From a Services Career

Dokala in the 1990s …

Posted on July 20, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career, Searching for Success, Uncategorized |

Brig Jasbir Singh Bawa when Company Commander at Dokala Beg in early 1990s

There was a time when hostilities had not marred the pristine beauty of the landscape. With the recent month-long India-China impasse, the areas of Doklam plateau, Dokala, trijunction in east Sikkim and the Chicken’s neck-Siliguri corridor have been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Once upon a time there were in this area friendly Chinese patrols once every quarter or so. There was tension free peace that let you enjoy the sheer beauty of Dokala. It was the abode of an exceptionally happy family on the eastern-most tip of east Sikkim that descended sharply to the Jaldhaka wildlife sanctuary thence to the Siliguri corridor.

Dokala, the most beautiful area in all of east Sikkim, is a lush green meadow in sharp contrast to the surrounding countryside that is characterised by jagged, rocky ridge lines without a blade of grass for miles together.

Significantly lower in altitude than the Batang la/Nathula ridge line, Dokala is approximately a two-km-long pass with a width varying from 150 to about 400 m.

We were deployed at its north-western base. The meadow is green except during the four winter months. Almost through the year, the green turf of the meadow is interspersed with clumps of wild flowers – wild blue poppy, small rhododendrons and numerous tubulars add to the kaleidoscope of daisies in white, yellow, shades of red and blue.

I have enjoyed many a walk with my trusted buddy and radio operator on the soft surface of Dokala, on our way up and down the formidable Gamochin Peak which dominates the pass from the South.

Gamochin, a huge rocky feature, towers over the neighbouring heights and Dokala. The climb to Gamochin is a sheer wall and can only be negotiated by fixed rope — a challenge even for seasoned climbers. Troops deployed on the feature would welcome us with hot pakoras to be downed with a drink of warm jam water and glucose. As you regain your breath after the gruelling climb, the reality of scaling an impossible-looking massif sinks in.

The view from its top is mesmerising. On a clear day you could catch the Kanchenjunga in all its glory – with just a speck of cloud covering the summit. Come winter and the ascent on snow and ice walls gets tougher. Coming down is sheer ecstasy thanks to the innovative snow sledges that the boys would make.

The Company Commander’s hut at Dokala is designed to host senior visiting officers – should they get stuck due to the weather. It has huge perplex glass windows on three sides, with a breathtaking view of the mother of all Himalayan peaks – the Kanchenjunga.

At day break on clear winter mornings would be the crimson glow that drapes the eastern slope of this Mountain – a sight transports you to another world. The colours gradually change from a riveting deep crimson to orange to golden yellow, seamlessly meshing into each other as dawn gives way to a fresh bright day.

The full moon nights at Dokala were also special. The Kanchenjunga would look more glorious while the snowy shine of the majestic Gamochin would be complemented by a seemingly endless silver sheen on Dokala.

Many such sights were enjoyed around a bonfire – memories of which refuse to fade. We would send a routine patrol to the trijunction then down to the Jaldhaka, circuit the base of our deployment, eventually emerging at the northern entrance of Dokala.

This meant climbing about 1,000 feet from the post, going down a steep descent of about 4,000 feet and again climbing up to 11,500 ft or so and getting back to Dokala. The distance covered approx 15 kilometre. The bulk of the area fell within the Jaldhaka wildlife sanctuary.

In keeping with a compulsive tribal trait, a large number of animal traps were set up by us in this area before it was declared a sanctuary. There would always be a rush of volunteers for this tri-weekly patrol and understandably so — the boys would reap the fruits of their labour returning with plenty of small game caught in the traps.

These patrols would generally get back in the late afternoon to a hero’s welcome, particularly so on Saturdays for that meant a big bonfire, generous drinking and endless kahanis, singing and a guitar and makeshift degchi drums. All followed by a feast.

Of course all the while we were driven on training, keeping watch, patrolling and negotiating tough climbs to fetch stores and rations throughout the week.

Those were the days.

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Insurgency and Counter Insurgency …

Posted on July 17, 2017. Filed under: American Thinkers, From a Services Career |

By Gen KM Bhimaya …

The politico-military dynamic is inherent in any policy decisions, governing counterinsurgency operations. And then, there is the need to cope with an unwelcome intruder: the changing, and often unanticipated alliance and alignments in international relations. Let me attempt to cut through the abstruseness of my argument by giving some examples.

