The killing of five Indian soldiers in a cross-border strike in the Poonch sector has raised critical questions about the efficacy of the army's bulletproof vests and possible deviation from standard operating procedures by the 93rd brigade deployed there.
A day after army chief General Bikram Singh pulled up his top commanders over the Poonch attack, HT has accessed chilling details of the raid that point to failure of command and control at the brigade and unit levels and also indicate there was no firefight with the Pakistani aggressors --- identified by defence minister AK Antony as "specialist troops" from the neigbouring army.
Top government sources revealed that the five soldiers killed on August 6 --- four from 21 Bihar and one from 14 Maratha Light Infantry (MLI)--- were shot at close range in an ambush that now threatens to derail peace talks with Islamabad.
HT has learnt that three of the soldiers killed had bullet injuries in the chest, in a sign that they were either not wearing the mandatory bullet-proof vests or the protection offered by the jackets was ineffective. Both --- serious scenarios.
Replying to a detailed questionnaire sent by HT, senior Army officials said it would be premature to comment on what went wrong on that rainy night at Rangad da Nullah and details would emerge after an in-house probe was completed by the commander of Rajouri-based 25 Division.
A senior officer said failure of command and control was rather evident, but it was too early to pin blame.
"The details are still sketchy as the lone survivor Shambhaji Kute is in hospital…the full picture will come out in a couple of days," said an official.
The fourth soldier was shot through his eyes and the fifth bled to death due to multiple gunshot wounds in his upper and lower limbs, the sources said.
Another angle likely to be explored during the investigation by a two-star general is the possibility of ill-fated patrol taking rest at the ambush point when Pakistan's special services group and terrorists gunned them down.
A top source said perhaps the sole soldier on watch took a fatal eye shot, while four were shot dead at close range with apparently suppressor-fitted assault weapons.
The sixth soldier was sheer lucky to have escaped, almost unharmed, he said. Although the use of silencer fitted weapons by Pakistanis is still not confirmed, its possibility cannot be ruled out as no one heard the shots being fired.
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