Kiren Rijiju on IAF deployment in October 25th interview
ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been operating its choppers in Bastar for several years now, but they have never opened fire on Naxals. But a few days ago, it conducted exercises with the Chhattisgarh Police and it has now changed its strategy and will open fire on Naxals from aircraft. How was this new strategy decided, and do you think this will change the course of the anti-Naxal operations?
[Kiren Rijiju]Involving the Indian Army, Navy or Air Force is the ultimate step. When the defence forces are called in, it means that the situation is very, very grim and there is a need to be decisive. So there is a good reason for the IAF providing aid and support to the conventional agencies that have been conducting the operations already. When the IAF is involved, it will be decisive. I cannot discuss the nitty-gritty of the operations, but these will be effective.
Simply put: Why raining fire on Maoist rebels could singe the state too
Commandos have practised strafing in Chhattisgarh — though IAF has said it won’t undertake offensive strikes on Maoists.
SUSHANT SINGH explains the issues
Is firing of small arms from helicopters the same as carrying out airstrikes?
No. Commandos firing small arms from helicopters is not even the same as using an attack helicopter in gunship mode. In gunship mode, the medium machine gun fitted in the helicopter’s nose pod fires. A helicopter in gunship mode is at a much lower spectrum of airpower usage than airstrikes by fighter or bomber aircraft.
What is India’s policy on using airpower against domestic insurgencies?
Jawaharlal Nehru turned down the Army’s request for use of airpower against Naga insurgents in the mid-1950s, provoking some officers to complain that they were being forced to fight with a hand tied behind their backs. But the Army accepted the limits imposed on the use of heavy force — artillery or airpower — and this has been the standing principle ever since. At its heart also is the understanding that domestic insurgencies need political solutions, that have only limited use for military power.
So, has India never used airpower against domestic insurgents?
Yes, it has — in Mizoram. On February 28, 1966, Mizo National Front rebels captured the government treasury at Aizawl and besieged the 1st Assam Rifles headquarters in the town, along with the posts at Champai, Darngaon, Vaphai, Lungleh and Demagiri, which housed both the troops and their families. Indira Gandhi ordered out Hunter and Toofani aircraft which used guns and air-to-ground rockets to break the rebel siege. On March 4, 1966, Hunter and Toofani formations attacked predesignated targets in Aizawl.
Has it ever contemplated the use of helicopter gunships against insurgents?
Following the success of armed helicopters in the Kargil War, it was decided, in 2000, to use helicopter gunships against terrorists in the Kashmir Valley. Two Mi-35s were prepared for the role — but after a couple of failed attempts at coordinating with the Army officer who could not be accommodated in the cockpit, a decision was taken to use the bigger Mi-17s instead. An Mi-17 crew did, on one occasion, fire at militants on the ground, but the results could not be ascertained.
In Kargil, the Pakistanis were on snow-bound terrain with no vegetation, far from inhabited areas. During Valley missions, on the other hand, helicopters had to operate close to populated areas with vegetation that was dense at places — providing terrorists cover, and making it very difficult to distinguish friend from foe from the air. The experiment was quickly abandoned.
What is the argument for not using helicopter gunships in Chhattisgarh?
If the conflict has not been found severe enough for the Army to be called out, it follows that there is little rationale for using the IAF either. Induction of the IAF could appear as an admission of the Maoists’ strength, reinforce the air of invincibility about them, and have a negative psychological impact on the population. If the Maoists succeed in downing a helicopter, the pressure to retaliate could lead to the deployment of fighter aircraft — an escalation that must be avoided.
Again, given the thickly forested terrain of Chhattisgarh, and the manner in which Maoists often operate — mixing with the rural population — it will be difficult to distinguish innocents from insurgents. The US air force has made mistakes in Afghanistan, and the level of technology at which Indian forces operate is far lower. Any killing of innocents will be counterproductive in counterinsurgency ops, which are about controlling the terrain and winning over the population. Also, breaching the principle of no use of heavy force in counterinsurgency will establish a new threshold for using airpower internally. Security forces could start expecting its use more frequently in disturbed areas.
And what is the argument for using helicopter gunships in Chhattisgarh?
A helicopter is most vulnerable while coming in to land and, if shot at, the immediate reaction of the pilot is to raise the “collective” and fly out of the danger bubble. It follows, therefore, that there is a case for sanitising the landing area by offensive fire from the air prior to the helicopter sitting down. The IAF could also have another helicopter hovering in perch, looking out for hostile activity from the ground, and answering it with machinegun fire.
