Declining Readiness Affecting Rapid Response Against Hybrid Threat
If security forces are always reactive and not proactive, they are bound to suffer unacceptable losses, because the initiative is always with the adversary. 2016 has been a bloody year for soldiers in CI/CT operations in Jammu & Kashmir. Uri, Pampore 1 & 2, Machal and now Nagrota. In all the incidents Army reacted but by then the terrorists had already done the damage. In every incident, the Army did manage to eliminate all terrorists but at a great cost. There are many questions that need answers:-
a. Are the terrorists better equipped and better trained?
b. Did they surprise the army in light of the failure of intelligence?
c. Are cantonments and military installations exposed flanks and indefensible?
The answer to the first two questions is that, “to fight effectively, the armed forces must be manned, equipped, and trained to operate under dangerous, complex, uncertain, and austere conditions—often with little warning.”
They require right training, right equipment and clear orders. The operational philosophy should be that error of judgement should be condoned but lack of alertness and diligence should not be overlooked. The biggest shield against surprise attacks is intelligence. It is not possible to “get it entirely right” always and every time, but an endeavour should be to strive not to get it wrong and consequently suffer unacceptable losses when struck by unexpected threats. If intelligence is weak and only suggestive in nature, then the soldiers will have to pay a heavy cost. Intelligence has to be precise to forecast “what, when, and where,” more importantly, at a time when most of the time the threat remains vague and unpredictable. Soldiers should be able to act and not react.
The irony is that there are loopholes in this vital capability of the state. Two main intelligence agencies IB and R&AW are neither integrated with the Army nor accountable directly to the field commanders for success and failure of intelligence. Military intelligence has limited capability and charter due to restrictions imposed in terms of no operation beyond international borders.
Therefore, the Army operates with a handicap because men will be always fed suggestive intelligence that is more often a measure to cover “we told you but you failed to act on our information”. Therefore field commanders need intelligence not routed through Delhi but direct and that too actionable and not suggestive. Military intelligence also needs to enhance capabilities and feed actionable intelligence to the field formations.
Time to Take a Hard Look to Mitigate Exposed Flanks
During the period between 1990 to 2006, number of encounters and infiltration bids were far higher, but own casualties were far lesser. It was in the range of 1:6-7 whereas now the rate of casualties has increased to near parity and in many cases the number of casualties of security forces is higher than the casualties of terrorists. The equipment profile is marginally better including body armour than what it was during 90s and early 2000. Beside other factors, there is a need to carry out introspection, what is wrong with our tactics, drills, procedures or indecisive actions by soldiers and commanders. Are there clear directions when to open fire or the orders are ambiguous? A soldier cannot be expected to function when orders are ambiguous such as, that a soldier will fire only if he is fired upon. Such orders are suicidal in nature. Time has come to lay down red lines and the State must accept the error of judgment from soldiers if it occurs. Way back in the 90s and early 2000 when terrorism was at its peak in Kashmir valley, soldiers were given clear orders to fire if someone did not heed to a warning. Few lives were lost but then there was deterrence in place that soldiers mean business.
The best way to defeat the enemy’s design is to deny exposed flanks. Cantonments have become soft targets whereas they should be impregnable fortresses. Wire fencing is an illusion; it neither stops a determined terrorist nor provides protection against small arms and direct firing weapons. A cantonment should deny access, observation and freedom of manoeuvre to the terrorists. Terrorists are deterred if there is structural and electronic fence that restrict or detects their movement well before they enter the garrison. Human security is not a replacement for structural and electronic security rather they complement each other to provide fool proof security. However, none of the unit garrisons has proper structural security including automatic blast proof gates and electronic fence. Most garrisons have adhoc security structure that makes it easy for terrorists to breach them at will. This problem is compounded by the fact that there are thoroughfares almost all along the periphery of the cantonments and at places, public roads pass through the cantonments giving access to undesirable elements to recce and intrude into the cantonments. It may not be possible to isolate these cantonments now but what can be done is to provide layered compound structural security to these camps.
Let us face the fact that there is something amiss in training of units. If an untrained, ill-equipped unit is allowed to move to high-intensity operational areas, the accountability and responsibility also rest with the formation commanders in peace stations. Units should be trained and evaluated by the formation before it is given a go ahead to proceed to the operational area. Rommel, had said, “The best form of welfare for the troops is first-class training, for this saves unnecessary casualties.” A military unit should be trained to undertake wide range of missions to succeed in a conflict zone. Prevention of casualties is as important as eliminating the adversary. The success of terrorists lies in causing casualties whereas the success of security forces lies in the elimination of terrorists and prevention of own casualties. This can only be achieved if the units are trained hard for the impending operations.
There is a need to continuously evaluate the response of the unit to various contingencies including security of garrison. The quality of reactions by quick reaction teams needs to be assessed periodically so that the reactions are not slow and sluggish.
India is employing regular forces along the LOC but Pakistan is employing irregulars and terrorists to target own depth areas, thereby causing more collateral damage and creating a sense of insecurity in the hinterland. Sabre rattling by political leadership at a time makes soldiers complacent and gives an impression as if tactical success is a military victory. That is a dangerous trend. Tactical military successes are not issues of political sloganeering because a resilient enemy is not weakened by tactical reversals. He will certainly retaliate with equal intensity when he has more options especially when the threat is hybrid in nature.
Troops operating in information/ intelligence vacuum remain unsure of their reactions to an unexpected threat. This is further compounded if the troops are poorly equipped, ill-trained, and live in the substandard and insecure environment. Realistic and hard training is a tremendous confidence builder to men. Their reactions and judgement improve and they are not blanked out at the critical time. Moral ascendency is also achieved when garrisons are secure and made impregnable by combining structural, electronic and human security as a system.
Soldiers must develop interdependence among the skill, equipment, and readiness to deal with contingencies. Readiness is unique to each situation, but it reduces the risk of collateral damage. Rapid response contributes to deterrence and it must be visible to send a message that our troops mean business. All efforts should be made to defeat the design of adversary but at the same time reduction in collateral damage due to enemy actions are also vital because heavy casualties to soldiers make the nation feel vulnerable and impact the national psyche. Therefore, to fight the hybrid war in J&K, the answer is deny soft targets, train units to fight effectively with modern weapon systems, develop capabilities of rapid response by maintaining high readiness profile and follow fire and move to prevent casualties.