Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Coming Swarm - Get ready for small attacks

The New York Times runs an op-ed by John Arquilla, who teaches in the special operations program at the Naval Postgraduate School and is the author of “Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military.” His topic-- the prospect of more "Mumbai model" terror operations, including the possibility of similar attacks taking place in the United States.

What's the attractiveness of these smaller group attacks?

The basic concept is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time. This approach certainly worked in Mumbai, India, last November, where five two-man teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives held the city hostage for two days, killing 179 people. The Indian security forces, many of which had to be flown in from New Delhi, simply had little ability to strike back at more than one site at a time.
So, why should America get ready for such attacks? Because it's already happened here in the form of the 9/11 attacks "where four small teams of Qaeda operatives simultaneously seized commercial aircraft and turned them into missiles, flummoxing all our defensive responses."

So how are swarms to be countered? The simplest way is to create many more units able to respond to simultaneous, small-scale attacks and spread them around the country. This means jettisoning the idea of overwhelming force in favor of small units that are not “elite” but rather “good enough” to tangle with terrorist teams. In dealing with swarms, economizing on force is essential.

It's not too late to develop a response. Read the full op-ed here.

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