Sunday, May 09, 2010

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs): Easy to Make, Hard to Follow!

Even as I key in this, the channels have gone ballistic over seven CRPF personnel killed in another landmine in Bijapur, Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh Home Minister has virtually thrown in the towel asking for Armed Forces to be brought in. But this blog is not about that aspect. Here I would like to express my views on the issue of Standard Operating Procedures - SOPs. Whenever something goes wrong in such operations, we blame the forces for not following the SOPs - amongst other things. I too subscribe to this view. SOPs, if well made, followed in letter and spirit, will minimise casualties. My point is that SOPs need to be well made, realistic and implementable at the lowest rung of the ladder. There is no point having exhaustive SOPs which cannot be implemented due to geographic, operational or resource limitations. Let me elaborate.

To prevent casualties from landmines to vehicles and men, the troops must not use the road. Period. If that be so, how are they expected to operate, move, sustain themselves? In case they are not permitted to use roads to avoid landmines, they must be sustained by airdrops or provided helicopters. This is unrealistic given the quantum of troops on ground and it will be a matter of time before the Naxals take down a helicopter simply by firing at it while it is taking off or landing. Thus the only option is to operate on foot. To do this, the troops must be located within a walkable distance of the area of responsibility. They should be able to walk out, dominate the given area, and walk back into the base before last light. Thus at best, the bases can be 10 - 15 kms from each other since they need to be close enough to be able to reach out to each other with reinforcements when attacked. Thus if we assume a base of a company strength, the maximum area that the six companies of a CRPF battalion can cover effectively will be 90km that too assuming a linear deployment. The question is, is this how the CRPF is deployed on ground? I suspect not. What I suspect is that the vast distances between the bases is forcing the troops to resort to using vehicles and since the distances preclude the use of Road Opening Parties to detect landmines, they are becoming victims.

Thus SOPs need to be realistic, implementable and made by the troops on ground and NOT in the air conditioned offices. They must take into account ground realities, distances, threats, terrain and the capabilities of own troops. Only then will we able to prevent is unnecessary loss of lives.

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