The “exit” strategy in any conflict is fraught with serious risks. In global conflict, it used to fall into the realm of grand strategy as defined by Liddell Hart in his classic, “The Strategy of Indirect Approach.” And this is the province of diplomacy. Although, armed forces officers, such as General of the Army George Marshall, have distinguished themselves with the formulation and successful implementation of “grand strategy” they are an exception, not the rule.

It is unthinkable that the U.S. civilian and military leaders (Gens Mattis. David Petraeus, and the former commander Stanley McChrystal) who oversaw/ oversee operations in Afghanistan are naive enough not to perceive Pakistan’s ham-handed but effective complicity in nourishing and using the Haqani group. These commanders are well-read scholars, combining in them a rich repertoire of theoretical and practical insights, but they must defer to public opinion.

The Vietnam war was lost by the strong domestic anti-war backlash, not by the “Tet” offensive that was a stunning success. President Obama has often been unfairly accused of soft-pedaling the terrorist challenges in the Middle-East, but he was acutely aware of the dangers of getting involved deeply “with more of the same”, the blundering policy adopted by some of his predecessors during the Vietnam war.

Alas, either the Indian diplomatic initiatives are not aggressive enough to carry conviction, or the U.S. policy makers choose not to acknowledge Pakistan’s mischief, because they do not want to risk losing Pakistan’s logistic and military support for the ongoing operations in Afghanistan. The upshot: Pakistan has been very successful in running with the hare and hunting with the hounds in Afghanistan and the adjoining frontier regions. India has yet to come up with a viable strategy to neutralize Pakistan’s policy of diminishing Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Be that as it may, the central message of my opening comments pertained to the future of the terrorist movements in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. That is, I was attempting a wild prediction, based on the historical evidence relating to the past fortunes and misfortunes of the burgeoning, splinter terrorist groups (the almost defeated ISIS, for example). What should be India’s long- term terrorist target?

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China – India; Eye Ball to Eye Ball …

Posted on July 16, 2017. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom, From a Services Career, Searching for Success |

Maj Gen Ashok Mehta in the Wire.

The month-long standoff between the Indian army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Doklam sector of Bhutan, though pretty civilised so far, has become the longest ever.

Briefly, the stand-off story so far is this: The PLA has clandestinely been encroaching on Bhutanese territory since the mid-1960s with a long view to build a Class-40 road which can carry medium tanks and artillery through the strategic Chumbi valley which abuts India and Bhutan to a tri-junction point which is the very tip of the Chumbi dagger which is dangerously close to a bottleneck encompassing Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan.

This time around, the PLA road construction party was initially cautioned by a Bhutanese Army patrol. Later when they failed to stop them, the Indian soldiers in the vicinity arrived to help the Bhutanese to deter the PLA from bulldozing its road construction through territory claimed both by China and Bhutan. This is the first time India has confronted the PLA on third country soil in Bhutan. India has a long-standing commitment to Bhutan’s defence and security even if there in no formal military alliance.

Two issues arise from this illegal and unauthorised activity – the intended road would transgress Bhutanese territory at Doklam and its destination, the tri-junction, is also disputed. According to bilateral agreements between India and China in 2012, and between Bhutan and China in 1988 and 1999, the disputes are to be resolved through the existing dialogue processes.

While India and China have had 19 rounds of Special Representative talks, China and Bhutan have engaged in 28 rounds of border talks though Thimpu has no trade or diplomatic relations with Beijing. In their conversations with Bhutan, China, in 1999, offered a package deal to swap territory in the north with land in the west comprising the eastern shoulder of the Chumbi valley, significantly including the Doklam plateau.

For New Delhi, Indian troops have gone to the aid of a neighbour, Bhutan, because the intended construction of a strategic road from Lhasa-Shigaste to Yadong in the Chumbi valley towards the disputed tri-junction would confer profound strategic military advantage on the PLA. The Chumbi valley dagger would pose a threat not just to Bhutan but also to the critically narrow Siliguri corridor, linking mainland India with its north-east. Moreover, it would send the wrong signal to India’s neighbours that it does not stand by its friends and allies and treaty obligations. Being locked in the valley also poses risks for the PLA.

