Counter-terrorism operations: Time for India to re-visit rules of engagement

Published: May 11, 2020 12:36 PM

Traditionally the Indian Defence Establishment has been conservative in the use of its Air Force in counter-terror operations.

As in any operation, there is a review of the operation to understand the shortcomings and lessons learnt is circulated to the environment to ensure that such lapses do not recur. As in any operation, there is a review of the operation to understand the shortcomings and lessons learnt is circulated to the environment to ensure that such lapses do not recur.

By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)

Kashmir valley will remain a bone of contention and is the raison d’ etre for the Pakistan Military establishment for its supremacy over the civilian government. The love-hate relationship between the US and Pakistan is an affair going on since the early sixties when Pakistan was part of the “The Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO)” and was beneficiary of US military arms as its regional partner. The US over the years has been arming the Pakistan Military establishment; more for its own needs in the region under the guise of its war on terror since 9/11. The recent skirmish in the air over Rajouri had the PAF launch its F-16s to support its riposte to the IAF Balakote strike. Traditionally the Indian Defence Establishment has been conservative in the use of its Air Force in counter-terror operations. While it could be understood two decades ago; now with Precision Guided Munitions, Armed UAVs with endurances of more than 24 hours to loiter over a target area and scan/carryout surveillance of hostile movement and taking out a designated target using Artificial Intelligence / facial recognition gives close support to the “boots on the ground”.

The pinpoint accuracy reduces collateral damage to an extent. The arguments for its Pros and Cons will continue; depending on which side of the table one is sitting. Let’s look at the events over the past few years. We have lost brave soldiers who at the peril of their life are engaged with terrorists to save hostages held. While we must consider all options of civilian casualties, collateral damage – a bullet point gets missed in my view the cost of a counter-terror warrior; this in no way means that the Chetwode Motto” First: – The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. Second: – The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Third: – Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time. Field Marshal Philip Chetwode” is diluted in any manner. Pakistan with its economy in deep red; the UN Financial Assistance Task Force putting its credibility at stake, huge debts from China, its reputation in shambles as being a safe haven for terror, Pakistan terror continues to mutate itself like the Corona Virus to survive. The Resistance Front is reportedly the new name for the terrorists to get together jointly to take on the Security Forces. It’s assessed that these terrorists are being inducted from the Afghan border after an ‘On the Job’ training capsule. China continues its benevolence on all countries that acquiesce themselves to the CCP game plan. In the recent past, an IG of Police made a condescending statement that the bulk of the intelligence gathering was being done by the J&K Police based on which the Rashtriya Rifles carried out operations to eliminate the terrorists. This statement reflects fissures in effective command and control structure. These are joint operations and each has a role to play.

As in any operation, there is a review of the operation to understand the shortcomings and lessons learnt is circulated to the environment to ensure that such lapses do not recur. Post Handwara operations; armchair strategists on social media commented on the conduct of operations, perhaps hurt on the losses of 21 RR and the J&K Police; these are harsh realities and in the absence of facts it’s wrong to pass judgement; the Military Authorities will do their review and take corrective actions. Intelligence acquisition needs to be strengthened and all data including voice needs to be analysed. Is banning communications/internet a good idea; needs a re-visit. The communications cannot be stopped and therefore needs to be worked upon by the domain experts at all times; to gain real-time intelligence. The use of Armed Drones, precision-guided rockets with laser designation can take out a holed out terrorist; in his launch pad or in the hinterland.

At the tactical level, operations whether conventional or counter-terror; need to be thought through keeping in mind the terrain and the resources available. It’s a battle of the commanding officers and their company commanders who are the cutting edge and they need our support all the way. Ambition to achieve kill targets, interaction with the “sources” need to be planned well. Operations need to be carried out as an “Action” and “Not a Reaction”. There are no timelines that are cast in stone. Each terrorist has a shelf life varying from a few months to a few years; it’s a game of patience and must be played accordingly. The standoff weapons should be effectively used and the cost must be borne by the sponsors of terror through state / non-state actors. The onus is on the perpetrators of terror.

Each country has a responsibility to protect its citizens from such external threats. The motto of the Counter Insurgency Jungle Warfare School must not be forgotten; Fight a Terrorist like a Terrorist. The loss of physical infrastructure is a cost the supporters pay for their deeds. The people in the Srinagar valley and the stone pelters incited by their handlers must be cautioned of the implications in their Over Ground Support to the terror establishment. The database exists with the units and subunits, regular interaction would help in conveying the message. The wellbeing of the citizens who are caught in-between needs to be handled carefully and a dictum of “one shoe fits all” needs to be prevented. The targeting of the launch pads at the Line of Control and the hinterland must continue and India must remain prepared to up the ante if required. While we have our challenges with external threats, the internal threats need to be negated aggressively. It’s for the concerted efforts of the Government of India to get rid of this, complacency leaves gaps open by inter turf wars, rules and regulations, bureaucracy and judiciary, reforms and its implementations and the political will. While Rome was not built in a day; the acts of the government to mitigate this must be seen transparently.

It’s time that we as a Nation need to review the state government policy on compensations to our fallen warriors. A state offered Rupees Fifty Lakhs as compensation and the other offered Rupees One Crore. Both warriors did not put a price to their sacrifice, the compensation packages of the state ‘smell’ of vote bank politics. All counter-terror operations in the notified areas must have clear policies on the benefits. Any counter-terror operation in States not in the notified areas should remain under the state government regulations.

To sum up; use technology, use assets/platforms we have for the extermination of the terrorists, accept the loss of life of the locals in the area of operations; let the pinch be felt by those who support it; “The Gloves must come Off”.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)

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