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9 combat teams placed in J-K as intel warns of possible strikes

india Updated: Jan 10, 2016 22:46 IST
Rahul Singh
Rahul Singh
Hindustan Times
Jammu and Kashmir

Indian Army soldiers take up position on the perimeter of an airforce base in Pathankot. Nine combat teams have been placed at the highest alert level in Jammu and Kashmir following the terrorist attack.(AFP Photo)

Nine combat teams comprising India’s best fighting men have been placed at the highest alert level in Jammu and Kashmir following the Pathankot fidayeen attack and fresh intelligence inputs warning of strikes against high-value military targets ahead of Republic Day, a top army official has said.

Scattered across terrorism hotspots in the state, three Special Forces (SF) teams are based in the Kashmir valley, two in the Jammu region and three reserve teams are stationed in Udhampur to mount a swift response to terror strikes.

“Security measures have been tightened and response plans to military-style terror strikes have been worked out by the teams following the Pathankot attack,” northern army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda said.

“We have carried out a comprehensive security audit of vital installations such as airbases, ammunition dumps and key administrative facilities.”

Read | When terror checked in: Reconstructing the Pathankot air base attack

Each team consists of close to 100 elite commandos. The state is home to two battle-hardened commando battalions -- the 4 Para (SF) and 9 Para (SF).

Hooda said the reserve SF elements located at Udhampur could be flown out for any anti-terror mission on short notice.

“Intelligence warnings are not 100% specific but we are leaving nothing to chance,” he added.

The Udhampur-based Northern Command is the nerve centre for counter-terrorism operations in the state where military bases and soldiers have been regularly targeted by terrorists.

The security of soft targets such as schools and hospitals, tightened after the 2014 Peshawar army school massacre, has also been reviewed.

The SF units are better trained and equipped than regular infantry battalions to respond to Pathankot-style attacks. The SF specialises in covert operations, warfare in jungles, mountains and deserts, low-intensity conflict and hostage rescue.

The SF is armed with Israeli TAR-21 assault rifles, US-made Colt M4 carbines and a mix of Israeli Galil and Russian Dragunov sniper rifles. It was an SF unit that carried out a rare cross-border assault into Myanmar last June after 18 Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush in Manipur and the insurgents escaped to the neighbouring country.

The SF units account for more than 5,000 commandos.

India’s response to the Pathankot terror attack -- the second major strike outside J&K after last year’s attack in Gurdaspur -- has set off a fierce debate over whether the operations should have been assigned to the National Security Guard or should SF units have been rushed there.

Read | Post-Pathankot, BSF tries to plug border gaps