Military & Aerospace

Army’s most critical deficiency: Good Generals?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 27 Nov , 2012

General SHFJ Manekshaw, MC, with the citizens of Bangladesh at Khulna in 1971.

A lot has been written about Generals in the recent past. Not because of in-house introspection or internal check but because misdeeds were exposed in the Media. Lack of internal audit is a cause for concern. I wish to draw attention not on morals, but on Professionalism.

I have never been able to understand why no one is concerned about professionalism of Generals, the most important battle winning factor. Is it lack of interest or is the importance just not realised? Due to inaccuracies in the recording of past wars and inadequate professional analysis, we fail to draw lessons from our conflicts, with the result Generalship continues to be most mediocre, barring a few exceptions.

Generalship is not mere planning and issue of orders. Generals must ensure optimum utilisation of available resources, achieve their aims at minimum cost, and deal with unforeseen challenges and adversities, which are inevitable.

An accurate indicator of the state of generalship in any Army is the performance of Generals during war. In India, War Performance of Generals has not been inspiring, with a few exceptions. Of course, we have won most wars but all on account of leadership at middle and lower levels, and weaknesses of the adversary. Even in our most successful campaign to liberate Bangladesh there were many opportunities missed. Personal accounts of various participants indicate there is more than what is commonly declared. What is disturbing is the propensity to colour History for glorification either of individuals or of the Army.

Generalship is not mere planning and issue of orders. Generals must ensure optimum utilisation of available resources, achieve their aims at minimum cost, and deal with unforeseen challenges and adversities, which are inevitable. At Command level skill lies in conducting Defence with minimum forces and generating maximum force for offensive operations even when conducting strategic defence. At Corps and Division levels the generals must utilize all their resources optimally to accomplish their missions. The plans, both in defence and attack must show some originality if not brilliance.

Generals must inspire confidence, be prepared to lead by example, and support their subordinates when needed. In case of adversity they must take their share of blame instead of finding scapegoats.

Except for a few Generals there are few other names that shine. Critical study of our own campaigns since 1947 indicates failure to utilise our resources optimally, in any war, and plenty of opportunities that were missed. No comments are offered on peacetime generalship which must be examined separately. A quick analysis of our past wars will throw light on the proficiency of our Generals in war.

Operations in J&K in 1947 – 48

At the time of Independence there were only six Indian brigadiers, of which one went to Pakistan. Therefore the rapidly promoted generals must be excused for drawbacks in operations and appreciated for what they achieved. Yet for the sake of learning lessons, a critical analysis is essential.

Even after the fall of Dras and Kargil, in May 48, Zojila Pass was not occupied despite there being a Corps Commander in J&K and an Indian Army Commander in Western Command, by then.

Our initial reaction to induct troops into J&K was magnificent, both into the Kashmir Valley and into the Jammu Region. However after the battle of Shalateng, instead of reinforcing 161 Brigade advancing to Uri, we withdrew a battalion from 161Brigade to place it under 50 Para Brigade at Jammu.

At a time when it was critical to induct more troops into the Valley across Banihal Pass, can we believe the Indian Army de-inducted a Battalion from the Valley, just to place it under another formation, within a fortnight of induction into the Valley?

Not that there was anything great about this battalion.It was this battalion, 1/2 PUNJAB, that withdrew from Jhangar in December 1947 without putting up a fightagainst tribals, abandoning even its MAHAR machine gunners. The Commander was Brig Md Usman.

With a battalion withdrawn, the newly raised 161 Brigade’s advance to Uri was affected. The dilemma to save Poonch or to advance to Muzzaffarabad thereafter is part of History. Even after the successful reinforcement of Poonch, and the Brigade falling back to Uri in November 47, no effort was made to advance either to Muzzaffarabad or to Haji Pir till May 48 by when Pakistan regular army had been deployed in J&K. Even the air base at Srinagar was withdrawn for the first winter.

Having driven the raiders out of the Kashmir no effort was made to occupy passes around the Valley such as Tut Mari Gali, Nastachun, Razdan, Zojila or Burzil. Even after the fall of Dras and Kargil, in May 48, Zojila Pass was not occupied despite there being a Corps Commander in J&K and an Indian Army Commander in Western Command, by then. Somehow the importance of passes was not realised.

