The Indian Army had averted a hostage situation from developing during the Pathankot terrorist attack when it rescued six air force personnel on January 3.
The terrorists had split into two groups, with one group having 4 and the other 2 members.
One of the terrorists of the second group entered an other ranks (ORs) accommodation. It was a two-storeyed building. The army moved into action and found the air force personnel were on the first floor. The army managed to evacuate them one by one either through windows or by ropes. “There were six personnel who were rescued,” Western Command army commander Lt Gen KJ Singh told reporters at a press conference in the Chandimandir cantonment near Chandigarh.
He said that building was an old structure and was made of steel and heavy concrete. “It had steel doors. It was almost like a bunker,” he said.
The explosives had to be used to destroy the building. “When the building was destroyed, it took time to sanitise it,” he said.
Why NSG was deployed
Asked why the National Security Guard (NSG) was deployed when the army was based next door, he replied, “The NSG, Army, Garuda Commandoes of the air force and air force personnel were involved in the action. The decision to deploy NSG was taken at the top level which included the service chiefs.”
“They (NSG) were deployed because strategic assets were involved. There could be a hostage situation as 11,000 people are living inside the base. Usually, air base becomes out of action in such situations, but here it remained fully functional. The air force was able to carry out surveillance sorties,” he clarified.
“I saw an excellent synergy between the forces. IG of NSG was my General Officer Commanding in 26 division. DIG of NSG was also in the Army before his deputation.”
The Western Command had deployed 9 columns of soldiers with 7 inside, which included SF unit, and 2 outside. There was a platoon of Infantry Fighting Vehicles, a bomb disposal squad, 9 mine protected vehicles, air evacuation unit and also the hospital was made ready to deal with emergency. “There was a military hospital just right outside the air base and there was no death after a casualty reached hospital.”
At present, Western Command has deployed two mine protected vehicles, two columns of soldiers, one bomb disposal squad and one dog squad.
Why operation took so much time?
“It is a huge area and difficult terrain. The buildings are laid out in sequential manner. The sanitisation takes place building wise. The families are located there, we have to be conscious,” he said and pointed out that the terrorists remained dormant for some time and again started firing. “You may count the extent of operation on stop watch basis. The actual engagement was of just 10 hours and not of 95 hours as is claimed in media. There used to be times when there was no firing and then terrorists would start again.”
He clarified that the Army’s role was not limited. “DSCs and Garuda commandoes made the first contact with the terrorists where Jagdish Chand snatched gun from the terrorist and killed him. Then second contact was made with the SF personnel and an army column. An integrated fie base was used and then NSG came. Then a combined fire base was made at the end. Infantry Carrier Vehicles were used and then finally NSG neutralized the one group (4) of terrorists.”
The Army had recovered a pamphlet of Jaish-E-Mohammed (JEM), radio sets, AK 47s and anti tank grenades from terrorists.
Two bodies of terrorists are completely burnt but no decision on other 4 bodies had been taken. “One of the bodies had a grenade with its pin pit, it could explode,” he said.
When the Army received intelligence input
Lt Gen KJ Singh claimed that on January 1 afternoon they had received a serious alert that 6-8 terrorists had infiltrated and Pathankot air base was their target. He said that the information had been received both from the central agencies and also the Punjab Police. “Based on information a large number of preemptive actions were taken. A red alert was sounded. The Quick Reaction Teams (QRTs) were placed. Security of strategic installations was beefed up,” said Lt Gen Singh and added that mine protected vehicles and other resources were procured even from the Northern Command.
But the army entered Pathankot air force station only after terrorists entered the base, he clarified. On allegation against Punjab Police for providing information late on terrorists, he said the inquiry was going on and he would not comment on it. He also did not answer the question on from where terrorists entered the Indian border. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was looking into all aspects, he said.
‘Local Support cannot be rule out’
On the question of local help to terrorists, Lt Gen Sinfh said, “Localised support cannot be ruled out. NIA is looking into that aspect.”