This is not the first time the PLA has attempted its ‘creep’ strategy to first commandeer territory and then offer to negotiate after having violated standstill agreements. Grabbing Aksai Chin in the late 1950s and more recently its unilateral and illegitimate activity in the South China sea are examples. The sequence of events played out now at Doklam has an uncanny resemblance to intrusive activity in the same area in 1966-67. The history of the incident is encapsulated in an article by sinologist Claude Arpi in The Pioneer. More interestingly, the Chinese then, as now, were trying to unhinge Bhutan from its defence relationship with India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to remind the Chinese that India would stand by Bhutan, come what may.

The Chinese propaganda machine has launched a relentless psy war campaign which is unprecedented in recent times. It has turned obfuscation to a fine art, deftly combining history and legacy while cherry-picking portions of agreements (1890 Anglo-Chinese Convention) that are laced with coercion. On a daily basis, the foreign ministry, the PLA, Global Times, Xinhua and think tanks are issuing statements and threats, warning India about a repeat of 1962 and teaching it another lesson. They accuse India of reneging on Panchsheel and are repeatedly demanding Indian soldiers retract from the confrontation at Doklam by withdrawing first if any dialogue is to follow. Beijing has put itself in a corner leaving it no wriggle room or a face-saving option. As events have shown, India will not budge as the stakes are too high for it to blink first.

The most celebrated incident of the Indian Army challenging the PLA incursions was in 1986 at a tiny grazing ground in Wangdung near Sumdorong Chu where they established a post west of Tawang. Like at Doklam, the PLA was in the valley dominated by high ridgelines occupied by the Indian army. The dispute was over the alignment of the watershed with India claiming it was north of the grazing ground and China contending it was south of it. India’s strong stand dragged the confrontation for ten months culminating in the landmark visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to Beijing in December 1986. Both sides agreed to withdraw simultaneously from positions they had occupied before the intrusion. During this near eyeball confrontation for ten months, not a shot was fired.

Given the evidence of the recent face-offs, it is unlikely the current stand-off will escalate into a shooting match at Doklam where the PLA is hemmed in by two ridge lines of the Chumbi valley occupied by Indian and Bhutanese troops. Doklam is 40 km from Yadong which is the PLA logistic base. In any short and sharp skirmish in this area, the PLA will not win the argument. On the other hand, it will suffer much greater losses than the Indian troops as it did in the Nathula clash of 1967. Doklam could go the Sumdorong Chu way leading to a meeting of high officials to defuse the crisis.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s brief meeting with Prime Minister Modi and his remarks at the BRICS meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit this Friday advocating ‘political and peaceful settlement of regional conflicts and disputes’ indicates the face-off will cool down. At the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit, Modi told Xi the two nations must not turn differences into dispute. China’s conditionality that Indian troops must withdraw first for any dialogue to start can be softened by employing the principle of simultaneity. As has happenened in the past, both sides can withdraw together from Doklam and prevent the dispute escalating into a bigger conflict.

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Esprit de Corps …

Posted on July 15, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career, Regimental, Searching for Success |

By Gem KM Bhimaya

Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta was a 22-year-old Rifle Team leader, deployed in Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. He was the only living recipient (according to the U.S. Army tradition, a gallant soldier only receives, never wins, an award) of the Congressional Medal of Honor, since the Vietnam war.

In October 2007, he saved one of his buddies, and retrieved another wounded rifleman who had been captured by the insurgents during an ambush. He belonged to the famous 173rd Airborne Brigade of the U.S. Army (7700 decorations, including over 6000 purple hearts.

During my intelligence course in Okinawa (1964), I had an opportunity to observe this formation at close quarters as they were billeted by our B.O. Qs (Bachelor Officers’ Quarters). They were smart, and impeccable in their dress and deportment. They usually hung out with their buddies.

Salvatore Giunta separated from the Army in 2011 to pursue higher college studies (part of G.I. bill). In 2017, Ex- Staff Sergeant did something unique: He returned the coveted medal of honor to his parent Unit: 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team,

While returning the award, he honored his promise implicit in his brief speech at the White House star-studded investiture ceremony, a few years ago.

“If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman, in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero; so, if you think that that’s a hero — as long as you include everyone with me,” Giunta said at a Pentagon briefing in September 2010.”

When he returned the highest gallantry award to his Unit, Salvatore Giunta was, at his best, proud esprit-de-corps in action.

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The ADARSH Defence Land Scam …

Posted on July 9, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

This is re the Disgraceful Defence Land Scam in which Service Chiefs, Army Commanders and their ilk — among others, were involved in Mumbai’s defence land scam of the 1990s.