…no one talks of the Indian Army giving up Ledi Gali and Pir Kanthi which are west of Haji Pir on the Pir Panjal Range, in 1948. So how do we learn lessons from past mistakes?

During the entire campaign no thought was given to recapture Gilgit and the Northern areas. The task was not even mentioned in the directions given by the new Army Commander in January 1948. The besieged garrison at Skardu was last supplied in February 48 and then left to fight to the last and surrender to the barbarians in August.

Even though a company had been sent to Leh in February 48, and another one air lifted in May, after the fall of Kargil and Dras, CO 2/8 GR was airlifted to Leh only after the fall of Skardu in August, to coordinate the defence of Leh. Amazing! Why not in June?

South of Pir Panjal, four brigades remained in the sector throughout the year but Poonch was relieved only by November 48, even though a relief column had got through to the garrison in the summer to bring out 1 PARA from Poonch. In the sector Brig Md Usman’s achievements are played up whereas no one hears about Brig Yadunath Singh, Commander 19 Infantry Brigade, who not only relieved Rajauri, Thanamandi in April but also advanced to Poonch in the summer and later opened the routes to Poonch in November. Why?

May be because Brig Usman was killed by a chance artillery shell at his command post in Jhangar in July 48. While there is no harm in appreciating anyone particularly those killed in war, there is need to record our History accurately and shun professional dishonesty to fabricate glory.

Though many veterans criticise the Government for giving back Hajipir to Pakistan after 1965, no one talks of the Indian Army giving up Ledi Gali and Pir Kanthi which are west of Haji Pir on the Pir Panjal Range, in 1948. So how do we learn lessons from past mistakes?

As stated earlier the amateur handling of forces should be overlooked on account of lack of experience of the newly promoted generals.

Sino Indian Conflict 1962

The 1962 War is full of lessons. It is the first and last time that senior leadership was criticised, more to keep the heat off the other culprits. However it is important to note no one bothered to visit Aksai Chin after 1947, by land or even by air. Our management of the border with Tibet and China could not have been worse.

Indo – Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971

The 1965 war was thrust upon us but not 1971 which was conducted at the time of our choosing. Since it led to a spectacular victory in the liberation of Bangladesh the shortcomings in senior leadership are conveniently glossed over, to preserve the sheen of Victory!

At Fazilka, troops were employed but the armour failed to provide proper support leading to failure of counter attacks and avoidable casualties.

For example, the Indian Army could not recapture any position lost during any War, whether it was at Chhamb, Husainiwala, or Fazilka, even though there were adequate forces available at each of these places.

At Khemkaran in 1965, it was a controversial decision to try and recapture lost area by use of 4 SIKH, an excellent Battalion that had just captured Burki. A complete brigade with armour was available but the Army Commander, from the same Regiment, chose 4 SIKH to attack the Pakistanis west of Khem Karan, leading to many soldiers killed and taken prisoner. No action was taken by the Army Commander or anyone else thereafter.

In 1971 Husainiwala, lost on the first day, was not recaptured despite the adjacent Sehjra Bulge being captured by a brigade and another infantry brigade being available nearby, uncommitted. We could have easily recaptured Husainiwala from the North, had someone desired.

At Fazilka, troops were employed but the armour failed to provide proper support leading to failure of counter attacks and avoidable casualties.

When 3 JAT crossed Ichhogil Canal in 1965 to threaten Lahore, the battalion was called back since armour could not link up.

The sluggish and limited advance of 1 Corps into the Shakargarh Bulge is well known, in both wars.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen KK Khanna, PVSM, AVSM** (Retd)

has been the BGS of a strike corps and commanded an infantry division (RAPID) in another strike corps. He was MGGS and COS of HQ Northern Command, Commandant of the Indian Military Academy and Colonel of the Jat Regt.

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34 thoughts on “Army’s most critical deficiency: Good Generals?

  1. An excellent and forthright piece that brings out what ails our Army. Add ego , lack of self confidence and an inability to accept mistakes to the mix and we have a potent brew that can only bring disaster. All these years junior officers and the men have been our saviours but the present dispensation is bent on harming their prospects as well.

