An email was sent by Lieutenant General HS Panag (retd), a former Northern Army Commander, to Major General Pradyot K Mallick (retd), formerly of the National Defence College. It was what a former Lt General felt as the Pathankot Terror attack unfolded. It was first published by Mohan Guruswami on his facebook page.
The letter has been edited here for readability.
You are being mild. It is better to raise a hue and cry while the incident is still in the limelight. In two days, the next party will begin. This operation was a disaster from the word go. Luck and providence saved the air base.
Infiltration can be effected with impunity all around the Shakargarh Bulge. The border Security Force (BSF) always lies.
Pathetic internal coordination. Despite the windfall of SP Salwinder Singh’s carjacking and the use of his mobile, we were not only slow to respond, but also caught with our pants down.
Be that as it may, Doval held a conference on 1 January at 1500 hrs which was also attended by the Chief of Army Staff. The air base was assessed as the target and everyone was warned. A battery of the National Security Guard (NSG) was dispatched to Pathankot air base. A Special Forces team was flown in and put in location at Mamun.
No lead agency or overall Commander was appointed. Unless Doval felt he could control the events. The area in the vicinity of the base was not combed. The public was not informed. It was a failure of the Pathankot police and, possibly, the Indian army, if they were tasked at all. If the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 29 Div was in charge, this would have been done. Preventive security of the air base was not beefed up. Given the size, an Infantry Battalion should have manned the perimeter and patrolled the wall from outside.
The less said about the security of our air bases in general, the better. Four-five platoon (60 men) of rag tag DSC are capable of being static security guards only. There are approximately 20-30 poorly trained Garuds. No electronic sensors of any kind are present along the wall and fence and the outer periphery is not lit up. Civilian houses are right next to the wall. Recall Air Forward Defence Battalions in 1971. One was located at the Pathankot air base but was later merged with normal infantry. Our air bases are sitting ducks. We have been singularly lucky that despite Mehran and Kamra, ISI did not target air bases near the International Border.
Despite the 24 hour warning, 5-8 terrorists scaled the wall and entered the administration area and attacked the DSC Mess where men were unarmed despite the warning. Five men were lost.
The less said about the response of the NSG and the Garuds, the better as well. The initial casualties imposed too much caution. The Indian army moved in and killed two terrorists while two were killed by the NSG. Victory was declared by the evening of the 2 January by everyone including the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. Fundamental precaution of combing the area was not taken. Consequently, it took another 48 hours to get one more terrorist – the operation was still on. A Lt Col of the NSG was lost due to not following Standard Operating Procedure on 3 January. Seven to eight NSG were wounded.
The villain of the piece seems to be Doval, followed by the Indian air force and the Indian army. What was the NSG doing in a purely military installation? The time is not far when we will take orders from the Home Minister, the National Security Advisor or the police.
Once again we have become the laughing stock for the whole world, and given our weaknesses on a platter to the ISI.
The operation should have been under GOC 29 Div. Air base security should have been placed under the Indian army. An Infantry Battalion responsible for preventive security, Special Forces team and Infantry quick reaction teams should have been placed inside the base. On 1 Jan, the area in the vicinity of the base should have been combed. Any one of us familiar with our air bases and their lack of security, and with the hindsight of Mehran and Kamra would have done this.
All this has been put on Twitter by me from day one! It is better to shame ourselves in public to force reforms rather than do nothing!