The MoD probe report commends two officers who it says were the only ones who stood up for the truth.

The Defence ministry’s inquiry report into the Adarsh housing scandal has indicted 10 top officers for their dubious role but has also commended a Brigadier and a defence estates officer.

The report says that the inquiry committee could find only two people in the entire system who stood up for the “truth”.

SAURAV RAY, the Defence Estates Officer, Mumbai: Steadfastly and repeatedly opposed the proposed transfer of land invoking public interest and security, drew attention to the alienation of prime land, and sought withdrawal of the NOC. Could not get support as all those in the Army at a senior level and the state administration were beneficiaries of Adarsh, and his own superiors did not deem it fit to back him.

Brig. M.K.V. PANICKER, Commander, Mumbai Sub Area: Appreciated and supported the stand of the DEO Ray in trying to prevent the transfer of the land to ACHS, and asserted the unquestioned possession of the Army on the land. Brig. Panicker’s stand remains the only instance from 2000 to 2009 of a senior services officer dealing with the subject taking a position in writing in the Army’s interest against the land alienation proposal.

Comment by Gen KM Bhimaya

A silver lining in an otherwise sordid cloud of “Adarsh” enquiry report (199 page) pays glowing tribute to Maj Gen (then Brig) MKV Panicker for standing tall and firm against mass corruption by senior army officers, including two former Army Chiefs.For details, watch Times of India, video dated July 7/8, 2017.

The link is: “http://www.timesnow.tv/india/video/adarsh-housing-scam-two-former-army-chiefs-among-those-indicted-in-fresh-defence-inquiry/65423

Those of us in the Armed Forces are in a better position than others to visualize the strength of character needed to rise above the dishonest, serving, as well as retired senior officers and to defend and perpetuate the right kind of values.

Well done, General, you have done your Regiment proud!

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Current India China Stand Off …

Posted on July 4, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career |

From NDTV

For the first time since 1967, there are serious tensions between China and India on the Sikkim border. The stand-off began early in June, days ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Chinese premier Xi Jinping in Astana and hit the headlines ahead of his US visit. This does not seem to be mere coincidence – a clear pattern is now emerging.

However some light is peeping out from under the closed doors of the two militaries. At the farthest tip of the Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, the Chinese are building a road over the Doklam plains, in an area that is supposedly under Bhutan’s control but over which China has laid claim. Our military believes that China’s presence here will seriously threaten Indian concentrations and communications.

It doesn’t help much that the Chumbi Valley appears on the map like a dagger poised not only to rend asunder Sikkim and Bhutan, but also Assam and the North East from the rest of India.

So, the Indian Army wants to position itself to challenge the People Liberation Army’s dominance from the Doko-La or Doklam pass. There is nothing wrong in this, considering India and Bhutan have military ties. Clearly the two biggest armies in Asia are jockeying for positions of advantage. This is natural when there are huge concentrations of troops standing cheek by jowl and trust is low between the two governments.

More than 40 years after Sikkim formally became a part of India in 1975, China has still not unequivocally accepted the state as an integral part of IndiaChinese maps continue to show the Northeastern state as not part of India.

In this day, with both countries having strong militaries, it would be wise to forget such old notions and deal with realities.

Despite their growing economic and trade relations, both sides are deeply distrustful of each other. According to Beijing, India is playing an active role in forging an anti-China coalition with US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam to counter Beijing’s diplomatic, economic and military assertiveness.

Once again, there is need of a reality check. The 1962 war was 55 long years ago. As was 1911-’12, when the Tibetans drove the Chinese out of their country, bringing about the downfall of the Qing Empire. At that time, Chinese troops escaped to India through Nathu La, in present-day Sikkim.

USA, Japan and Australia are separated from China by vast oceans and enjoy a sense of security that India (and Vietnam) cannot. Both the Asian countries have large land borders with China and will feel the immediate consequences of an armed conflict. The US and Japan are too closely economically integrated with China to be taken as credible allies by India.

If India knows anything, it is that it stands alone.

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1962 War – the Gen Thorat Plan …

Posted on June 17, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career, Indian Thought, Personalities |

Until 1959 the Defence of NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh, was the responsibility of the Ministry of External Affairs and its borders were manned by personnel of the Assam Rifles under the Home Ministry.