  2. Your article evokes sickening feelings at the senior generals grasp of changing dynamics of war situations, stereotype responses driven by lack of strategic comprehension, copetence, tactical acumen n drive based on knowledge acquired while climbing the ladder of hierarchy. Hope the present crop of Gen learn lessons from the past and work out , upgrade, wargame and evaluate the plans constantly.

  3. Well said sir. Same thing happened in 62 as well and we know it. Mediocrity at higher levels is getting worse by the day. It is not just that youngsters are excellent but they become mediocre as they rise – the impact is not so visible at junior levels. Unfortunately we don’t train for leadership or generalship. As we rise higher our focus shifts from down – which is our command, to Up – that is our next rank. Zero error syndrome and the penchant for next rank can only result in zero risk taking ability… the ability to look for, sense an opportunity and press on during battle is missing. The promotion policies are formulated and promulgated by the same generals who benefited from the policy. So how can anyone find faults with a system that made them Generals in the first place. And thus the myth, the fallacy is perpetuated. Well one can write books on this … but unfortunately they will only adorn the shelves.

    • The General is rightly asking us all to do introspection by trying to obtain honest answers to some of the uncomfortable sounding questions that are being raised.If we do that,the much needed corrective action has an opportunity to be identified and acted upon..

  4. General KK has given comments on generals who did fail in a particular opration under most stressful testing conditions w/o spelling out the incompetence of the offrs below who have invariably held back the int inputs so essential for correct dicision making at the top level of command.

    Profession of Arms is perhaps the only one where decisions r made on moment to moment basis w/o even second thought something akin to casting a dice & waiting g for the outcome. No other profession throws such challenges ., a nd also where life of all those involved in fight is in severe danger.That is the primary reason the SELECTION BOARDS FOR OFFRS CADRE R UNIQUE in their qualitative requirements. It’s only drawback is that selections at Generals boards do get influenced by many other considerations incl political , which can dilute the quality of the lot selected.

    And there is no way out. The ethos of the forces remain as strong as the history can make us recollect from examples of the past even of the horse riding sword wielding leaders.

  5. The first step to finding a solution is to recognise and accept the problem. Gen Khanna seems to have enunciated the first step.

    I am not an expert in military matters. However, I have picked up two thoughts which may be a pointer to the difficulties in the next step, ie, of improving the quality of generals.

    – 1 – Possibly, focus on good generalship can only come about in a long war. Perhaps that is why besides the Israeli Forces today and both sides in WW-II, good generalship has been deficient in all armies in the last century.

    – 2 – In peace time, when observing good generalship is next to impossible, Peter’s principle is at play, ie, everyone rises to his level of incompetence. And once someone reaches his level of incompetence at whatever level, be it bn, bde, div,corps, army, that person will cause damage to the organisation.

    Above sounds negative and I don’t have an answer. 🙁

    Perhaps Army think tanks can think of a solution.

  6. Whereas the points made by the General officer are valid and certainly require introspection at the higher echelons of our great Army , who is prepared to do it ? Probably the senior ranks are aware of the kind of mediocre calibre being thrown up by the present system but are unwilling to take a risk for want of courage of conviction and the fear of losing their ” so called hard earned ” position in the hierarchy !!
    The answer is not easy in this age of one upmanship !

  7. I fully endorse views of the General. Failures at the top levels is equally applicable for the other two services, as well.
    Optimum utilisation of resources and correct timely decisions are very crucial, both in war and peace.
    Very important to carry out indeapth detailed study of the various operations that have taken place and keep taking place even during undeclared war.
    I hope more Generals start participating meaningfully in this debate.

  8. An excellent article bringing out clarity from the fog of war events. it is true that most of our Generals are the Sand Model types. Think of the Comdr of an Indep Armd Bde (who later on became Chief on the strength of his brother’s PVC) teaching the CO of a Med Regt how to Deploy his 18 Guns . This gentleman has only deployed and used Tank Guns in a Direct Firing Role – trying to teach as how to use Arty Guns in a non- Direct role. This happened in 1976 .

  9. The author is my Batchmate from the NDA. I hv read his book which wonderfully covers the General & their handling of war in the past & incl the recent ones. There is no doubt that Generals should be selected more on the basis of their field experience rather their plaibility. I agree with him totally to say that operation capabilities must be the top criterion for their selection. A very bold book.

