Homeland Security

Pathankot Operations: A Grand Success
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 13 Jan , 2016

The venom spilt over the conduct of ground operations in eliminating six Pakistani terrorists who had infiltrated into the Pathankot air base is astonishing. There was an unfortunate tendency to comment on each and every aspect of the operation, both by seasoned veterans who have fought many such encounters and by arm chair strategists who possibly haven’t seen a rifle, even though most such commentators had little to no access to any worthwhile information on what actually happened at the ground level. One worthy even compared the operation to the disaster of 1962!

… why we as Indians are so critical of ourselves? Does it have something to do with the fact that foreign powers have ruled over us for a thousand years…

Conjectures were passed of as facts and personal opinions became a substitute for any form of analytical reasoning. Yes, there are lessons to be learnt from the Pathankot attack, as indeed there are in any operation conducted, but that should not take away from the fact that six highly trained and motivated terrorists were eliminated and not allowed to achieve even an iota of their operational objectives. Their handlers in Pakistan must certainly be a worried lot. On our part, we need to be more analytical and dispassionate while discussing such issues.

There is no gain saying the fact that our borders must be better protected. The BSF is a capable and efficient force, but it needs to be better led. To have officers of the IPS cadre commanding such troops is a travesty, as a police officer is not trained for combat. That is the first intervention which needs to be taken. It is high time that the BSF is converted to a  paramilitary force by giving it leadership from the Army on the lines of the Assam Rifles. No longer can the country afford the luxury of keeping the BSF as a police force. There is also a need for political insulation of the BSF, to ensure that illegal cross border activities are eliminated.

Most commentators have assumed that the intelligence was perfect and pin point. That was not the case and can never be so. The probability of Pathankot being attacked was very high. The Air Force base was certainly a potential target. But the attack could well have been aimed at a civilian target to create a hostage situation. Pre positioning the NSG for such a possible contingency was prudent. What would have been the impact had a school been attacked? Post the event, to presume that the Air Force base was the only target, betrays a lack of analytical thought. But astonishingly, what everyone seems to have missed out is the statement given by the Gurdaspur SP, Mr Salwinder Singh, whose vehicle the terrorists commandeered. He had stated that the terrorists had made away with his mobile phone. A cursory analysis of the call records made through this phone would have pinpointed the location of the terrorists. Yet this apparently simple step was not taken, indicating a laxity in progressing a lead which could well have altered the course of subsequent operations.

The BSF is a capable and efficient force, but it needs to be better led. To have officers of the IPS cadre commanding such troops is a travesty, as a police officer is not trained for combat.

When the terrorists struck in the wee hours of 2 January, they came first into contact with some unarmed DSC personnel. In the initial contact, five DSC personnel were killed in action. This is an unacceptable loss of life, but the discourse shifted to the age of such personnel, imputing thereby that these former soldiers were to old to effectively perform their task. This is an unwarranted slur cast on the DSC. Had these men been armed, we would have seen a different outcome to the initial encounter. When a high state of alert was sounded, it was but obvious that an attack on the base, should it come about, would entail terrorists sneaking into the base by scaling the high perimeter wall. The DSC should have been forewarned of such a possibility.

At the very least, each man should have been issued a weapon for the duration of the threat and the troops briefed on likely scenarios and threat responses. The question to be asked is why this was not done? Why were the troops without weapons? Were they briefed? A deafening silence prevails over this aspect. Of equal importance is another question. If the Air Force base commander felt that he had insufficient forces to guard against a forced entry into the base from the outer perimeter wall, what did he do about it. Did he coordinate with the Army? Did he express his fears to his superior officers in command. And if he did so, what was the outcome? These questions must be asked to ensure that adequate synergy is developed between the Services, to obviate the occurrence of such like incidents.

It must be appreciated that after the tragic loss of five DSC personnel, the terrorists were effectively contained. This must be a cause of great angst to their Pakistani handlers, who would have sent their very best lot to create a situation on the lines of the attacks carried out by them in the air and naval bases in Pakistan. With six fully armed terrorists, who were prepared to commit suicide, the amount of mayhem that could have been created is incalculable. That the terrorists failed to do so, bespeaks of cowardice, pusillanimity and gutlessness of a high order on their part and of an effective counter terrorist operation by own forces on the other. Killing unarmed persons is one thing, but taking on regular armed troops is another.