 In 1957 Lt. Gen. SPP Thorat took over command of the Eastern Command then with its HQ at Lucknow, his area of responsibility stretched to the Eastern end of India’s borders but NEFA was not included until 1959 when Gen Thimayya was having serious differences with the Defense Minister VK Krishna Menon who had the backing of PM Nehru.
 . 
After he had visited his command, Thorat was asked by Gen Thimayya to make an Appreciation for Defence of NEFA against an attack by CHINA. Gen Thorat, a thorough bred professional, made his detailed appreciation.
 .
Gen Thorat assessed that there were at least six major ingress routes through passes in NEFA by which large organised enemy forces with heavy equipment and transport could enter India. The terrain favoured the Chinese because the landscape across the border was a plateau and posed no problems for China to bring in troops, guns and heavy equipment and ammunition and supplies needed for the maintenance of a large attacking force.
However once in our territory they would need to make roads and tracks for the maintenance of their forces. And winter would restrict the time available for operations.
 
In Thorat’s assessment, a minimum of 70 platoons, with 20 more in reserve, were needed for the defence screen positions of Northern NEFA. The Assam Rifles then had only 36 platoons. This amounted to some ten battalions with 12 platoons each tko monitor any  ingress by the Chinese.
The need for additional troops, guns and heavy equipment and transport for the main defence positions on each axis of enemy advance was also listed.
The  in depth defence positions could be a strong defence because the terrain would now favour the defender. These positions were roughly half way between the McMahon Line and the foothills.
Thorat also underscored the urgent need to develop roads and surface infrastructure in the area to support the movement of large bodies of own troops.
Earlier, in 1950-51, a committee led by Deputy Defence Minister Maj. Gen. Himmatsinghji had toured the area extensively and submitted a similar requirement for the development of the surface infrastructure.
The lack of any progress was well known. Both GB Pant, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and later Union Home Minister and Dr. Sampurnanand, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, had directly complained to Nehru.
 
In 1959, 4 Division moved to the East after completing the famous Op. Amar Housing Project at Ambala under the ‘dynamic’ leadership of Lt. Gen. BM Kaul who was awarded India’s first PVSM.
7 Brigade under Brig DK (Monty) Palit (VrC 1947-48 War, a horseman, shikari and mountain trekker) walked to Tawang, as there was not even a jeep-able road in the West Kameng Division of NEFA. He chose Se La for a main brigade defence.
By the time the war started, a jeep-able road linking Tezpur to Tawang had come up but beyond that the 30 odd kilometres to the border was still a hard slogging march. A helipad and some logistics areas were also established in the Tawang area. 
 
On 8 October 1959, the Thorat plan was sent to Army Headquarters where General Thimayya approved it and personally showed i and the requirements to Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon. But Menon dismissed them as alarmist and unnecessary and boasted that he was confident of stopping the Chinese on his own with diplomacy.
Another reason for the rejection of the Army Plan was that Nehru had boasted in Parliament that he would defend every inch of Indian Territory. So how could India defend every inch of her sacred land against the enemy if the army envisaged siting its main defences half way back from the Border?
Thorat retired in May 1961 but was called to Delhi by Nehru after the 1962 debacle. Nehru asked as to why he was not shown the Thorat Plan? But ala Menon he lacked the RealPolitik of a Vallabhai Patel who had warned Nehru of all this way back in 1950.
Lt Gen SPP Thorat, “From Reveille to Retreat”, Allied Publishers, New Delhi, 1986, pp. 189-203, 212-217.
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General SPP Thorat …

Posted on June 17, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

Gen KM Bhimaya writes about Gen SPP Thorat, the General recommended by General Thimayya to take over as Chief after he retired. Gen Thorat had made an Appreciation on how best NEFA could be defended in view of the imminent Chinese Threat.

The piece I read about Gen SPP Thorat  sparked singular interest in me because of the fortuitous circumstances that brought me face to face with this great Gentleman and Officer.

First, he as GOC- in-C, Eastern Command, reviewed the Passing out Parade of my Course at the IMA in 1957. Second, I as a very nervous LO, met him at Fort William, Calcutta, on the eve of his retirement.

Third, as the Army Member of the Inter Service Study Team, tasked to compile the Official History of the 1962, 65, and 71 wars with Pakistan, I had visited with him in Kolhapur and had the opportunity of studying his unique personality –  an embodiment of  self-effacing humility, deep erudition and understanding of human behavior, particularly under battlefield conditions. 

He was a leader with a nimble presence of mind, underpinned by unfailing emotional control — all hallmarks of outstanding leadership in any walk of life.

