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Army reluctant to spare special units for Maoist fight

Posted by Admin on September 25, 2009

SUJAN DUTTA

25army.jpg A soldier during a gun battle with militants near Srinagar on Wednesday. (AP)

New Delhi, Sept. 24: The army has expressed its reluctance to let its special forces be dragged into the Centre’s anti-Maoist offensive after Union home minister P. Chidambaram suggested that the units may be used.

The army’s reluctance is couched in advisories that the top brass have conveyed to the planners of the offensive.

A brigadier is attached to the anti-Naxalite cell of the Union home ministry and the army itself has been engaged in studying the Maoists.

In successive meetings of its commanders, the top brass have mapped the growth and spread of Left-wing extremists. “We do not have adequate special forces. We are in the process of expanding them,” said a senior officer at army headquarters.

All the six para-commando battalions of the army have been categorised as “special forces”.

Besides, army soldiers make up one wing of the National Security Guard. The wing, Special Action Group, is tasked with handling anti-hijacking and counter-hostage situations.

Another special force, the Special Frontier Force meant for high-altitude border operations, reports to the cabinet secretariat.

The army’s reluctance to embroil its special forces in the counter-Maoist offensive stems from three main reasons.

First, contrary to public perception, the army has a limited number of battalions that have been designated special forces. The size of a battalion ranges from 900 to 1,100 troops.

The special forces are currently being expanded and even the units that are not specially configured for counter-insurgency operations are being used in Jammu and Kashmir and in the Northeast.

For example, the 1 Para unit is currently deployed in the Valley. It replaced the 10 Para that was tasked with counter-insurgency duties for two years though it had been raised to do battle in the western sector. The unit goes by the name Desert Scorpions.

Second, the special forces have an acute shortage of officers. The shortage is so bad that the army is now likely to ask officers who join the service to do a short stint in the special forces before they are sent to their regular regiments.

Third, the special forces are tasked to move with regular support elements — infantry units and air support. This means deploying the special forces to, say, Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand, would mean moving more troops and hardware away from operational areas.

“One option is short-duration deployment — such as insertion of special forces to take out a defined target — but we are given to understand that the CRPF’s Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (Cobra) is supposed to do this job,” the officer said.

However, the Cobra took an unexpected number (six) of casualties in Operation Green Hunt in Chhattisgarh last week.

The Cobra force, which has about 10,000 soldiers, had to send personnel for counter-Naxalite operations in Bengal’s Lalgarh, Orissa and Chhattisgarh even before it completed its training period.

The officer said that for specific missions, the army has to be given hard intelligence and defined targets.

But an analysis of images taken by two unmanned aerial vehicles over Chhattisgarh’s and Jharkhand’s suspected Maoist dens has only shown clusters of bamboo and stone huts that may or may not be hideouts. TT

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