Urban Siege in Kabul and Mumbai
Danger Room reports that a Taliban assault unit hit government offices in Kabul, killing around 20. As other observers have noted, the attack demonstrates the Taliban's advancing tactical abilities in Kabul as well as the strength of their intelligence-gathering apparatus. Comparisons are already being made to the attack on Mumbai.
Coincidentally, the RAND Corporation just released a comprehensive report on the tactical and operational lessons of Mumbai. Main lesson: the attackers achieved and maintained relative superiority by generating multiple fronts, using the media itself as a force multiplier to make the security forces overestimate the number of terrorists in the city. They avoided any serious contact with police officers until they were entrenched. This suggests that forceful efforts to crush each developing front could have cut off the attack's momentum and caused the attackers to lose relative superiority. Perhaps the most interesting observation the report makes is the psychological appeal of the slaughter to the terrorist:
"Indiscriminate bombings, as in the London and Madrid bombings, have been criticized, even by some jihadists, as contrary to an Islamic code of warfare. So it is possible that by relying on shooters, the 2008 attack would appear to be more selective, even though the vast majority of those killed in Mumbai were ordinary Indians gunned down at random. This pretension of selectivity was underscored by the terrorists' purported search for Americans and Britons, by the brutal murders at the Chabad Centre, and by what appear to have been considered decisions to kill certain hostages. It also enabled the attackers to eventually engage the police and soldiers in what their supporters could portray as a heroic last stand."
The current focus on paramilitary terrorism isn't new. Paramilitary terrorism was the dominant operational mode for the "urban guerrilla" movements of the 60's and 70's. With few exceptions, these urban terrorist groups were eventually crushed by the state. But while pure terror may not accomplish strategic objectives, it can still kill hundreds.