train terminal, the Oberoi Hotel, the Trident Hotel, the Taj Mahal Hotel, and the Chabad House Jewish Center (the only nonpartisan objective). The attackers were members of the Deccan Mujaheddin, an AQ affiliate that apparently operates out of the tribal regions of Pakistan. They were not executing a guerrilla hit-and-run, their goal was clearly to wreak as much death and destruction as possible.

The iG Element. News reports claim that the attackers carried handheld GPS navigators, the tool that probably guided the speedboats to their insertion points and then would get the teams very quickly to their targets. No more landing at the wrong pier or running to the wrong building. No more taking the wrong turn down the dead end alley, now you can get where you have to be when you have to be there. (Fox News Report, "Technology Gave Mumbai Terrorists Tactical Edge," Wednesday, December 03, 2008)

They also carried satellite phones and BlackBerrys ("Gunmen Used Technology as a Tactical Tool, Mumbai Attackers Had GPS Units, Satellite Maps," Emily Wax, Washington Post Foreign Service, Wednesday, December 3, 2008). These would obviously enhance command and control and mission coordination. The Mumbai mob used satellite phones and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) in Pakistan, thus making their calls hard to trace. Once the attacks were underway the terrorists took victims’ cell phones and swapped the SIM cards to further confuse anyone hoping to intercept their communications. The teams could have easily reported all the way back to Pakistan given these tools—no more waiting breathlessly in a cave with the shortwave on and a cup of chai in your hand! These devices would eliminate the time-honored tradition of synchronizing watches or waiting for the initial casualty-producing burst that kicks off the entire operation. My guess— just a hunch—is that there were probably multiple observation posts manned by spotters who could vector assault teams to their targets and away from Indian security forces. Once on the ground, the attackers monitored the Indian response by watching TV. They also may have monitored Internet reports, blogs, YouTube and other sources of streaming and constant situation updates.

Reports state that the Mumbai mob used the Internet to dig up information on their planned objectives. Apparently they downloaded what they needed, then burned mission CDs containing detailed maps and Google Earth images of their targets. The only terrorist captured has told police that he was shown video and satellite images of the targets before the attack! No more paying off desk clerks and cab drivers to snap drive-by photos or pace off intersections—simply go on line and do a cyber recon. Welcome to point-and-click mission preparation and rehearsal.

An internal security expert at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, India, told the Washington Post that, "they were not sailors, but they were able to use sophisticated GPS navigation tools and detailed maps to sail from Karachi to Mumbai."

"Most of their rehearsals to familiarize themselves with Mumbai were done on high-resolution satellite maps, so they would have a good feel for the city’s streets and buildings where they were going," terrorism expert Praveen Swami told the Post.

The precision of the movement rendered clandestine infiltration unnecessary. This wasn’t like Munich where the attackers had to dress like athletes, then had to bluff their way into the complex, and then had to figure where things were after arriving on site. The Mumbai teams knew exactly where they were and where they were headed. This is iG v 2.0. Mumbai was a terrorist attack that exploited modern information technology. Like the Hizballah fighters in 2006, the Mumbai attackers of 2008 used all the modern technology within their reach to conduct their operation.

This type of attack isn’t new or even novel. Terrorists have carried out these types of attacks before and have hit these kinds of targets before. They’ve even been able to "make it last" like Mumbai did. Below are two very similar examples:

November 17, 1997; Tourist Attack in Luxor, Egypt: Al-Gama’at al-Islamiyya gunmen killed 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians and wounded 26 others at the Hatshepsut Temple in the Valley of the Kings near Luxor. Thirty-four Swiss, eight Japanese, five Germans, four Britons, one French, one Colombian, a dual Bulgarian/British citizen, and four unidentified persons were among the dead. Twelve Swiss, two Japanese, two Germans, one French, and nine Egyptians were among the wounded.

And more recently . . .

September 1 – 3, 2004; Beslan, Russia: Islamist gunmen take over 1,000 hostages, mostly children, at a school in North Ossetia. After a three-day siege, many of the hostages are killed in an explosion in the school gym, after which Russian troops storm the building. The final death toll is over 330, many of them children. Eight hundred more are injured.

Nope, this attack profile isn’t new. The targets aren’t new and neither are the victims. Only the extent of the infusion and exploitation of technology is new. Just like Hizballah’s defense south of the Litani River wasn’t really new, the unexpected appearance of a full array of sophisticated technology and weapons augmented by an aggressive information operations campaign were new. The unanticipated combination forced the Israeli Defense Force to leave the field appearing, at least nominally, to have been beaten, thus bursting their all-important invincibility persona. The Israeli military expected to meet intifada-like refugee mobs throwing rocks and firing potshots, but they got paramilitary commandos fighting from a coherent and well-prepared defense system.

The Mumbai attacks will have a similar chilling effect once the whole story is known. I expect the lessons learned might point to the introduction of a new type of special ops terrorism whose capabilities will extend their reach while enabling them to execute surgical strikes that will surely be transformed into grand theater for the "if it bleeds it leads" media. The virgin-seeking suicide bomber may give way to sectarian suicide “A-Teams” whose final moments resemble a Blackhawk Down movie clip versus a series of grainy surveillance stills of a car driving up, parking, and detonating. With terrorists armed with Information Age technology, I fear there will be more Taj Hotels, more Luxors, and more Beslans on the horizon. It’s not all that difficult to train someone how to use a GPS and to pull up the Internet on a Blackberry.

We must now brace ourselves for iG v2 terrorist-guerrillas who will launch pseudo-guerrilla operations in the west with the ultimate goal of pulling one off within the continental United States. They won’t require a long incubation period and an extensive sleeper network and, with our porous borders, they probably don’t have to sweat getting in all that much. Their attacks won’t be hit-and-run; they will be stick-and-kill. Cyber recon and distributed cyber command and control and cyber navigation will enable terror guerrillas to execute precise, Special Forces–like operations. Low-cost, readily available, easy-to-use modern information technology has accelerated all aspects of modern society. I guess it would be folly not to think that the bad will accelerate alongside the good. The newest killer virus is among us. The iG v 2 is the West’s newest and potentially most lethal non-state threat.

John  R. Sutherland, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U. S. Army, is a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at the Army’s Command and General Staff College. He is currently a senior analyst and division chief at the Joint Center for Operational Analysis. He is also the co-author of the popular ACG Web series Tactics 101. His article ‘IGuerrilla: The New Model Techno-Insurgent” appeared in the May 2008 issue of Armchair General magazine.

1 Comment

  1. execellent study on the new terrorist/guerilla tactics and very well put!


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