It must be appreciated that after the tragic loss of five DSC personnel, the terrorists were effectively contained. This must be a cause of great angst to their Pakistani handlers…

A lot of media space was also occupied by the fact that the operation continued for three days. That would have been relevant, if the operation was time sensitive. In such operations, once the terrorists have been confined to a particular area, then time is of little consequence. However, media handling assumes importance. In the instant case, media management was poor, which gave undue propaganda value to those that sponsored the attack, indirectly indicting the security forces containing the situation. We are now living i the information age and it is incumbent on the part of commanders at all levels to effectively portray their operations. We are living in an age where a war can well be won by kinetic means but lost in the perception domain. Remedial action on the above is called for urgently. Perception management has to be treated as a part of operations.

Finally, we need to ask ourselves why we as Indians are so critical of ourselves? Does it have something to do with the fact that foreign powers have ruled over us for a thousand years and we have lost the ability to appreciate our strengths and our successes? When our ladies win competitions such as the Miss World and Miss Universe titles, we are dismissive of such achievements, casting aspersions on cosmetic manufacturers, trying to sell their products. When our cricket team wins, we talk about pitches being fixed to suit the team. The time has come to accept the fact that we have great strength at all levels. Overestimating our capabilities is no doubt harmful. Equally damaging is underrating our strengths. Fix the glitches, certainly, but don’t berate your performance at every step.

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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

Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch

former Director of CLAWS and is currently the editor of SALUTE Magazine.

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12 thoughts on “Pathankot Operations: A Grand Success

  1. @ Maj Gen Vishnu Mulye – What got me was your comment “must have written sitting in their cosy rooms”. Gen when you retire and I am sure you will retire one day too just like us and then I am sure you won’t be found sitting under a tree with a Kalam n Dawat. I deserve my cosy room. My room was constructed using my hard earned money through umpteen years of operational service in an elite Regiment of the Indian Army. My room was not issued to me by the Govt Of India nor was it subsidised by any grant. The senior officers commenting here have served in the Army for 30 +years; a service spanning all operations in the country, from SriLanka to Siachen, from Kashmir to Nagaland /Assam. We wear four rows of ribbons (none of the VSM varieties). We have the right to comment and the comment in not related to the author. It’s about the way the whole operation was handled it’s our view. We have years of operational experience to back us. Wonder how can you say everything went right – were you there ??? My apologies to the readership but my well-deserved cosy room was slighted.

  2. India has adopted a unique model of parachuting political appointees to lead the border guarding forces which are suppose to hold ground and fight conventional wars alongside Army during hostilities. But irony is that the IPS officers leading these forces have no operational acumen to lead men because they have never ever engaged at tactical level. Nowhere in the world has there been an example of a commander parachuted from top without having the combat experience. This weakness has been exposed time and again, yet the government is looking otherside. Pakistan Rangers are led by military officers, Border Regiment of China are headed by Army officers, Bangladesh Rifles is headed by Army Officers but it is only in India that a man who was till yesterday managing Thanas and law and order is entrusted to give conceptual and doctrinal guidance to the forces without any experience. What is it called? Tragedy and bankruptcy of foresight. One blind man guiding another blind man and both falling in ditch.

    • Yes I absolutely agree that droves of IPS wallahs are being involved in counter terror operations with zero combat skills and always botching them up. And what is more they are leading a faux army of pretenders made up entirely of constables and their ilk who love to sport combat fatigues without earning them. The IPS appointees enjoy incestuous relations with politicians and ministers and reap undue advantage over faujis. But for the presence of Army Men, even though the civilian NSA did his damndest to keep them out of Pathankot operations, the terrorists would have got away with inflicting a far greater damage on the base. Despite the excessive hype surrounding Doval, his performance as a NSA has been lacklustre and his tactical experience is a big ZERO. He should let professionals ( the army) do the job instead of forcing his presence on operations that lie beyond his brief.

