The only Winning Factor in Counter Insurgency

RIMPAC 2004

Troops operating in ‘Counter Terrorism’ operations

The Indian Army is one of the richest in experience when it comes to CI operations. This can be essentially achieved by the very clichéd management term called ‘Back to Basics’. In 1987, the Indian Army met its match in the LTTE as far as jungle fighting techniques were concerned. The LTTE innovated the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) to curtail the mobility of the Army. It read our basic skills and realized that we had established movement drills which had been adopted by habit not by recommendation; we liked moving five meters off the road or track. Therefore the LTTE placed IEDs exactly there. A Para Commando battalion and its outstanding Commanding Officer, would never permit his men to move between two bushes because that is where the LTTE placed mines and IEDs; so they only trampled over bushes and that is why it never suffered a mine casualty. He was a man never in a hurry; always taking time and moving deliberately even if it took a couple of hours more than scheduled; always unpredictable and always correct in basics.

There are some simple aspects of countering IEDs and reducing the possibility of militants targeting a unit during de-induction. After serving three years in an area a unit is usually confident about its knowledge and capability of terrain and militant tactics. Its guard is low while exactly the opposite should happen because it can expect militant retribution for the losses it has inflicted. An anti-vehicle IED is not so easy to emplace although in the mountains it is simpler. Potential IED sites can be identified by soldiers with a keen eye for ground. Security is never in numbers; it is in alertness.

 

The road has to be opened (ROP) through a deliberate drill involving deploying at least half the night before, so that militant ambushes cannot find their way to designated spots. The ROP is one of the most tedious in the CI list of operations. Theoretically it involves securing an area adjacent to the road by physical placement of troops in small detachments, after they have searched the road for possible IEDs, and more importantly deploying some troops in depth to dominate potential routes of ingress to ambush sites. This is done on both sides of the road and achieves the necessary domination.J&K indian-army-convoy-in-kashmir

 

However, troops on ground may treat this casually especially if there has been no history of IED attacks or ambushes and they have been doing the duty repeatedly. More often than not this becomes an everyday activity and the repetitiveness and sheer boredom brings an air of casualness. Militants are great observers. A unit with tight drills will never get targeted. Yet, in such an environment the unpredictable can always happen and if on that day alertness is low the effect will be disastrous.

 

Let me also state for information of those who have never donned the uniform or operated in such circumstances. CI operations are most demanding, they sap your energy and it is never possible to retain a hundred percent alert at all times. Soldiers are human and while they have immense stamina and patience they can and will make mistakes. There are some basics ingrained in them which must never be lost sight of. Reminders in such an environment are an essence of command because not everything can be remembered even by the most thorough professionals; that is a leadership mantra. In the din of activities in such areas pieces of crucial information sometimes escape notice and in passage from higher to lower levels the degree of importance and actual contents may well get relegated or lost. You cannot always do it but there are times when in CI areas it is preferable to get your teams to walk with vehicles following, for some distances. It will upset all movement calculations but such a measure is adopted when you know that the terrain is completely against you.

The important thing is that in the passion and energy to do so it must target the militants and their leadership and remember that one basic from their Back to Basics lessons; the population must not be affected.

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