Worst-ever casualties in J&K insurgency; intelligence warnings ignored
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Sept 16
In a jarring challenge to the army in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), armed militants attacked an army camp near the border town of Uri on Sunday morning, killing 17 soldiers and wounding another 23. This was the heaviest blow the army has suffered in a single attack since armed insurgency broke out in J&K in 1990.
Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, the army’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), described events in a media statement. He said a group of Pakistani terrorists attacked the camp at 5.30 a.m. on Sunday and four were killed by 8.30 a.m. It remains unclear whether there were more. Explaining the heavy army casualties, the DGMO said: “The terrorists fired incendiary ammunition, along with automatic fire of small arms that led to army tents [and] temporary shelters catching fire… There have been a total of 17 army fatal casualties. Of these, 13-14 casualties have been due to these tents/shelters having caught fire.”
The administrative echelons of two infantry battalions --- 10 DOGRA and 6 BIHAR --- were in the camp. Their combat echelons had deployed in forward posts along the line of control (LoC), leaving the camp lightly guarded.
Even so, the attack raises serious questions of operational culpability. An infantry battalion’s administrative echelons should also consist of armed and trained soldiers who should not have been caught napping by a militant fidayeen (suicide) squad.
Furthermore, Business Standard learns the Uri brigade was given pinpoint intelligence warnings about an impending attack. Last week, intelligence agencies sent a written warning that a Pakistani “border action team” (BAT), including trained jihadi militants, was readying to launch an attack across the LoC in Uri.
According to the army’s standard operating procedures, such a warning should have triggered a heightened alert, and the deployment of extra sentries to guard all camps. Yet, the Uri camp was taken by surprise, with the fidayeen succeeding in setting tents alight with soldiers still asleep in them.
In any case, the army has been on high alert across the Valley, where 72 days of unremitting street protests have followed the killing on July 8 of Hizbul Mujahideen South Kashmir commander, Burhan Wani. With almost 80 Kashmiris killed and thousands injured in public violence, the army knows well that Pakistan is looking to exploit the turmoil.
The DGMO appeared to validate the intelligence warning inputs, stating: “All four killed were foreign terrorists and had some items with them which had Pakistani markings. Initial reports indicate that the slain terrorists belong to Jaish-e-Mohammed tanzeem (group).”
“Since the terrorists had some items with Pakistani markings, I have spoken to [the] Pakistan DGMO and conveyed our serious concerns on the same”, he said.
Insiders also highlight the operational laxity evident during the Poonch attack last week, which began on September 11 and continued for four days until four militants were killed. Reliable sources tell Business Standard that the militants came within a whisker of entering the lightly protected brigade headquarters, where they could have caused mayhem, Uri-style. Fortunately, they decided to spend the night at an abandoned house adjoining the brigade headquarters boundary, and were --- through blind luck --- discovered while sheltering there for the night.
Following the Uri attack on Sunday, New Delhi offered the same bluster that had accompanied the Pathankot air base strike on January 2. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted today: “We strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Uri. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished.”
It remains unclear what form of punishment the PM visualises. A noticeably more restrained DGMO merely stated: “the Indian Army remains prepared to thwart any nefarious designs and any evil designs of the adversary shall be given a befitting reply.”
An equally restrained Home Minister Rajnath Singh expressed his “deep disappointment with Pakistan’s continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups”, and declared that “Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such.”
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar flew from Goa, where he spends his weekends, to Srinagar, where the army chief briefed him.