The encounter is a perfect example of how not to conduct an operation. And if this is the standard operating procedure now, the army needs to re-look its training and tactics. A refresher course is essential if we want our young officers and jawans safe and the morale of the army high. There needs to be accountability in the army – at all levels.
Who is responsible for the deaths of Major Suresh Suri and Naik Khushal Singh? The two terrorists holed up in the house in Baniyari village or poor planning and higher management of operations. The army owes Major Suri’s young widow and Singh’s family an explanation.
Let’s take a look at the facts of the case. The army had ``hard intelligence’’ about two hardcore terrorists hiding in a house in the Baniyari village. An operation was mounted. The 13th Battalion of Rashtriya Rifles sent out a team. Major Suresh Suri of 6 Kumaon, a veteran of Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School, Vairangte, his buddy Naik Khushal Singh and the team surrounded the house.
There is a track leading to the house in the village near the picturesque Wular lake. Another team of soldiers went by boat. The house was surrounded. To the best of their ability the army tried to ensure the terrorists do not escape. It was established there were no ``innocent civilians’’ in the house. This is one of the toughest areas in North Kashmir.
The standard operating procedure, according to veteran soldiers is, once the house is surrounded – the army draws fire to know a) the number of terrorists and b) the general area where the fire is coming from. An assessment is made about the next move. To avoid loss of trained manpower (crores are spent training officers and soldiers) – the army ``brings down’’ the house. Sources say – the officer sought permission to do the same. It was denied.
He was ordered to enter the house and eliminate the terrorists. The army needs to find out (and in the right earnest) who insisted that the major and his team enter the house. Major Suri and his buddy Naik Singh cleared the ground floor and climbed to the first floor of the house. They saw a depression on the wooden floor. As soon as Major Suri lobbed a grenade inside, the two terrorists opened fire. Both Major Suri and buddy were grievously injured.
Major Suri and his buddy, no doubt, were brave soldiers. They walked into the house – not knowing its topography. They cleared the entire ground floor. And then they moved up to the first floor. The terrorists were trapped and suddenly opened fire from their hide out inside the house. According to sources, the terrorists then came out of their hideout and opened fire at the army party waiting downstairs – two majors and four more jawans were injured. The injured soldiers made a tactical retreat.
The terrorists clearly had the edge. They not only had pushed the army out but also gained access to extra weapons and held on to the bodies of the martyred soldiers. They managed to hold on for 25 hours.
The army had to call in the special forces. Sources say, the para commandoes once again requested permission to ``bring down the house.’’ Again the army needs to inquire who turned down that request and why. The Para Commandoes went in and drew in heavy fire. Ultimately the two terrorists were killed. But at what cost.
Two good for nothing pieces of scum – Moosa and Pasha of Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar e Taiba – were eliminated. They were dreaded terrorists – operating in the area for eight years. But the world’s fourth largest army – best trained in counter insurgency operations paid an extremely heavy price in neutralizing the threat. It took them 25 hours to do so. Could this have been done in two hours and with `no own casualty’?
There is no doubt there are good days and bad days in counter-terrorist operations. But risking lives of soldiers is an unacceptably high price to pay. The commanders must never forget that. Soldiers are a national asset. The army must learn to respect them – before expecting the country to do the same.
Infantry soldiers and officers are not specialists in clearing houses. National Security Guard (NSG) commandoes receive specialized training for it. Lobbing stun grenades, using tear gas shells, mirrors to look and using specialized moves to enter as a team. This is a task best left to them – or raise special units to do it in J&K. Statistics show house, hut and dhok (kachcha structures in mountains) clearance is one of the biggest reasons of casualty of troops in J&K.
The Infantry jawan can surround the house, draw fire and use that opportunity to isolate the terrorist, prevent him from escaping and bringing down the house. The army and the state have enough funds to rebuild the house and better ones at that. Anyways rebuilding a house is much cheaper than losing a trained resource – a soldier.
So can Major Suri’s Commanding Officer and the Sector Commander look at his young widow in the eye and explain there was no way out of that situation. That there was no alternative to Major Suri and Naik Singh laying down their lives and 2 more officers and 4 more jawans getting injured (one in the lower back) to kill only two terrorists.
Where was the Commanding Officer? Where was the sector commander? Were they there to guide the youngsters? Or were the commanders safe in the sector headquarters protected by more than a company of soldiers – only willing to venture out when the General Officer Commanding of the Kilo Force and the media reached in large numbers?
I have spoken to several serving and retired officers who have been in the thick of things – they are equally shocked by the manner in which this operation was conducted. Nobody is saying that Major Suri was not brave. He was a daredevil! He is a hero to be cherished – his bravery is immense.
But he did not have to die to prove he was brave. He was a veteran of the CIJW, Vairangte. He was an instructor. He should have lived to guide future generations of soldiers. He perhaps should have been brave enough to stick to his guns and ensure he was not forced to enter the house.
His superior officers should have realized the terrorists could have been eliminated by other means. Bravery is not laying down your life for the nation. Bravery is making the enemy lay down his life for his nation. NEVER FORGET THAT!
Let every commanding officer, brigade commander, division commander and Corps commander take a pledge he will not let a soldier die for personal glory and promotion. It is not worth it. Never ever forget the oath taken at the `antim pag’ at Chetwode building.