  3. A well written article. I Agree with the writer’s views. I have also read the adverse comments given by two very senior retired officers (must have written sitting in their cosy rooms) and I think they were over critical. Civilians don’t understand the practical difficulties in conducting such operations so their getting carried away by some media reports is acceptable but Army officers should not have given such comments not having been at the place of this attack.

  4. Why is none of these generals not talking about surrender of operational authority over operations on a Air Base by the Chief of Air Force to the NSA, total lack of professionalism on part of Air Force Officer commanding Pathankot Air Base and abject faiłure of Garudas who claim Special Force status?

  5. General I am appreciative of your expression to preserve our stature but I as a military man see the whole affair conducted in a rather unprofessional manner at the upper level. We may have killed the terrorists – all terrorists in such situations meet a similar end. So a dead terrorist doesn’t mean all went well. The whole issue smacks of shoddiness and amateurism. This is not how a well-oiled security apparatus acts and reacts. Let’s learn – it’s an issue and that is that we don’t learn. We refuse to accept and we refuse to learn. Thank You.

  6. While the author does make some valid points, but to suggest that this pyrrhic victory was a stupendous feat of arms would not be correct. Among those veterans who have commented or written on this matter may I suggest angst rather than venom may have been the motivating factor.
    That a cut and dried operation was conducted with such shoddiness and utter lack of professionalism on the part of those controlling it cannot be glossed over. Abrogation of their responsibility by the Air Force and the Army, despite denials and placing the IG (Ops) NSG, a Staff Officer, in command of the operation made little sense as was the use of the NSG for cordon and search/search and destroy operations. It certainly did not require a FM Rommel or Guderian to suggest reinforcing the base with an infantry battalion that could have have protected the perimeter and some of the vulnerable points inside.
    By going into denial in an effort to save reputations helps nobody. It may be better to shape perceptions by competent actions rather than misinformation.

    • I agree with the General, that one and all have commented upon this operation. However, was this a clinical counter terror op? In an area as large as the air base, would it not have been prudent to induct the Special Forces of the Indian Army to conduct a search and destroy mission? Had it been done in a clinical manner, the only casualties would have been the terrorists/saboteurs. We lost about 10 personnel in eliminating these terrorists over a span of 77 hours.

  7. I could not but more agree with the author on his views and analysis of the subject. The Media as usual did more harm than good, spreading innuendo and despair by speculative reporting. What hurt me more was that being myself a veteran, the behavior of some from the veteran community who made irresponsible and unverified statements on the operation and personalities involved on electronic and social media. Let us as veterans leave the present military leadership free to fight their own battles. If we as their erstwhile instructors and seniors have done our job honestly and well, rest assured they will deliver.

  8. It has become disturbing and distressing trend to condemn our own forces and our own responses. The root cause is the communist-cum-minority outlook, which has the only agenda to justify plunder of India for centuries and also reward the aggression. It is this perverted mindset which justifies non-exchange of POWs with POK in 1971-1972. This lobby has also indulged in denigrating Kargil operations and targeted George Fernandes. The sub-text and fine print is to portray that Indian forces are totally incompetent and any amount of motivation even with improved weaponry is worthless. There is also a sustained attempt to justify the riots and treason occurring because the so-called ‘root cause’ was not addressed. Whether it was Kandhar Hijack of 1999, Parliament attack of 2001 or Akshardham 2002, these Leftist-Muslim League parasites in Lutyens Zone spin justifications for the assaults. The party which gave election tickets to 1978 hijackers of Indian Airlines plane, is also in the forefront for criticising handling of Kandhar. Treason in India is over thousand years old and is being nurtured by the self styled experts and myopic media.

  9. In earlier days all operations were discussed in detail in the Army circles to evaluate the shortcomings if any for correcting them in future operations. But the Bollywood inspired media and the public now a days became experts to indicate the shortcomings in the ongoing operations even before they were concluded. Even the DM failed to understand the severity of the situation and have to fall in line with Duval’s strategy to induct the NSG stead of the Army units in the neighbourhood of the Air Force Station. But our civilian pundits knew every tactic and in the process condemned the slain soldiers in the operations for their ignorance and loss of their lives. How pathetic is our media and the public opinions.

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