On April 6 2010, extremists attacked the US Consulate in Peshawar. This was yet another target located on Khyber Road also known as the Grand Trunk Road. PoliTact had recommended in its earlier articles the closing of Khyber Road which hosts a number of sensitive facilities. This article explores the ramifications of this attack and studies the location, timing and tactics used in the assault as well as analysing the intended message of the extremists.
The previous assaults on targets located on Khyber Road of Peshawar have included the Pearl Continental Hotel, Offices of High Court, the ISI Office, the residence of the Core Commander and now the US Consulate. The bulk of Peshawar’s traffic passes through Khyber Road as it runs west to east through the city. This includes the traffic that arrives from Afghanistan or heading towards it. The Ring Road provides an alternative for the heavy trucks but is still considered to be an unsafe route particularly after hours. Many trucks containing supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan have been attacked and burned on this route. PoliTact had previously recommended closing off the Khyber Road for general traffic and providing a detour given the present emergency situation.
PoliTact’s assessment on the security precautions in place around the Peshawar Cantonment area has revealed that lately the guard of the security apparatus around the city was a little relaxed and a sense of complacency may have crept in. This may have been due to absence of any major attack in the city since January of this year. A heightened sense of alarm can only prevail for a while before the fatigue plays its role.
Just half an hour before the attack on the US Consulate the following observations were made. A brown colored double cabin pick-up is usually seen parked around the entrance of the Consulate facing the Hayyat Shaheed Park (Gora Qabristan side), the same place from where the attack took place. It is our belief that this vehicle belongs to the local security firm hired for protection of the facility. The occupants of this vehicle were seen to be casually chatting with other bystanders, who seemed to be blocking the field of view of the occupants of the vehicles.
The entrance into the enclosure which houses the Consulate from the Saddar Bazaar (Hospital Road) side revealed it was manned only by a single visible guard. The attack took place during rush time, when many kids are being picked up from schools and are heading home. This was also lunch and afternoon prayer time and perhaps why the attacker chose this particular time to attack the facility.
The ability of the attackers to reach close to the target by passing other security check posts around the city under the disguise of paramilitary personal is another piece of the puzzle. In our analysis of the attack on the ISI Offices in Peshawar on November 13, 2009, we revealed the possibility that the VBIED was prepared in a location close to the premises. Even in this case we raise the prospect again, and have also been validated by the investigation being carried out by the Inspector General Police of the province. Vigilance of the local communities against any suspicious activities in their neighborhood is a key to counter such a trend.
It is highly unlikely that the terrorist drove all the way from the tribal areas in two vehicles carrying heavy ammunition and weaponry with them. Their guise of being dressed in paramilitary would have helped tremendously, if they did. Nonetheless, tactics of dressing in uniforms of local security forces has been utilized by extremist before as well. It was also used in the attack against GHQ on October 10, 2009. One would think a counter measure, although challenging, for this extremist tactic would have been in place by now.
Performance of Security Procedures and Response
Contrary to the possible security lapses pointed out above here are some positive observations.
The security forces responded very quickly to the attack and within minutes the Consulate had been surrounded by the security forces. The phone communication system was quickly jammed as well. This shows that the plans for any unforeseen incident of this nature had been well rehearsed.
The area was also quickly cordoned off and there was little confusion amongst the public about what was going on. The media broke the news within seconds of the attack allaying any chances of panic amongst the public on what was unfolding. The government official spokesman showed up on the scene soon after the incident had ended and provided information to the media about the attack. However, PoliTact believes that the air support in the form of an attack helicopter was a little slow to arrive and only showed up after the incident was over. Nonetheless its presence in the skies of Peshawar provided a sense of protection to the worried citizens of the city. The attack was over as quickly it had begun and by evening the city was back to normal.
It’s hard to believe that the planners and strategists of the attack had thought of actually getting in the Consulate. What they most likely wanted to demonstrate was that, although they are under heavy pressure from the Pakistani security forces, they can still muster together the ability to plan such an attack. It showed their continued their resolve for destruction by coming close to such a well protected facility. What the extremists most wanted was the media coverage and hype – which they got – but little else was gained.
However we see another trend in these attacks which is an increasing desire on the part of extremists to go after the Americans and to damage their presence in Pakistan. The timing of the attack is also peculiar as it occurred soon after the conclusion of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue.
What this means for the Future?
As adaptable as extremists have proven to be, it could be they wanted to test the preparedness and tactics of the security personnel for such a high profile target. This could mean there may be a bigger attack in the works at similarly high value target.
PoliTact believes that Peshawar Airport could be the next on the high value targets as well as the houses of senior government officials and politicians located with in the cantonment area. PoliTact still believes that the Khyber Road should be closed to general traffic and a detour or bypass need to be created on an emergency basis.
The attacks could also be a warning for the Pakistan authorities to not to launch operations in North Waziristan. However, such attacks by TTP only increases the resolve of the Pakistan security forces to go after the extremists. It also justifies the case made by the US to aggressively pursue operations against terrorist outfits operating from the tribal areas and not to allow any breathing space for the extremists to regroup.
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