Author name: 
Dheeraj P. C., M. Phil. scholar and security analyst with a focus on intelligence and counter-terrorism, New Delhi.

On 18 September 2016, four terrorists stormed the Indian Army brigade headquarters in Uri killing 19 soldiers before being gunned down. Within a span of three months, terrorists have carried out a similar fedayeen style attack on XVI Corps headquarters in Nagrota, Jammu. With suspicions of Lashkar-e-taiba’s (LeT) handiwork in Uri an article was written analysing the modus operandi of the group and its strategic significance to the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), which can be found here. In light of the recent Nagrota attacks, this article, as a continuation of the previous one, dissects the strategic and tactical intelligence dimensions associated with India’s efforts to contain cross-border terrorism.


News reports indicate that the terrorists entered the military complex by scaling its perimeter wall on the rear and scurried away hurling grenades and firing at soldiers. Speculations are that the terrorists had complete intelligence on the military facility. In the event of terrorist strikes, conventional wisdom invariably provokes thoughts of probable intelligence failure. However, in this incident intelligence agencies had warned of an imminent attack on a high value military facility in Jammu and the corps headquarters is certainly a high value military target that needed to be secured. If credible intelligence was available on a terror strike, although not revealing the target and time of attack, why was the attack not thwarted? This question begs an elucidation of the roles of strategic and tactical intelligence in averting terror attacks, specifically the ones led by the LeT.


Strategic Intelligence and Cross Border Terrorism


Strategic intelligence in national security is developed on identification of a threat and long-term assessment of the nature of the threat to discern its various characteristics before devising adequate responses. Strategic intelligence assessments not only seek to study the threat but also serve as a feedback on the potency of adopted policies. In the context of cross-border terrorism carried out by the LeT, strategic intelligence is developed by analysing the past and present trends in terror attacks that help gather some critical details of the terrorist group. Hence, a systematic study on the series of attacks that have been conducted since late 1990s would serve the purpose. It is indicative of details like the presence of launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC), modus operandi, strategic goals, mass support and so on. These assessments are necessary to devise political action against not just the LeT but cross-border terrorism as a whole.


For years it has been noted that LeT cadres infiltrate across the LoC, exploiting gaps in the Indian border security. The LoC is fenced using barbed wires, either side of which is manned by soldiers of Indian and Pakistani armies. Terrain difficulties have left areas along the LoC being unfenced and overwhelmed with elephant grass that camouflage the infiltrating terrorists. While an infiltration is underway, Indian troops are kept busy responding to Pakistan’s cover fire. In the exchange of fire, the army withdraws patrol activities along the unfenced areas to foil any infiltration attempt. Under these circumstances the army has sought assistance from technical intelligence (TECHINT) gathering using surveillance cameras and thermal sensors, and signals intelligence (SIGINT) through interception of radio communications. The idea was to emulate an Israeli-style border security used to secure the borders from cross-border terrorism from Arab states. 


 In light of addressing the army’s demands for technical equipment, the government approved the procurement of high-tech surveillance gadgets like high-power cameras, thermal-sensing cameras, surveillance radars and the long-range reconnaissance and observatory system (LORROS) for round-the-clock surveillance along the LoC in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in 2015. The system is called a Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS), which is capable of providing all-weather surveillance, night vision and underground monitoring. The static equipment will be assisted with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to generate imagery intelligence (IMINT) to identify movements across the borders. However, strategic intelligence cannot thwart the dangers of cross-border attacks on military installations in J&K. Terrorists also benefit from technological revolution and use new technologies of communication that make interception challenging. For this reason, the other crucial point to remember is that strategic intelligence must guide the generation of tactical intelligence.


Tactical Intelligence Failure and the Nagrota Attacks


Tactical intelligence is a requirement of security forces, local commanders, and not national policy makers. This information is time-sensitive and pivotal in thwarting terrorist attacks and hence needs to be timely and actionable. For successful operations, strategic intelligence must guide tactical intelligence development. Therefore, on the reception of intelligence from national intelligence agencies about a probable attack, which did happen in this case, security forces using the benefit of local knowledge and advantage of fire power should have, logically, conducted offensive intelligence gathering operations. In addition, security should have been beefed up at key military facilities.


Strategic intelligence on LeT suggests that the group relies heavily on deception and fedayeen tactics. This case is just a testimony to this observation. The terrorists reached the perimeters of the complex, disguised as police men before launching their fedayeen style attacks. Terrorists also need intelligence to carry out an operation of this kind. For this, they rely on sources who are not necessarily terror assets always but innocent civilians who are also sources of intelligence for the security forces. Terrorists gather intelligence about details like the number of personnel, change of guard, etc, from civilians with access to the military facilities in an innocuous manner. Security personnel also have to rely on questioning these civilians about any suspicious activities. However, information will not flow by itself unless the innocent civilian is sharp to suspect a threat based on a few banal questions posed by a stranger. Therefore, security forces have to go on an offensive intelligence gathering.


Security arrangements were another flaw that led to the attacks. The attacks in Pathankot and Uri have shown that the perimeters of military installations are largely inadequately guarded. In light of the intelligence received about an imminent attack, security around the complex must have improved, at least making it difficult enough for the terrorists to find an entry point. However, the job was as simple as scaling a wall. Security forces need the support of technical equipment to gather intelligence here also, in addition to their human sources. The basic equipment required to discover any security breach is floodlight. Apart from this, surveillance cameras and thermal detectors can come in handy. While these measures are to guarantee the physical security of the military complex there must be security mechanisms spread across a wider region for strict security checks in the form of road blocks, check-posts and sanitising operations to identify terror suspects on the reception of intelligence warnings.


Future of LeT in Kashmir and Security Intelligence Management


A strategic assessment of LeT operations in recent times is indicative of shifting roles of the organisation in J&K. While it is working hand-in-hand with the ISI in orchestrating attacks in Kashmir, the rise of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) has caused some worry. The home-grown terror outfit HM has greater receptivity among Kashmiris than the LeT, dominated by foreign mercenaries. This factor has contributed to the loss of mass support and safe havens for the LeT. Due to this, once the terrorists infiltrate across the borders, they are left with little time to conduct their operations. This is much to the intelligence agencies’ advantage since they do not have to fear ‘cry wolf’ accusations from security forces. The security forces on the other hand can attach greater reliability to pieces of intelligence received by national agencies and develop tactical intelligence confidently.


With HM currently leading the armed struggle for Kashmiri freedom, organisations like the LeT are perceived to have a secondary role. In fact, LeT attacks on military facilities is an equivalent of wooing the Kashmiri population, in addition to serving ISI’s strategic ambitions. Should the upgrading of border security be completed by 2018 as promised by the government, infiltration bids may reduce significantly. However, this should not be a reason for overlooking the inept state of tactical intelligence development by the security forces. As India attempts bold initiatives like surgical strikes and fire assaults, or peace initiatives, Pakistan is most likely to respond through acts of terror. In preventing more Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota pattern of attacks successfully, the key is not to blame national intelligence agencies for strategic intelligence failure but encourage security forces to develop tactical or ‘follow up’ intelligence for timely consumption.  


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.