The First Arakan Campaign, mounted prematurely in 1943, was an unmitigated disaster. Contrary to what is asserted in the article sent to me, the tide was not turned until the Battle of Adm Box in mid 1944. Even this was touch and go, with such famous generals as Messervy barely escaping capture.

Gen Thorat seems to have served both in 4/14 and 9/14 Punjab (Pathans, PMs, Sikhs, Dogras) before being promoted in command of the famous and one of the oldest infantry battalions: 2/2 Punjab (Later 1 GUARDS).

This was the Battalion in which he earned his name and fame. And this was fought in January 1945, and not 1944, as mentioned in the article.

Unfortunately, the British historians identify the 3rd British Commando Brigade with the glory of the Battle of Pt 170. Melrose, according to them, was a small part of this Battle in which only 2/2 Punjab achieved some partial success.

This is understandable because of the encrusted prejudice against the Indian soldiers of the British Indian Formations. Of course, there were notable exceptions, such as FM Slim and Lt Gen Heath (GOC III Corps, Malaya, 1941) who had identified and admired the fighting prowess of the Indian soldiers, after having commanded them in the North African campaign.  (For other versions of the Battle of Pt.170, please see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hill_170, and https://www.burmastar.org.uk/stories/the-battle-for-hill-170/)

These versions in no way militate against the glorious record of the 51 Indian Infantry Brigade (2/2 Punjab, 16/10 Baluch, and 8/19 Hyderabad (under then Cols Thorat, Sen and Thimayya respectively).

All the three Battalion commanders (Thorat, Sen, and Thimayya) were awarded DSOs. Thimayya became the first Indian to command (officiating) an active Brigade in combat (December 1944 – January 1945). Although FM Cariappa had been promoted as Brigadier in November 1944, he got command of an active Brigade (Bannu) only in November 1945).

Later Lt Gen Thorat handled potentially an explosive situation while commanding the Custodial Force in Korea (1952). Cornered and outnumbered in the POW camp, Gen Thorat appealed to the good nature and hospitality of the Chinese PsOW. Thus he not only defused a tense situation, but permanently earned the once – hostile prisoners’ respect and goodwill. He was awarded KC for this amazing  action.

At Kolhapur, Gen Thorat briefed us in detail about the lessons of EX- LAL QUILA and how it was discarded by the then – Government. Since this is public knowledge now, I do not wish to discuss it further.

 

 

 

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The Ladakh Scouts Story …

Posted on June 14, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career, Personalities |

By Ajai Shukla – Business Standard, 3rd June 17

A crisis occurred in May 1948, when the capture of Kargil by tribal lashkars left the routes to Leh open.

Defending Ladakh against the tribal hordes were 33 men of the J&K State Forces. Reinforcing the tiny Leh garrison were 20 volunteers, led by Lt Col Prithi Singh – the legendary “X Force” that dragged itself heroically over the wind-swept Zoji La pass. 

But, with the snows melting and passes opening, hundreds of Pakistani tribal fighters converged on Leh, driven by the promise of monasteries groaning with wealth, salacious dreams of unprotected women, and the belief that Ladakh’s Buddhist men knew little of fighting.
 
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man”, it is said. On May 13, 1948, as Lt Col Prithi Singh raised the tricolour in Leh and called for volunteers to fight the tribals, the first hand to go up was that of Chewang Rinchen, a 17-year-old schoolboy from Nubra.
 
For the next two months, until the first Indian Army troops were airlifted to Leh and built up into a viable force, Rinchen and a band of youngsters that he formed into the Nubra Guards, confronted and thwarted the battle-hardened tribals. For his heroic defence of Ladakh and the leadership he displayed, Rinchen was appointed a junior commissioned officer in the Indian Army and awarded the Mahavir Chakra, the army’s second-highest gallantry award. 
 
Not content with being the youngest-ever winner of that award, Rinchen went on to win a Sena Medal in the 1962 war with China; and then a second Mahavir Chakra in 1971 for capturing over 800 square kilometres of territory from Pakistan, including the strategically vital village of Turtok. Eventually retiring as colonel, Rinchen is one of the army’s greatest legends.
 
Rinchen and the Nubra Guards are also the progenitors of today’s Ladakh Scouts – a regiment so distinguished in war and peace that President Pranab Mukherjee will travel to Leh this month to present it the coveted President’s Colours. 
 
