India, US war drill kicks off in Rajasthan
Indicative of their growing interoperability and comfort levels in joint operations, the Indian and US armies on Monday kicked off a war drill in Rajasthan that involves infantry combat vehicles and armoured personnel carriers in a counter-terrorism operation.
The annual two-week exercise, codenamed Yudh Abhyas 2011-12, commenced at the Mahajan Ranges, with 200 troops from each country readying to test their battlefield skills in the searing desert heat, a defence spokesperson said from Jodhpur.
The American troops are here at a time when a top US commander's claims of his Special Forces team operating in India, apart from four other South Asian countries to carry out counter-terrorism operations, has been denied by the Indian defence ministry.
The US and India are working together to contain Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attack, Admiral Robert Willard, who heads the US Pacific Command, had told a Congressional hearing Thursday.
The teams were deployed to help India in counter-terrorism, in particular in the maritime domain, Willard had said.
India quickly denied hosting American troops on its soil. The defence ministry said Willard's claim was "factually incorrect".
"The report is factually incorrect in so far as the reference to India is concerned," a defence ministry spokesperson said in New Delhi.
"US special forces teams have never been stationed in India in the past, nor are such teams stationed in the country presently," he said.
The US contingent at the Yudh Abhyas exercise is headed by Colonel Thomas J. Roth, Commander, 2nd Engineer Brigade to which the American troopers belong. The Indian soldiers are from the Jaipur-based South Western Command and are led by Brigadier B.S. Dhanoa.
The two teams will hone their tactical and technical skills in a UN peacekeeping scenario involving mechanised forces, the defence spokesperson said.
"State-of-the-art equipment for surveillance and tracking, specialist weapons for close quarter battle with terrorists, explosive and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detectors, as well as the latest communications equipment are being fielded by both sides," he said.
"Both sides will jointly plan and execute a series of
well-developed tactical drills for neuteralisation of likely threats that may be encountered in UN peace operations," the spokesman added.
During the course of the exercise, the American troops will also get a taste and feel of Holi, the Indian festival of colours that falls on Thursday.