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Pampore – a tale of Valour. And Error.

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Let me start with a story.

It was the third weekend of Sep 2013. The venue was Westgate in Nairobi, Kenya. A group of Al-Shabaab terrorists walked into the popular shopping mall and sprayed bullets indiscriminately at first, and then adding a religious quiz later to separate the believers from the kafirs. This went on for 2 hours before the elite Recce force came in. In a professional operation, they sanitised the first two floors of the building and were evacuating survivors.

In the meantime, the Government, unused to such situations, sent in the army to help out in the operation. Without a proper command and control, there was confusion as the army moved in position and the recce still inside. A recce officer was shot at in the mêlée. The recce sensed the failure and decided to exit. The army then moved in. This whole handover and takeover took a couple of hours. This was enough for the militants to regroup and they held the army for 3 days!

Why am I relating this story? To highlight the importance of Coordinated Line of Command in an operation and using the right force for the right job, else you end botching up an operation. Like Pampore.

The end count reads 5 soldiers martyred, 3 terrorists neutralised. For most Indians, that is the end of story. Pretty even. Right? Wrong. And here’s why:

1. The reading of hostages was seemed to have informed the strike and timing. The terrorists released the locals and smartly bought goodwill of the Azadi seekers. To the extent that locals stood behind our troops, sloganeering and stoning. What intelligence may have prompted the call of SF to launch an urgent operation, without enough planning?

2. With the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of regular army regulating affairs, the use of SF seemed to have been botched up partially, if not fully. The SF were not playing to their strength can be inferred by the casualties they bought.

3. What prevented the army to bring down the building? An RPG or a laser guided missile on the beams would have buried the terrorists the moment it was clear that no more hostages were indeed trapped. For sure, the political interference in counter terrorism ops border on unreasonable appeasement of the ungrateful locals. This prevents effective use of force with minimal loss.

4. Considering SF is specialised in minimum force maximum impact, unlike the regular army which works on the concept of formidable force, why doesn’t the Line of Command transition seamlessly to SF as they enter an ops? Is there turf war? Rivalries? Or incompetence?

5. The aspect of faulty intelligence, patrolling and possibility of treachery by insiders cannot be ruled out either. There seems to be high probability of insiders help, looking at the preparation of the terrorists who were adequately equipped with ammunition and other supplies to wear off an elite offense!

6. It is interesting to note that Both Lt Col Niranjan of NSG and Capt Pawan of 10 Para SF had one thing in common .. both the officers were injured with splinter and gun shot 7 to 10 days prior and were admitted in hospital. They were adviced to take rest and be on medical leave for a month. They both had refused to take leave and join operations. Both were under medications. Pain killers may slow down your reflexes and quick thinking, and it can be one of the causes for the casualties.

That we have been faced with similar hostage situations multiple times in last gew months, the effectiveness of our CI Ops is certainly a matter of inquiry.

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