During the Algerian insurgency, the French mastered the art of clearing the landing ground of insurgents by offensive action, and timing the arrival of helicopters just after such actions. The troop-carrying helicopters would also be similarly covered from the air. Attack helicopters could also be used to neutralise Maoist camps from the air, and troops could then be used for mopping-up operations.
Jharkhand Police to Get Custody of Maoist Leader
KOCHI: A team of Jharkhand Police arrived here on Monday to take custody of Maoist leader Jitendra Oraon who was arrested in Angamaly on October 9 by the Ernakulam Rural Police. Oraon will be taken into custody in connection with cases registered against him for Maoist activities in Jharkhand. Speaking to Express, DySP P P Shams, who is in charge of the investigation, said Oraon was sent back to judicial custody on Monday upon expiry of his 12-day police custody.
“The Jharkhand Police are expected to approach the local court in the coming days to obtain transit warrant for taking him to Jharkhand,” said police officials. According to them, Oraon is a notorious fugitive in Jharkhand and that it was under his leadership the Maoists attacked a CRPF camp at Lawar Picket Post in Jharkhand in 2011, killing 11 police personnel and abducting many along with SLR and AK-47 guns. “He is wanted in several ambush cases also, including an attack on policemen in the Makhanpur forests in 2010. He was also part of a Maoist attack on CRPF personnel in 2008,” said the police.
“In 2005, another guerrilla squad led by Oraon attacked the Dabri CRPF camp in Sarju Village, leaving several CRPF personnel injured. Oraon, who was declared a fugitive, become an integral part of the outlawed organisation in 2002 after he murdered a resident in his home village Sarju. He also underwent training on usage of weapons, including AK-47, 303 riffles, self-loading rifles and double-barrel guns, in the Choraha, Banduva, Karchu, Chachu and Godang villages in Jharkhand,” stated the police in an official release.
Oraon had been staying in Angamaly for the past three years. He was working in an electric-wire manufacturing firm when the police took him into custody, based on an intelligence tip-off. He had procured a lot of mobile SIM cards from Kerala, and had sent them to Jharkhand for coordinating Maoist operations.
Spurt in Maoist violence triggers fear
A sense of fear has gripped the far-flung areas in Dummugudem mandal bordering Chhattisgarh following the spurt in Maoist violence in the strife-ridden Sukma district of the neighbouring State. The incident in which Maoists allegedly killed a CRPF constable and injured another jawan in an ambush on a CRPF team at Maraiguda in Chhattisgarh on Sunday night triggered fear in the remote villages in Dummugudem mandal along the volatile Telangana-Chhattisgarh border.
The Bhadrachalam sub-division police stepped up vigil in interior villages including Kothapalli, Cherupalli and Ramachandrunipeta in Dummugudem mandal on Monday in the aftermath of the stepped up violence by the rebels in the trouble-torn areas of neighbouring Chhattisgarh. Meanwhile, the CRPF constable Sudheer, who sustained an ankle injury in the ambush by the rebels in Sukma district on Sunday night, is recovering at the government area hospital in Bhadrachalam. His condition was stated to be out of danger. He was brought to the hospital on Sunday night.
A post-mortem was performed on the body of CRPF jawan Ashok Kumar, who was killed in the same incident in Chhattisgarh, at the government hospital in Bhadrachalam on Monday. His body was sent to his native place in Rajasthan later in the day.
Police Step Up Vigil in Border Areas
KHAMMAM: Police have intensified combing operations in Telangana-Chhattisgarh border following burning of vehicles by Maoists near Telangana border on Saturday night. Large police force including grey hounds, CRPF and special party police have been deployed in border areas. The development is creating fear among tribals residing in border villages as they are worried about exchange of fire between police and Maoists. It is said that top police officials have instructed district level officials to take serious steps to curb Maoists’ activity in the state.
Maoists had burnt more than 30 vehicles of road work in border villages in Chhattishgarh, spreading panic among border area people. It is said that they did this to make their presence felt strongly as they had suffered a set back following surrender of Khammam party district secretary Kiran alias Siva Reddy and some other dalam members. According to intelligence reports, Maoists are planning something big to create sensation among public and police. A senior police officer said that Maoists are also recruiting tribal youth in a big way to strengthen the party in both states. “The burning of vehicles was aimed at creating panic among people and police,” he added. A divisional level police officer also said that they had alerted all 11 police stations which are located in border areas to keep a close watch on Maoist movements.
Maoists set ablaze two battery vehicles in Andhra Pradesh
The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres torched two battery vehicles between Kamaluru-Bansi railway stations of the Kothavalasa-Kirandul (KK) line on October 26, reports The New Indian Express. Sources said that though the staff in the battery cars escaped safely, the Maoists reportedly took their mobile phones and walkie-talkies.