Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dantewada: The Way Forward

The tragedy of Dantewada brings home a sad truth; our reluctance to learn from mistakes already made. My previous post on the Sildah Massacre had brought out some aspects of how underprepared and untrained the Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) had been, but here was a company of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), better equipped and trained in comparison to the EFR, probably better led as well, but they suffered even greater casualties. So what happened - or rather what now? Having gone through the media reports, the reason for the casualties in unclear, but what seems to be emerging is that
the Naxals sprung an opportunity ambush - some say four ambushes in succession and brilliantly decimated the entire column. In copy-book style they had a cut off group to ensure the reserves could not come to the rescue and this effectively sealed the fate of the company. So what emerges here are the following aspects:
  • The Naxals have achieved a high degree of proficiency in field craft (FC) and battle craft (BC), the bread and butter of any force. This includes the ability to move silently in battle conditions and coordinate tactical movement of large bodies of soldiers and so on.
  • They know the land like the back of their hands which explains how they were able to surround the men and cut off routes etc.
  • They have local support, NOT necessarily voluntarily from the people, it could be by default, which means the presence of local administration is so limited, the locals have no choice but to assist the Naxals.
  • Post this incident they are well armed!
So what is the way forward? The way forward is to go back into the territory on our own terms and conditions, slowly but surely and systematically deny space to the Naxals. The thing to be kept in mind is that what matters in NOT how many Naxals we kill, how much of land we 'liberate' or how many arms we recover? All that is just incidental...what matters is How many local people we can influence, control, swing our way by our presence and actions there? This is the simple truth of counter-insurgency operations, a truth which most army men, paramilitary men and even policemen tend to forget. Let this battle not degenerate into a body counting expedition - something which happened in the later stages of counter insurgency operations in J&K where unit citations depended on the number of 'kills' a unit could get in a year. That actually led to some unscrupulous people promoting insurgency so that the flow of kills could continue to ensure furtherance of careers! But I have digressed...this actually forms the matter for a more conceptual blog. Coming back to what actually needs to be done:
  • Take a map of the area of responsibility and work out how many villages, hamlets or settlements are in the area which need to be covered.
  • Work out the time and space aspects of reaching these places...we do not want to overstretch, overreach into another Dantewada situation so take small steps.
  • Small steps means going in say 5kms in one day and then setting up camp, sanitizing the area, pulling in more troops and establishing a kind of base.
  • Keep doing this until you have reached a settlement, village where a permanent camp can be established. Permanent camp does not mean inside the village like was done in Sildah, find a place tactically secure and then make the camp there.
  • Ensure you build a helipad at each camp to enable casualty evacuation, replenishment of supplies and enable reinforcements to reach there.
  • Keep looking over your shoulder tactically which means at all times ensure your Lines of Communication - routes to the bases - are secure.
  • Embed local administration elements with the forces, e.g. let the govt doctors camp in the campsite and see patients from somewhere near by.
  • Dominate the area - the area means the village and the nearby areas to deny space to the Naxals. This is THE task for which the force is being sent there BUT this SHOULD get SECOND priority until the force is tactically secure. There is no point trying to do this when the force per se is at risk of being swamped.
  • Dominate the area means - patrol the village every hour if possible, during the day. At night order a curfew and lay ambushes for Naxals trying to reach home, reach their girlfriends or families, or simply trying to sneak in to the village to collect supplies or information.
  • Dominate the area means - patrol the area around the villages, lay ambushes around the villages in the jungles.
  • Dominate the area means - DENY the Naxals access to the village and villagers simply by the presence of the forces.
  • Include SADBHAVNA type of operations and develop a rapport with the villagers. Talk to them kindly, no thrashing of the population every time the Naxals attack, treat them like humans, spoil them with canteen goodies, give them free medical treatment, make football grounds, take them for bharat-darshan trips, corrupt them with the vision of a better life, give them alternatives to look for apart from taking up the gun in the name of Naxalism.
  • Do all this very slowly and surely ...these actions should take at least 6 months to a year before the results will be felt. What should the results be? The results will be that the Naxals will drift away to villages not covered by the forces. In the meanwhile as the forces gain the upper hand, start going after the Naxals in the jungles and in their hideouts.
Does this make sense?
I hope so...

1 comment:

  1. are you looking to assist brig ponwar in Chattisgarh!!
    your penchant for writing and articulating your views is appreciated effort in the right dirn indeed. i find rarely if ever do Indian army officers write whereas their individual and collective wisdom probably is the better half of .our national intel capital!!