  10. Absolutely in agreement with gen khanna. I my self have felt amazed n discussed with May officers that why gen sd be indulging in malpractices , how were they not able to detect intrusion , is there failure in SSB OR we have to put senior officers under another advanced SSB INSTED OF NDC . Many gen have put us to shame , first Sikh gen started t he rot followed by gen vohra , n then rest . I wish gen JOSHI lived more . When we sacrifice gen baxi ! Gen nanavati gen bhardwaj gen halgali n promote tainted gen you will get this mess . I too was surprised when 15 corps CD-R was awarded , medals I think then chief n 15corps CD-R sd have been sacked with northen army CDR. . YES WE HAVE TO HAVE FD CDRS NO PAPER N PARTY TIGERS . ARMY IS FOR ON GROUND N NOT FOR ON PAPERS n parties

  11. Not commenting specifically on events mentioned here, but where is the doubt that Indian army generals have mostly been unprofessional. Hardly any commitment. The promotion policy ensures that gutsy officers don’t become generals. Read book ‘Tob Brass’ by Brig H Sodhi , on this. As expected, this outstanding officer retired as a Brig.

  12. I’m surprised to read the contents. Judy’s to Gen Khanna. As a young Capt I’ve personally seen what he describes as lack of leadership.
    But for my commitment & pride in having served as a soldier, I’d be happy to make military leadership understand how badly we are managed.
    Army is run by officers till
    Col level.
    An internal audit will be difficult as troops will laugh at our seniors.
    May God give us strength to change to a real professional Army.
    God bless our soldiers. Jai Hind

  13. Thanks for an extremely informative and educative article. Military History today Is neither being given the respect it deserves nor being documented properly. Such valuable writes give an insight to a new spectrum of information what was not available before.

  14. Reading this article was a whiff of fresh air. All armies tend to promote conformists….in peace time…as the operational commitments take a back seat. Wars expose the peacetime generals!! The British were prudent to sack some at the beginning of the world war. We need to be truthful in analysing our generals to become a great nation. Calling spade a spade. The system needs a review

  15. Dear General,

    The facts that you have brought out are very well known to most of us who have worn the uniform with pride. However,apart from that, I have seen a change in the IMA credo.

    one on top is superiors, then own welfare and comfort and in the last, well its country and the troops.

    it will not change till the young offrs are encouraged to stand up for what is wrong and if he does that, in 9 cases out of 10 he will be written off. The management of a superior officer is the main focus area and that is how every one is going up the ladder

    es pee

  16. If I could express, Gen. J. J. Singh seemed an unusual officer. He seemed a great soldier, not for any particular reason. The previous C. O. A. S., was supposed to be a star. This was according to people who didn’t know him. He was indeed, an inspiration, and still is. Why is this supposed to be otherwise? I mean, are people comparing the Indian Army to the French under Field Marshal Gamelin? He was a great soldier, undoubtedly. And, he was more of a theorist and tactician than the German generals, whom he lost to.I wouldn’t say, that feeling a bit uneasy is bad for any perception.

  17. Actually time has come for a total reappraisal and recast of selection of cadet, training at IMA and subsequent career development of Army officers. No doubt the Generals are found wanting both on professional and personal front but let us not forget that they cone from same stock which also includes their superseded colleagues, who are no better.

  18. Well written article with good conclusions. We as indians have the habit of putting every thing under the carpet esp the failures and lost opportunities . Having gone through most of the campaigns fromPart -B to staff college the high lights are not emphasiszed. Generals of toady certainly lacking in professional expertise and personnel behavoir.

  19. Sir,
    I have taken PMR and not superannuated from the Army. I was always found short of the right words whenever I was asked why I took PMR.
    Now I know Why?


    Thank you for a great article.


  20. Dear General,

    A lot of what you have said is known to most of us who have worn the uniform with pride. However what is needed are recommended solutions from senior offrs like you.

    Ours is a very subjective system of reporting and one wonders if it will ever change. If it does not the decline will continue.

    Delink the JAG branch from the administrative control is one such step to keep Cdrs on their toes.

    General, if a young offr has the courage of conviction to stand up and be counted I am afraid in 8 cases out of 10 he will not even command his unit. The art of senior offr management has been perfected today. You ignore it at your peril!

