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Army vulnerable to terror strikes during rotation of units

UriTerrorAttack Updated: Sep 18, 2016 15:56 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times
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Last year’s Chandel ambush, in which 18 soldiers were killed, took place when the Dogra unit deployed in Manipur was on its way out to a peace location.(PTI File Photo)

The Uri attack, in which 17 Indian soldiers were killed , is a grim reminder of the army’s vulnerability to terror strikes when new units are moving in to replace stationed ones.

Fifteen of the soldiers killed in the pre-dawn attack formed a part of an advance party of 6 Bihar that had come in to relieve 10 Dogra that was deployed along the line of control (LoC). Two Dogra soldiers were also killed.

The army said on Sunday that the four terrorists, who were killed, targeted a “rear administrative base” where a large number of soldiers were stationed in tents and temporary shelters as a rotation of units was underway.

Chandel attack

Last year’s Chandel ambush, in which 18 soldiers were killed , also took place when the Dogra unit deployed in Manipur was on its way out to a peace location. An advance part of the unit had already moved to Chandigarh to set up base there.

The Chandel ambush bears the infamy of having the highest number of army casualties in a single incident in nearly two decades. The Dogra soldiers were part of an administrative convoy. India responded with a cross-border raid, targeting and destroying two insurgent camps in Myanmar. India’s Special Forces killed more than 50 insurgents.

Also, four soldiers from 21 Bihar and one from 14 Maratha Light Infantry (MLI) were shot at close range in an ambush along the LoC in Poonch sector in August 2013. The strike came when 21 Bihar was moving out and 14 MLI was coming in.

A senior army officer said, “Attacks are often timed when rotation of units is taking place as there’s a perception that the guard may have been lowered. It can be a dangerous window as sometimes complacency may set in”.

However, former northern army commander Lieutenant General BS Jaswal told HT that there was a misconception that the guard is down when rotation is taking place.

Read | Kashmir’s Uri attacked: Why the key Indian Army base is on militants’ radar

“It’s true that new units take time to settle down as they are not seized of the ground reality. When a unit moves in the guard is at a high pitch because they know they are vulnerable. No one wants to get killed,” said Jaswal.

Geographical disadvantage

The Uri sector has a geographical disadvantage as it is under direct observation of enemy posts at greater heights, army officers said.

No matter how high intensity the guard is, the attackers have the tool of surprise, said Jaswal. “Whoever takes the initiative first will get favourable results,” he said.

Jaswal said the army had not been used effectively in Jammu and Kashmir and its posture was mostly defensive. “You have to hit Pakistan where it hurts. They know nothing will happen.”

Read | Those behind Uri terror attack won’t go unpunished, says PM Modi

It remains to be seen how the army will re-work its strategy and posture to be more effective.

After the January 2013 beheading of a soldier in Mendhar sector, then army chief General Bikram Singh said the force reserved its right to retaliate against Pakistan at a time and place of its choosing. After the August 2013 strike in which five soldiers were killed, Bikram Singh reprimanded his top commanders in Jammu and Kashmir for not launching a massive retaliatory strike against the Pakistani army along the LoC.

In January 2014, he declared the army avenged the murders of its soldiers along the LoC by the Pakistani by inflicting casualties on the neighbouring army.

Quoting Pakistani news reports that 10 of their soldiers were killed and another 11 injured in recent clashes along the LoC, Singh said, “Our boys have done a stupendous job.”

Full coverage| Uri terror attack

Deadliest attacks on Indian security forces
  • May 22, 2016
    Casualty: Six soldiers of 29 Assam Rifles
    Location: Chandel district in Manipur

  • January 2, 2016
    Casualty: Seven security personnel and four attackers killed
    Location: Pathankot Air Force Station

  • June 4, 2015
    Casualty: 17 armymen killed and at least 16 injured
    Location: Army convoy ambushed in Manipur’s Chandel district

  • December 5, 2014
    Casualty: Eight army and three police personnel; eight militants; and two civilians
    Location: Separate attacks in Uri, Ahmadnagar, Shopian and Pulwama

  • June 24, 2013
    Casualty: 10 armymen
    Location: Hyderpora, outskirts of Srinagar

  • July 19, 2008
    Casualty: 10 armymen
    Location: IED blast at Narbal Crossing, outskirts of Srinagar

  • June 24, 2005
    Casualty: Nine soldiers killed, and 21 others injuried
    Location: Rashtriya Rifles convoy targeted along the Dal Lake, Srinagar

  • May 23, 2004
    Casualty: At least 30 people, including 19 BSF personnel, killed
    Location: IED explosion at Lower Munda, near Qazigund, on the Srinagar-Jammu highway

  • June 28, 2003
    Casualty: 12 soldiers killed
    Location: Suicide attack on army installation at the Dogra Regiment camp in Sunjwan, on the outskirts of Jammu city

  • May 14, 2002
    Casualty: 34 people, including 22 army men, killed
    Location: Militants attacked a bus and stormed an army camp at Kaluchak, about 10 km from Jammu