The Ladakh Scouts became a regular army regiment only in June 2001, after their stunning performance in the Kargil conflict. No sooner than the Pakistani intrusions across the Line of Control were detected in May 1999, the Ladakh Scouts swung into action, reconnoitring routes, fixing ropes and enabling the initial successes of regular Indian battalions. 
 
The Ladakh Scouts were also instrumental in exposing the role of regular Pakistani soldiers in the intrusions, which Islamabad was flatly denying.
 
Embroiled in the fighting at Kargil, the Ladakh Scouts lost 31 men and were awarded 55 gallantry awards, more than any other army unit in per capita terms.
 
 Major Sonam Wangchuk, who led his Ladakh Scouts men to the capture of Chorbat La, was awarded a Mahavir Chakra.
 
 In recognition of their valour, the chief of army staff (COAS) awarded the Ladakh Scouts the COAS Banner – the only such award ever given. They were also conferred with a Battle Honour for Batalik and Theatre Honour for Kargil.
 
The army quickly saw the benefit of converting the Ladakh Scouts into a full-fledged infantry group, on the lines of the Gurkhas, Dogras, Garhwalis and so on.
 
Unlike other infantry groups, which alternated between peacetime and field deployments, the Ladakh Scouts would remain in high-altitude field postings in the vicinity of their homes – the Kargil and Leh districts of Ladakh ala the Garhwal Scouts.
 
For an army that has so many soldiers committed on its Himalayan frontier, mountain men like the Ladakh Scouts are a godsend. Genetically conditioned for high altitudes, with physiological advantages like larger lungs, Ladakhis seldom suffer from mountain sickness. 
 
Regular army units, manned by plainsmen or mountain folk from lower altitudes, require up to a week of acclimatization before they can survive at altitudes of 15,000 feet. Ladakhis, however, can be deployed above 15,000 feet without acclimatization.
 
Ladakh Scouts are also adept at operating “self sustained” for up to ten days in extreme altitudes – on supplies in their backpacks.
 
A display of this unique ability came in February 2016, when an army post called Sonam, almost 20,000 feet high on the Siachen Glacier, was buried by a collapsed ice wall along with ten soldiers from the Madras regiment who manned it.
 
 With sensors indicating signs of life, survivors needed to be dug out quickly. Ordinary soldiers would be breathless at those heights, so Ladakh Scouts were brought in, without acclimatization, from an altitude of 12,000 feet – something not possible with non high altitude soldiers.
 
 The Ladakh Scouts, working non-stop at Sonam, extricated Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad alive but sadly he did not survive for long.
 
Since Kargil, the Ladakh Scouts have been built up to five battalions, each one with some 850 soldiers. At any time, two battalions are operationally deployed in extreme high altitudes, including one in the Siachen Glacier. Two more are stationed in Ladakh, with just one in a peace location in Chandimandir. There are plans to raise another two battalions.
 
With only a limited populace to recruit from, soldiers may also be drawn from Lahaul and Spiti, in Himachal Pradesh.
 
At a recruiting rally at the Ladakh Scouts Regimental Centre, however, it does not seem as if the regiment wants for recruits. Defying the cold that has us wrapped in parkas, a crowd of youngsters stand in their underwear, readying for a medical examination followed by a two-mile run. 
 
The candidates are well-built, but short, which is not a deterrent since the army has relaxed height requirements for Ladakhis.
 
Mohammed Abdullah, a recruit from Phyang, near Leh, tells us frankly that young men in Ladakh have only two career choices: joining the Ladakh Scouts or driving a taxi for tourists.  Another recruit, Thinless Norbu, from Chuchot village tells us that soldiers are held in high esteem by local people, and most educated girls would choose to marry a Ladakh Scout.
 
Even so, the changing values of Ladakhi society are evident from the controversy over the memorial to Colonel Rinchen. After he died in 1997, the spot in Leh where he was cremated was transformed into a public park. On his death anniversary, the army officials and prominent citizens would lay wreaths in his memory.
 
No sadly the local administration is moving to transform most of Colonel Rinchen Park into a memorial for the local police. 
 
Rinchen’s family is protesting this initiative but, with powerful administration officials backing the police, one of India’s most captivating war heroes will soon find his memory slighted.
 
Says one of the local officials, responding to a query on how local police in an entirely peaceful and crime-free district can be compared with a national hero like Rinchen: “Why should there be any comparison? After all, whenever anyone salutes the police memorial, they will also be saluting Colonel Rinchen.”
 