    I was an ADC in 1981, and my view is that one had to be blind not to see the decline even then.


  21. Authentic record of historical of events.Really speaks of deficiency of forethought in planning n logistics,at higher levels.Thought !!! What will happen to me if particular action failed.This should be dispelled.I read book on Gen Shrinagesh written by Brig SK Issar VSM.In one of the chapters he mentions that then Maj Gen Shrinagesh GOC suggested to then Brig Thimmya that we should bring armour to Zozila for attack.If we succeed plan was ours if failed then plan and responsibility is mine.May this convey some sense to higher command and great morale booster to at lower level of command.(Zozila 1948

  22. An indepth analysis of deficiency in Generalship of indian Army. We also have deficiency in risk taking profile in our Generals. In war games and other discussions the display is bold but in war there is deficiency.

  23. An excellent article which hits the nail right on the head, particularly where the post retirement cares of senior officers is concerned, in the second last paragraph.
    Also very rightly assessed is the mediocre standards of our courses.
    However there another aspect that counts that has been missed out by him, or has it been conveniently left out. There is a saying that goes:- “A donkey will remain a donkey no matter how much training you give it, nor how long you train it”. We have to see the material that is being “lifted” to these high levels.
    What happened to those high performing middle level officers ? How is it they suddenly fade out ? Who or what caused them to fade out ? There has to be a reason. It could be one of many; lack of sycophancy! having the courage to stand up for their convictions ! Having seen the conditions above, many choose to give up, having earned their pensions.
    We have to realise that the people above HAVE to be held accountable for their actions AND inactions, You can NOT hide behind a scapegoat; Whether a scapegoat is found or not the man above HAS to answer.
    This rot as pointed out by gen Khanna has to be stemmed right up the ladder, to the very top. A soldier would not mind bearing and taking it on his chest. He will always be morally correct.
    This is an excellent article, I would personally give four stars. He held back a wee bit in putting in the bite.

  24. Further to my comment of yesterday.

    The author has brought out very forcefully the fact that we suffer from poor generalship. Why? It cannot be that our generals are lacking in intelligence and knowledge. It has to do something with our character or motivations. What is it in the ‘system’ that favours non-professionalism? Also, this has to do something with our ethics, morality and sense of nationhood. Is this non-professionalism limited to the army or do we need to look at the malaise at a wider national level?

  25. Very good analysis except count yourself in the same quality of Generals, as you are one of them.

    If General Dunn had not driven towards Sialkote then Akhnoor and probably Jammu would be in Pakistani hands in 1965.

    Again it was General Harbaksh who made and error an got Sikh Battlion decimated in 1965 in Amritsar/Khemkaran sector. I do not believe he was ordering the recpture of Khemkaran. He was blocking the retreat of Pakistani tanks after being defeated at Khemkaran. The Sikh battlion got caught in the melee without adequate tank cover of their own.

    It was General Harbaksh who ignored the ceasfire request and sent troops to recapture Dograi & Burki. Hence no enemy position remained on this side of Icchogil Canal.

    What you have not factored into your criticism is the international pressure to stop fighting, which mostly favored Pakistan. Pakistanis had depleted their tank ammunition, petloeum, oil, lubricant and contrary to what the Pakistanis were saying their airforce was unable to mount any forward attacks beyond Combat Air Patrols. For these reason they needed ceasfire. Shastri in 1965 and Indira Gandhi in 1971 was well aware of the American & Russian pressure, wished not to continue the fight any further. Ammunition depletion was also serious with the Indian Army in 1971. Hence Khemkaran, Hussainawala a other incrusions in the west stayed uncaptured.

    What you missed my dear General is that one tank regiment and one brigade of troops were defeated and shattered at Longewala in 1971 on the night & morning of the fight. But the next day they stayed unmolested and allowed to withdraw orderly, although a full division was waiting for the orders at Tanot. They could have captured every bit of the retreating Pakistani troops. That I believe is a failure of generalish. But again I withdraw my crticism because orders for the troops to grab retreating troops were to come from Delhi. I assume these orders did not come because more pressing business was reach Dhaka.

