Two ambushes laid ostensibly by the same terrorist group in the Poonch – Rajauri belt which resulted in the loss of ten soldiers should raise serious concerns on conduct of counter militancy operations of the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir.
The first ambush sprung on 21 April trapped a vehicle which was on its way to Sangiote from Bhimber Gali in the Poonch sector of the Jammu region to transport fruits and other eatables for an iftar party that was to be hosted by the Army’s Rashtriya Rifles unit at 7pm that evening.
The attack was carried out in Tota Gali between Bhimber Gali and Bhata Dhurian.
Terrorists brought the truck to a halt with grenades and then targeted its fuel tank, setting off a massive blaze in which the five unfortunate soldiers succumbed.
Fraternisation with the local community is part of the role performed by the Rashtriya Rifles – a counter terrorist force which is permanently located in the area with a view to support development as well as prevent the locals from being induced by terrorists from across the border to provide support. Intelligence may be an incidental outcome through informers within through an informal arrangement or could be formalized in some cases.
Movement of the vehicle suggests that the RR unit was not expecting any ambush in the area which was possibly under domination through surveillance, patrolling or picqueting. If there was a threat envisaged then a Road Opening Party would have been essential and if the single vehicle has moved despite the same this is an operational lapse.
Second Encounter – Operation Trinetra
The second encounter is reported to have occurred on May 05 when a search and destroy mission - Operation Trinetra to neutralize the terrorist group which had reportedly launched an attack on Dhangri village on January 01.
The operation was launched by Special Forces (SF) resulting in loss of five soldiers of the elite counter terrorist force.
The terrain in which the operation took place - Kesari Hills near village Panali opposite Mandir Gala Gali - has several caves which provide an ideal hide for terrorists.
The SF team as per a report in the Hindustan Times had been launched based on specific information of the hide in the Kandi forest in Rajauri Sector. “On specific information about [the] presence of terrorists in the Kandi forest in Rajouri Sector, a joint operation was launched on Wednesday. At about 0730 hours on Friday, a search team established contact with a group of terrorists well entrenched in a cave. The area is thickly vegetated with rocky and steep cliffs,” the local defence PRO was reported by the Hindustan Times. “The terrorists triggered an explosive device in retaliation. The Army team has suffered two fatal casualties with injuries to four more soldiers including an officer.”
Concerns at the Highest Level
That the incidents have been taken seriously is evident with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh personally taking stock of the operational preparedness of the Indian Army and the security situation along the border during his visit to the Army Base Camp in Rajouri, Jammu & Kashmir on May 06, 2023 as per a Ministry of Defence Press release.
“The Raksha Mantri interacted with the soldiers and commended their valour and zeal while operating in challenging situations. He asserted that the Nation feels secure because of the unmatched courage, commitment and constant vigil of the soldiers of the Indian Army in difficult areas. He motivated them to continue working with the same dedication and bravery, stating that the Government and the people of the country are with the Armed Forces always,” as per the release.
The second ambush in fact occurred even as the Defence Minister was in the Rajauri sector.
With the terrorist group localized the possibility of their neutralization in the days ahead seems assured. Never the less the two ambushes happening within a fortnight has exposed some serious operational lapses of the Indian Army.
Back to the Basics
When concurrent lapses occur, the golden rule is Back to Basics.
There have been some tactical violations that may have occurred inadvertently or in the rush of success [in the second ambush].
In a counter insurgency scenario – “it is not over till all is over”.
Despite the commitment to cease fire by the two armies – Indian and Pakistan in February 2021 – continued infiltration and terrorist attacks was a given.
Thus defensive deterrence at the tactical level while punitive at the strategic level had to be the most appropriate option in such a scenario vis a vis Pakistan in the near to mid term future.
The angst in Islamabad over Jammu and Kashmir is a political imperative for Pakistan as demonstrated by the vituperations by Pak Foreign Minister Mr Bilawal Zardari Bhutto at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Goa on 04 and 05 May.
If this be the strategic militancy environment, continuing high vigil not just on the Line of Control but in the hinterland is essential. All activities thus has to be operational including administrative movement.
Eternal vigilance they say is the price of liberty.
Counter terrorist operations also need to be carried out with due caution as terrorists who have infiltrated seem to be well trained in use of explosives and assaults.
Minor tactics of fire and movement assume importance even where the terrain is difficult.
Bunching of soldiers must be avoided.
Keeping individual distance that can assure mutual support is the best course to avoid large numbers being killed in an IED or a fire assault.
Winkling out groups which have infiltrated and announced their presence in the area by an attack such as the January 1 strike on innocent civilians in the Dhangri area or on April 21 ambush in Bhata Dhurian have to be taken to a logical conclusion of tracing out the group behind the same and neutralizing it.
At the larger level military, will have to focus on the operational role whatever be the other commitments which have to be treated as peripheral.
Finally a nationalist narrative is no good for the soldier on the ground for whom good tactics is the art and science of survival.