Really sad. that Rinchen Memorial is being converted into a police Memorial. The police in Ladakh have no great history primarily because Ladakhis are law abiding with hardly any crime history. I do hope that the GOC 3 Div and the top brass takes it up with the state and central Govt’s.

Just a coupla days ago NewsX covered the apathy of the Siddaramaiah Govt for not completing the nearly completed National War Memorial. It was started by  the BJP and so Siddu is just not interested.  Politicians have always paid lip service to all Armed Forces issues.
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Tackling Terror …

Posted on June 9, 2017. Filed under: From a Services Career |

Maj Gen K.M. Bhimaya writes —  The record of Indian Armed Forces and other Central Forces in dealing with insurgencies and terror, over 70 long years since independence, has been the unstated envy of many countries.

Nevertheless, it is a self-evident truth that eclecticism, combined with a passion for introspection that adopts, if possible, and adapts, if necessary, should be the informing spirit of any strategy formulation. Hence what could we learn from the London Bridge attack?

Though tactical objectives of terrorists may vary, terrorists in general, seek to attack the psyche of the population: exploitation of mass media and universities to “have disproportionate political impact with few acts of violence.” I understand that this is a simplistic definition that does not include many nuances and interpretations, stemming from different perspectives.

What is evolving in Jammu and Kashmir bears more resemblance to Michael Collins’s (the famous, or infamous IRA leader, depending upon how one evaluates his contribution) concept of selective terrorism than it does to any other taxonomy of terrorism: attack selected targets, notably the military and the police. One objective of this brand of terrorism is to accelerate the process of public alienation by provoking disproportionate retaliation by security forces.

For decision-makers, whether to initiate a quick riposte would remain a perplexing challenge. A situational sensitivity that would balance the benefits of quick reaction against the cost of needless collateral damage is often elusive, not intuitive.

For example, the “unconscionable” delay in dealing with the Mumbai terrorist attack of 26/11 had come under severe criticism from many experts, including the noted analyst Edward Luttwak.  He argued that the advantages of speed and surprise in the Indian reaction needed a better evaluation than what was done, among other things.

What was the Indian reaction? While there was no dearth of “luminaries” wanting to hog the media limelight, very few seriously questioned why the airlift of the NSG was delayed. Is such a readiness state acceptable? What measures were initiated to conceal the intended plan of action and to limit media coverage? Practically none.

Did the political parties sink their differences and rally behind the government in power? Not exactly. Unfortunately, recriminations abounded.

When the smoke and dust cleared, the bottom line of the casualty figures was dismal: 164 killed and 308 wounded. Did caution pay? I think not.

Extensive research has shown repeatedly that the best anti – dote for selective terrorism is administered by public defiance – the kind that was elegantly summed up by the British Prime Minister May when she stated unequivocally that “Everybody should need to go about their lives as they normally would”.

How did the British public react? The British citizenry once again demonstrated their defiance by attending a mammoth rally at Manchester, where there was almost an encore of the earlier concert which had witnessed a murderous attack just a few days earlier.

The reactions of the British politicians were a mixed bag. Excepting UKIP leader Paul Nuttall, others suspended political campaigning out of respect to the dead. Some political parties, because of the impending elections, trades some political barbs with the Prime Minister.

On the positive side, the British citizens attended a mammoth rally in Manchester. A concert was also held in Manchester to pay tribute to the dead and injured in the recent attacks in Manchester and London.

To what extent Britain would deviate from their traditional, democratic values to deal with extremism and terrorism is a moot point. My guess is that, because British society is a cherisher of deeply entrenched democratic values, we may not see any abridgement of fundamental rights, enshrined in Britain’s unwritten constitution.

The British police, particularly those stationed at the London Bridge, cornered the crowning glory by their lightning reaction, that is, the perpetrators were neutralized in eight minutes with almost no collateral damage.

Yes, there are lessons for India: First, there should be an ongoing, studied filtration of information whose dissemination to the public, particularly to the media, should be judicious, not indiscriminate, strictly following the principle of “need to know.”

Second, some pieces of intelligence that affect future operations should never be disclosed, whatever the provocation. Social media should be briefed and taken into confidence.

Finally, the local police should develop an immediate response capability to neutralize or contain the terrorists. Terrorists may achieve surprise, but speed in our reaction may well neutralize the advantages that surprise provides.

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