    • My dear friend,
      Thanks for your comments. I am happy you have taken the trouble to read the article and to respond. A few points are offered for consideration.
      I am intrigued by your comment that mine is a good analysis except that I am one of them. Of course I am, and I remain proud to be a General, and I am sure there are many others like me.
      General Harbaksh did not ignore any ceasefire to capture Dograi or Barki. Gen Harbaksh planned four offensives from Ranian in the North to area opposite Ferozepur in the south to capture the area upto the Ichhogil Canal to force Pakistan’s 7 Division to recoil from Chhamb. These included offensives along the GT Road and on the Khalra Axis. The Army Commander wanted 1 Armoured Division reserve in Punjab. See Page 338 of the Generals’s autobiography. He wanted to launch the Armoured division in the Sialkot Sector in the next phase of the offensive.
      The 1 Corps offensive was ordered directly by the Chief, unknown to the Army Commander. (imagine the higher direction of war!)
      The attacks towards the Ichhogil Canal were launched on 06 September. 1 JAT went into Ranian but was beaten back. It was 3 JAT’s bold advance to Batapur, under Lt Col DE Hayde, MVC, on the outskirts of Lahore which alarmed the Pakistanis the most. 4 SIKH captured Barki. These made Pakistanis recoil at Chhamb.
      4 Indian Division’s advance west of Khemkaran on 06 September made little progress. The Division was withdrawn and redeployed east of Khemkaran. Pakistan 1 Armoured Division came through, but was beaten back at Asal Uttar by 10/11 September.
      Meanwhile our 1 Corps had been launched two days earlier on 08 September. An armoured brigade of the armoured division which withdrew from Khemkaran on 10/11 September was deployed in the Sialkot Sector.
      The ceasefire was at midnight on 22/23 September 1965 well after the capture of Dograi and Barki.
      (to be continued)

    • (contd)
      About 4 SIKH’s second operation west of Khemkaran, I recommend reading Page 355 of the General’s book. 4 Division with 4 SIKH attached to them was to clear up the Pakistanis west of Khemkaran.
      About the operations in the Laungewala Sector, you are right the offensive by a division was halted on the news of the Pakistani thrust towards Laungewala. The Pakistanis were destroyed by their own lack of Air and proper Support which enabled our Air to destroy them, as best as they could. The Division at Tanot was too far away to prevent withdrawal, but the IAF did that magnificently. The Division needed no orders from anyone. They had already been ordered to launch an offensive and no one countered that order. That is the lesson present generation must learn.
      About international pressures and lack of war material, both Nations were similarly placed. There was enough fuel and ammunition available to recapture any place they wanted.
      Husainiwala was captured by the Pakistanis in 1971 on the Night 03/04 December. There was more than enough time and resources to recapture whatever they wanted. North of Sutlej R, 29 Infantry Brigade did nothing during the 71 War. Sehjra had been captured by 48 Brigade and their troops were sitting on the northern edge of Husainiwala. South of Ferozepur was our complete 14 Division which captured some small areas. I am aware they had a different task. Husainiwala could have been captured both from north and south annihilating all enemy in the enclave using 29 brigade in the North and a brigade of 14 Division from Ferozepur. That is what the future generals should learn. A look at the map will be useful.

  26. An excellent write up. This article deserves to be discussed amongst the DS and the students at Wellington and at NDC as those are the future budding Generals.
    I personally have come across in excess of a dozen of serving and ex Generals with the following traits:
    1. You do not enjoy a long conversation with them as IQ/ knowledge professional/otherwise is extremely poor.
    2. Cheating at Golf… the integrity is doubtful
    3. Self serving attitude, self & family before any thing and every thing
    4. total Hypocrite
    I agree that majority of them is made of excellent grit but our endeavour shall be, not even to have one such leave aside a dozen

  27. “The seniors must develop courage of conviction to stand for what is right, and learn to place Service before Self.”

    General VK Singh and Admiral Ramdas did. What did the other people in the Army/Navy do when these honest men were sacked ( general VK Singh was removed Extra-constitutionally by someone fudging his DoB).
    What did RAW, IB et al do???

    This is the legacy of MK Gandhi – Defeatists in the Military/intelligence top brass.

    Very soon you can add erstwhile Bombay to the disturbed areas list. Then there will be foreign intervention to bring matters in this (So-called) country under control….
    Because the intelligence agencies were fence-sitters while the nation went to the Dogs.

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