The Central Reserve Police Force has clarified that air support can only supplement convoys and not replace them. The paramilitary force was responding to news reports that have claimed it was denied the air transit it wanted for the convoy that was attacked in Pulwama last Thursday. Forty CRPF personnel died in the attack.

The Ministry of Home Affairs also rejected the news reports, PTI reported on Sunday. “Movement of convoys by road for logistical and operational reasons has been and will continue to be necessary,” it said. “This is also the case with the Army.”

The ministry said it has significantly enhanced air courier services for central armed paramilitary forces in all sectors to help soldiers cut down on travel time during their journey to and back from home. “In the Jammu and Kashmir sector, air courier service for transportation of jawans of Central Armed Paramilitary Forces are already in operation for quite some time,” the ministry added.

This initially included the Jammu-Srinagar-Jammu sector. Later, at the request of security forces in December 2017, “the services were extended to the Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar-Jammu-Delhi sector with seven flights a week”, the home affairs ministry added.

Meanwhile, CRPF Director General RR Bhatnagar told The Indian Express that he and other officials have discussed with the state police and the Army ways to counter the threat of explosive-laden vehicles. “We are taking all possible measures to ensure our movements remain safe and we effectively counter the new challenge of vehicle-borne IEDs,” he said.

Asked about the length of the convoy – there were 2,547 soldiers in 78 vehicles – and the absence of armoured vehicles for all the soldiers, Bhatnagar said the impact of the attack made these matters irrelevant.

The attack was carried out by the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group, one of whose suicide bombers rammed a vehicle rigged with an improvised explosive device into the convoy. The attack has ratcheted up tension between India and Pakistan, and drawn international condemnation.