Friday, June 11, 2010

FIGHTING REDS - Stalemate on expanding role of Army in anti-Naxal ops

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Thursday failed to achieve a consensus on whether the armed forces role should be expanded in the ongoing anti-Naxal operations, with the defence ministry sticking to its guns that the military should not be dragged into yet another internal security duty in a major way. Though the CCS meeting chaired by PM Manmohan Singh ended in a stalemate, in view of the sharp differences between defence minister AK Antony and home minister P Chidambaram, sources said it was now quite certain the military would not be deployed in a direct combat role in the anti-Naxal battle. This is the line being pushed by the armed forces,over-stretched as they already are in counter-insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and North-East as well as along the unresolved borders with Pakistan and China. It puts paid to home ministrys earlier demands for inducting a few battalions of Rashtriya Rifles (RR), the Armys specialised counterinsurgency force in J&K, or Para-Special Forces for operations against Left-wing extremists.

The MoD says the 63 RR battalions, with a total of around 70,000 soldiers, are integral to maintaining a strong counter-insurgency grid in J&K, which cannot be diluted. The para commandos, in turn, cannot be rushed into Naxalhit areas all of a sudden without specific plans and groundlevel intelligence. Even as Chidambaram left for Jharkhand after the CCS for a detailed review of ongoing anti-Naxal operations in the state, his demand for a major expansion in the present surveillance and logistical role of armed forces also remained unfulfilled. The defence establishment has argued the IAF cannot spare a large number of helicopters, beyond the four Mi-17 s already deployed, to ferry troops.

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