The then Bush administration had mobilized special forces to neutralize Pakistan-based ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba’ (LeT) terrorists holding people hostage in hotels during the deadly 26/11 Mumbai attack in November 2008, a former White House official has revealed.
Anish Goel, who was part of the White House’s 26/11 crisis management group, said “But, before the Indian authorities gave the necessary clearances and the special forces could take off for Mumbai from an overseas regional location, Indian commandos had already completed their job”.
During an interview with a renowned news agency, Mr. Goel, the director of South Asia in the National Security Council of the White House at the time of the 26/11 attack, further stated “I am a bit hazy on the details now. Its 10 years out. But, we were offering to send like commando teams to Mumbai to infiltrate the hotels and root out the terrorist cells that were there”.
Some 166 people, including Americans, were killed in the 26/11 attack carried out by 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists. Nine of the attackers were killed by police while lone survivor Ajmal Kasab was captured and hanged after handed down death sentence by an Indian court.
Recalling the developments at the White House during the 2008 Thanksgiving weekend, when LeT terrorists went on a rampage in Mumbai for several days, Goel further asserted that the US had ‘some special forces teams in the region that we are willing to deploy quickly’.
The US also offered forensics assistance to help determine, who was the cause of this attack and where the attackers were from, Goel said, adding the White House was ready to help India with ‘anything’ that they might’ve wanted to deal with the terrorist attack.
Goel also added that “In the very beginning the Indians were reluctant to accepting US assistance because I think they felt that we can take care of this on our own. But, as the attack continued to drag on for two-three day, they became more accepting of US assistance”.
The Indians didn’t accept the US offer in time for the commandos to arrive and make a difference, he stated, adding, “I think technically they eventually cleared US commandos arrival, but by the time the team was mobilized, the Indian commando teams had taken over and neutralized the attack”. And as a result, the US commandos never landed in India.
As the attack dragged on after two, three days, India to the realization that it was much more sophisticated than they had thought, said Goel, who now is a fellow in think-tank New America’s International Security program.
When the news of terrorist attack broke, Goel was driving from Washington DC to his parent’s house, some eight hours away, he recalled.
On the drive he noticed that his blackberry was filling up with messages, but since as he was driving he didn’t check those messages. When he reached his parents’ house, Goel checked his phone and that’s when he first learned about the Mumbai attacks. ‘It was immediately clear that it was a terrorist attack’, he added.
Though, he did not immediately rush to Washington DC, but he was constantly on his blackberry, phones and conference calls throughout the weekend, as the then US National Security Adviser Stephen Headley advised everyone involved in the crisis management team to come back to Washington DC early.
The first reaction, he said, he was just trying to learn exactly, what was going on because there was a lot of misinformation.
“The press was reporting all sorts of things. We didn’t know how much of that was true. So the first part was just trying to get a handle on everything, like what actually is happening,” he said recollecting the events of the day 10 years ago.
The second part was to try and understand who is responsible.
The third part was to contact leaders in both India and Pakistan to urge restrain and urge calm.
The fourth thing they had done is– they were working with the Indian government and offering them as much assistance as they wanted or that US could offer in terms of dealing with the attack, said Goel.
The US offered technical assistance.
Furthermore, Goel asserted that “We were offering law enforcement capabilities. We were offering to send special forces to help bring the attack under control. We were trying to ensure that it didn’t result in a larger conflagration in the region. It was very much a multi-pronged approach, in the first few days”, concluded the former White House official Anish Goel.