The death of two para commando officers in an encounter with terrorists has raised disturbing questions over defence forces’ new counter-insurgency tactics, especially in urban areas. A section of the army believes that instead of playing a waiting game, a pattern of conducting quick operations has emerged because of which casualties are rising.
“There could definitely be some pressure from the very top to complete the operation within the minimum possible time. Here (in Pampore), they (terrorists) were holed up in a building and couldn’t have run away, so why the rush to send paras in the first place, when we could have got them anyway?” a senior army official said, wishing not to be named.
Last year, two colonels fell to the bullets of terrorists in J&K, prompting defence minister Manohar Parrikar to direct the army to ensure it took no casualties “as far as possible”.
Army officials say one reason why the casualties have risen is that terrorists have refined their tactics and are striking targets where they can cause a high number of casualties, hold out for a long time against the security forces and create media hype.
“We can easily blow up a building and kill the terrorists but what about the collateral damage? So we have to strike a delicate balance and are willing to suffer casualties to save civilians,” Lieutenant General BS Jaswal, a former northern army commander, said.
The generally acceptable ratio of casualties between the army and terrorists is 1:10, though it can vary in cases of urban conflict. In a three-day operation at Pampore three army personnel and two CRPF jawans died while three terrorists were killed. In the Pathankot attack last month, seven security personnel, including Lt Col Niranjan Kumar of the National Security Guard, died while five terrorists were killed.
Officers said protecting civilians was the top priority in Pampore. “There were a lot of civilians in the building when the terrorists entered it. Our main focus was to evacuate them to safety. We launched a joint operation and used bullet-proof vehicles to evacuate 120 civilians from the building,” Major General Arvind Dutta, GoC, Victor Force, said after the operation.
A report in local daily Greater Kashmir said on Sunday that employees who were in the building, wishing not to be named, said the terrorists allowed them to leave.
Last year, 37 security personnel died in terrorist violence in Kashmir.