Once again, militants crossing over from Pakistan targeted a military camp – this time in Nagrota, a cantonment 15 km north of Jammu city, killing two officers and five soldiers, just two months after the deadly attack on a military camp in Uri. The spate of successful attacks and high military losses raise several disturbing questions about the complacency that seems to have afflicted the Indian army and security forces deployed in the state.
The militants, believed to be from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, crossed over several hours before the attack, and were dressed in Jammu and Kashmir police uniforms, confusing the army sentries outside the Officers’ Mess, according to intelligence officials.
The militants stormed into the Mess at 5 am, lobbing grenades and firing from automatic assault rifles, before entering a residential building housing soldiers and their families. A Quick Reaction Team of the local Army Artillery Regiment was pressed into service to counter the militants, which managed to rescue several women and children, but lost an officer and additional men in the attempt.
The latest attack in Nagrota takes the toll of security personnel killed in border-related incidents this month to 11 – the figure is over 40 in the last three months. While militant attacks have gone beyond Jammu and Kashmir, such as the Pathankot attack earlier this year and the Gurdaspur attack the year before, they are concentrated mostly around military or police installations, ensuring that local support for militancy is not affected in any manner.
Barring a few attacks on civilian targets in Pampore, near Srinagar, the attacks have targeted soldiers and police personnel, indicating that a clear strategy is in place to undermine the security forces.
A Complacent Army?
A little over a week ago, Lieutenant General A K Sharma, who took over as the General officer Commanding of the 16 Corps in Nagrota in October, received a detailed intelligence briefing that included inputs about an attack on a “high value” target.
Sharma, originally from the 2nd battalion of the Sikh Regiment, has spent a considerable part of his career in Kashmir on counter insurgency duties. However, while he asked the formations and units under his command to take precautionary measures, most failed to sit up and take notice.
The result was a disastrous attack.
A lot of the blame for the increasing military casualties, it appears, can now be placed on an increasingly disconnected military hierarchy. Emerging details of the September attack in Uri, that claimed 20 lives show how complacent the military has become in a state that is termed as “war zone”.
Officials in the security establishment, who were part of the post-mortem carried out of the Uri attack came up with astounding details. The attack, which took place in the early hours of September 18, showed that even basic security measures were missing. The perimeter measures were rudimentary and had chicken coop fencing with abandoned sentry points at the golf course, which had been the point of entry for the militants. Some of the sentry bunkers were found with sandbags that had dense growth sprouting through them, indicating the state of neglect. Despite specific intelligence alerts, patrolling was minimal and the threat posture underestimated.
The soldiers from the incoming Maratha battalion had not been issued weapons on the night of the attack. When the attack took place, leading to fires in the tents, the soldiers did not even have the means to retaliate. This led to a high casualties, as the units were caught napping.
Some senior officers were also found to be in denial of a possible attack. With the army coming down hard on casualties, many field commanders had become defensive, as senior police officials pointed out. “Since the attack on Uri, nearly 12 major cordon and search operations have been conducted by the army, based on specific intelligence inputs about militants. All of them came back empty handed. In four of those cases, the militants fired back and managed to get away,” a senior state police official told Scroll.in.
Worse, while the Uri attack was attributed to the militant outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammed created by Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the the terrorists released by the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government after the hijacking of IC 814, but subsequent evidence recovered from the militants killed conclusively established that they were from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, maintain those investigating the case.
A subsequent inquiry found that the Director General of Military Operations had based his claims on an intercepted phone call of a journalist speaking to his editor, claiming that the JeM was behind the attack.
Last year, intelligence agencies had busted a militant module, which had conducted detailed surveys of the military installations in Nagrota. They found video footage of the Corps headquarters, and the installations that were attacked on November 29. This was the clearest warning that the military cantonment was on the target of militants. The Corps is one of the biggest in the Indian Army, and before the creation of the Jaipur-based South Western Command, had one of the largest areas of responsibility, that stretched from Northern Punjab right up to Poonch in the Jammu sector.
The area around Akhnur, with a solitary bridge over the Chenab river is considered a particularly sensitive and vulnerable area that winds its way up through Palanwala, before the international border converts into the Line of Control. The area has two army divisions, the 10th Division in Akhnur and the 25th Division in Rajouri, as well as the Romeo Force, a Division sized counter insurgency formation, dedicated for operations north of Akhnur.
Surgical strikes nullified
In April 2014, just before the general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah addressing an election rally claimed that once their party took power at the centre under Narendra Modi, the borders would be safe and no one would dare to enter India. However, the gap between political rhetoric and reality has been steadily increasing. What has also added to the complacency of the military is its increasing use for political brownie points.
Soon after the “surgical strikes” by Indian Army’s Special Forces, defence minister Manohar Parrikar had credited the “teachings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” for the action. He had also promised a “tit-for-tat” action against future attacks during a TV interview, but had not spelt out a clear strategy. However, despite the “surgical attacks” and the demonetisation, strikes against military installations continue unabated. Worse, government claims of past attacks have also been contradicted. For instance, while Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had claimed that there were “six terrorists” in the Pathankot air base attack earlier this year, the government told Parliament on November 29 that there were only “four terrorists”.
Such confusion in the top political ranks of the government does not inspire much confidence among the security forces, be it the military or the intelligence agencies and police forces. Security analysts are clear that more terror attacks are in the offing, and unless the political leadership gets its act together quickly, India will have to lose more of its soldiers in this unending conflict.