Pathankot and its aftermath

Pathankot attack gave a rude welcome to India as we headed into 2016. Professionally trained and heavily armed terrorists entered into Indian territory, travelled some distance, killed a taxi driver, “kidnapped” a top police office officer (and released him!) and finally launched their attack on Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. Seven Indian soldiers were martyred in the attack, defending this great nation.

If you want to know more details of this attack, there are probably 3 sources.

India Air Base Attack

Indianexpress.com

First are the Pakistani terrorists and their Pakistani handlers. Second source of information would be the Indian defense personnel who were engaged in the counter offensive to neutralize those lunatics. Third and final source are the common people, “experts in Media”, politicians and one Mr Rahul Gandhi. I belong to this third category of commentators and feel it is worth writing down what could have happened during that attack and how we can avoid collateral loss of lives in any future attacks.

There are a number of senseless comments being made by people with little knowledge of what could have happened. Here is my take on those comments. Again, I’m no expert and these are just commonsense answers.

Comment#1 – It was a major intelligence failure that we failed to act when details were known in advance

Now, details of a possible attack came out only 12 to 14 hours before the actually attack took place. Also, imagine the difficulties in identifying what could be a potential target that could be present in a 50 KM radius. It could be movie theaters, railways stations, markets, places of worship, schools, police stations, political persons and defense installations. Even if it were know that a defense installation would be targeted, how would they know which one? Which town? Yes, it is easy to comment on things with the advantage of hindsight but when you do not know the target, everything is assumed to be a target.

Comment#2 – NSG should not have lead the counter offensive, should have been the Army

NSG gets most of its recruits from the Army itself. Also, they are highly trained and better equipped than the Army. If we do not involve them in such anti-terrorist operations, what is the use in keeping such a unit?

Comment#3 – The operation extended for 3+ days due to inefficiency of our Armed forces involved

Lets think through what could have happened that night. 2 groups of terrorists made way into the Air Force base. It is puzzling to understand how they made it inside, but lets wait for the official investigation to uncover that.

Now, they entered a canteen in early morning hours and killed 5 soldiers there, probably unarmed since they were there setting up the kitchen. AF Garud team responded to the initial call for action. In the darkness of night when bullets are flying all around, it is very difficult to pinpoint the location of terrorists and also counter attack them. A Garud officer was martyred at this stage. Next casualty was of a NSG Bomb Squad expert who was martyred while diffusing a grenade. Now, such casualties will slow down counter offensive because officers on the ground have to ensure there are no other hidden traps.

Lifecycle of an attack

Mumbai, Gurdaspur and now Pathankot – such attacks in general have 3 phases where they could be stopped.

  • First is the pre-attack phase where due to advance intelligence, they can be stopped. This is the best way to respond but extremely difficult to implement. You will need lot of human intelligence and advanced technology based surveillance.
  • Second phase is the initial few minutes into the attack – this is where most of the loss of lives happen. In Pathankot, we lost 5 of the 7 men in initial stage of the attack
  • Third and final phase starts 30 minutes post the firing of initial shots. This is when people would have taken shelter wherever possible and law enforcement agencies would have launched a counter offensive

Preparedness of India

A worrying aspect of India’s security apparatus is in handling the second phase – initial 30 minutes of such attacks.

Only people who can defend us during this phase are the local policemen.

mumbai_attacks_vinu_image01-crop

Wikipedia.org

No NSG. No Army. No Garud. No Force One. It has to be the local Police. Now think of your local police station and imagine the kind of weapons they carry. Wooden cane, .303 Rifles (stopped after World War in most countries) and low intensity Pistols. They do not have armored vehicles, no bullet proof jackets/head gear and no practice in firing ranges.

Have you seen photographs of the Policemen who fought against the attackers in Jakarta

160114095926-indonesia-police-large-169

cnn.com

on 14th Jan? They carried sophisticated automatic weapons, body gear and high speed vehicles. It would have taken Indonesian Army / Special Forces at least 45 minutes to reach the attack site. It was the local Police there that acted fast and ensured the loss of lives in the second phase of such an attack is kept to a minimal. And they probably are the men who managed to neutralize the attackers, without waiting for Special Forces.

Our Governments at Central and State levels should start seeing such attacks as clear and present danger to this country’s integrity. Police reforms are the need of the hour. We need a well paid, well equipped and well monitored Police force. Without that, we are nothing but sacrificial lambs for our Politicians. We cannot fight 21st century terrorism with 20th century police force.

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