Army chief1

By Sangeeta Saxena

New Delhi. 13 January, 2016. “Mountain strike Corps will be raised as per schedule and will meet the 2021 deadline. There are no instructions from any quarter to slow the pace of raising nor are there any budgetary cuts,” stated Army Chief Dalbir Singh Suhag, at the annual press conference ahead of Army Day on January 15, the agenda of which was actually hijacked by the media , which focused on the Pathankot attack.

Amidst volley of questions on the four days time taken to declare the operation closed, as to why the operation was “micro-managed” from Delhi, who was in command during the operation and why despite intelligence inputs attack happened , General Suhag reiterated, “As far as the Army is concerned, it was not under anybody’s command. It was under the Western Army Commander who was monitoring and controlling the operations on my behalf. There was no lack of coordination, and there was complete synergy between all the forces operating. The operation had NSG, Garuds, police, and intelligence agencies along with the Army.”

One of the focus areas was to ensure the security of assets of the airbase  and more than ten thousand people at the attack site, which included families, foreign students, officers, air warriors and the civilian staff  for which a strong cordon had to be established and area of contact had to be contained, he explained.

“Eight columns of army were deployed with each having 70 personnel, Special Forces were there and the Army Brigade Commander was controlling the Army operations. The Army Chief insisted that the amount of time it took to conclude operations at the airbase, was not a big deal. The time taken to wrap up the counter-attack, according to him, is an issue which rests with the commander on the ground and they were given full liberty to take their decisions.

“There were two soldiers in the building where two terrorists were holed up. We had to first pull them out and then launch the offensive for the terrorists. It was not an easy operation and we took our time to reduce or minimise the casualties,” Gen. Suhag informed.

On the issue of whether utilising the National Security Guard instead of the Army was appropriate, the Chief said, ” Intelligence inputs that terrorists could target the airbase were there and  NSG is the best force to deal with a hostage situation and to get them there was pre-emptive action and a good decision. Army columns were deployed inside and outside the perimeter within 2-3 hours after the alert. No one came inside after that.”

The Chief negating allegations on Lt Col Niranjan not having followed the Standard operating procedures of bomb disposal said, “ the officer had handled in one year 3000 plus kgs of explosives and there was no one better than him for the task. Despite having followed all the standard drills, some booby trap was there which he had not envisaged.”

Responding to a question on whether covert, surgical operations or direct war would be the right response to the proxy war launched on India from Pakistan, Gen Suhag vociferously said, “the Army is fully prepared and ready to respond to any threats and challenges.  Army is highly motivated and ready to respond to any threats to our national security. And Indian Army is ready for any task but these are government’s decisions and not the Army’s.”

“Our endeavor is to always improve security. We can lessen individual incidents and we need a security audit to make the security strong.  But one thing is sure, they should know that if they come they will die and not go back,” he added.

The General said that the motive of the Pathankot attack was to inflict maximum damage and generate a media hype. According to him the security environment facing the nation is becoming more complex and dynamic.

He informed that over the years the number of  terror training camps which continue to be active in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir have come to 17 from 42 earlier , as some of the camps were shut down few years ago due to international pressure.

On being asked whether he felt that the Pathankot attack was an attempt by the Pakistani Army and the ISI to disrupt the peace process, the Chief said “It has done it number of times. I am not saying in this (Pathankot) connection.”

Gen Singh also stated that asymmetric threat is on the increase and identified cyber security as the major challenge for the Army and needed to be countered. He informed that cyber audit is carried out periodically.

The Chief said that it was too early and premature to identify the lessons learnt from Pathankot as the NIA was carrying out the investigation and it would be right to comment only after it was complete.