J&K Encounters: Rethink Anti-Terror Ops to Reduce Army Casualties
On 12 February 2017, in an encounter near Frisal, Kulgam the Army neutralised four terrorists but suffered two fatal casualties in the process. On 14 February 2017, another encounter in Hajin, Bandipora saw one terrorist neutralised but resulted in three fatal army casualties.
The Army which is at the forefront of such operations is usually proud of its record of ratios of the past, in which for every five or more terrorists eliminated, it lost only one soldier. In fact ratios were known to be even better than that.
In 2016, the Army suffered larger casualties and the ratio was skewed. This is usually situational but the continuing poor ratio, or simply the sufferance of fatal casualties needs to be viewed seriously. Usually this is reflective of the nature of conflict, so we need to examine what explains the sudden phenomenon.
Pattern in Resistance by the Terrorists
2016 was a bad year because of the return of fidayeen (suicide) type of strikes by the terror groups; the Uri incident itself upset the ratio to a great extent. Then there were a spate of encounters at Pampore and attacks on convoys elsewhere where the terrorists were not resisting but rather seeking confrontation.
The moment this happens, in a conflict situation, casualties of the Army will be higher. It occurs either when there are levels of desperation in the terrorist ranks or a sudden surge in strength.
The loss of five soldiers in two encounters in recent days has to be seen through the prism of the nature of operations, the season and the type of resistance. The area is semi-urban but with winter at its height there is simply no vegetation for cover, something the troops need at all times and across all terrains. Secondly, for the last two years or more, there has been a pattern to the resistance wherein terrorists in semi-urban hideouts have been supported by flash mobs which attempt to prevent the cordon closing in and divert the attention of the troops with stone pelting.
The Army, CRPF and the JK Police to their entire credit have found ways of overcoming these situations through some deft handling and use of minimum force. They have succeeded in neutralising the terrorists.
Rise in Army Casualties
- To evade criticism, the army has
been trying to avoid lethal weapons such as rocket launcher during anti-terror
- Troops will continue to sustain
casualties if they try to avoid causing destruction to houses and property.
- Crowds hamper any such security
operation with few among them resorting to stone pelting.
- The army should be facilitated with
Mine Protected Vehicles so that it can target militants with precision.
- Use of specialised weapons will help
the army reduce the number of casualties during anti-terror operations.
How Mobs Hamper Security Operations
However, there can be no perfection in this as drills have to be applied to situations as per ground strength and location of the hideout. What the mobs achieve is diverting the attention of troops in a situation where focus is essential. A temporary exposure from the cover that troops take can be fatal as terrorists have the advantage of being inside buildings. The acme of success without casualties is contingent upon the patience displayed and the ability to hold on.
This factor is severely affected by the presence of mobs which demands speed in the completion of operations. The CRPF is mindful of the degree of force it employs, having been adversely affected in its reputation due to the pellet gun injuries.
‘First Two-Minute’ Drill
The Army has for long been training its soldiers in what is called the first two-minute drill. Most casualties are suffered in the first few minutes of an encounter before troops go to ground or many times when they are closing in on the objective.
With reduced presence of terrorists and to dilute the criticism that comes its way in terms of collateral damage to houses and other property, there has been a propensity to avoid the use of the rocket launcher to destroy houses in which the terrorists have been holed up. However, this procedure of tackling the hideout, without destroying the house has to be followed, when there is little or no pressure to complete an operation expeditiously.
This is where the problem has been occurring. Troops will sustain casualties if they do not resort to the destruction of houses and attempt to complete operations in a hurry due to pressure of presence of mobs.
The Army, CRPF and JK Police have to devise new ways of tackling these situations or stick to the basics followed all these years. That day is not far when the mobs will have to be handled more kinetically and warnings regarding this needs to be given to the separatists, the people and the rights groups who see red over this.
Restrategising Anti-Terror Operations
The equipment handiest in such situations is the Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) which many people think has no place in anti-terror operations except to protect from IEDs. This vehicle does not fall into the category of armed vehicles but is well protected and can take a squad of soldiers right up to the objective, relatively unharmed. There aren’t enough of them to go around and the Rashtriya Rifles could do with many more for such operations, road protection and escort duties and patrolling.
The Indian Army has the reputation of not using out-of-proportion force for any of its operations. It has not used mortars in the jungles, nor helicopter gunships, in all 28 years of operations in J&K. However, as resistance and contacts increase resulting in such higher figures of casualties there will be demands on the leadership to employ more lethal means.
The answer lies in more non-lethal weapons for the police forces, protection equipment for the Army, perfected and coordinated drills and most importantly patience and stamina to prolong operations without coming under pressure.
Casualties to our soldiers is everybody’s concern and no stone should be left unturned to find ways to reduce these. Perhaps the Army’s very professional think tanks at Mhow and elsewhere need to step in for more answers.
(The writer is a retired Lieutenant General in the Indian Army. He is now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)