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Shishir Gupta , Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 31, 2014
In a bid to avoid a Sukma like disaster — where 16 paramilitary security personnel were killed in a Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh — the government has decided to approach Washington to purchase state-of-the-art mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles, which the US forces will leave behind in Afghanistan after they pull-out of the country this year.

The spadework for the acquisition has already begun through the foreign military sales route with Pentagon inclined to sell “excess defence articles” to India rather than be captured by Taliban forces after the drawdown.

While South Block has asked its officials to prepare for the specifications of the MRAPs, there are five categories of some 3,800 vehicles currently in Afghanistan. Called Cougar or Buffalo, these more than 14-tonne vehicles with V-shaped hulls, have minimised the US forces casualties in improvised explosive device blasts and ambush, both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US has given some 20 such vehicles to Pakistan under the coalition support programme. The V-shaped hulls that can deflect blasts from more than 150 kg IEDs — routinely used by Indian Maoists — have a six-inch thick bullet-proof glass, can run on flat tires and have a maximum speed of up to 100 kmph.

“The Americans first offered the MRAPs to defence ministry some years ago without avail. This time the request has come from home ministry as these vehicles will help in transportation of troops as well as improve patrolling on the main highways in south Chhattisgarh,” said a senior ministry of external affairs official.

Although the casualties in the Tongpal ambush were partly due to violation of standard operating procedures by the security forces and in spite of actionable intelligence, it was decided at a high-level meeting chaired by Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde that troopers needed extra protection with Maoists using planned attacks and area weapons. It was then that the MEA was alerted to approach Pentagon for sale of MRAPs under the bilateral Homeland Security programme.