Thursday, October 15, 2009

IAF task force to fight Maoists

New Delhi, Oct. 14: The Indian Air Force has created a task force for the counter-Naxalite offensive and has appointed a Group Captain as its commander.
The task force commander will be a member of a central operations command to be set up by the Union home ministry.
The involvement of the air force in the counter-Naxalite operations being carried out and planned to be intensified next month is turning out to be much bigger than was originally envisaged.
At first, the air force was called upon to deploy its helicopters to fulfil a role that should have been the central forces’, specifically that of the Border Security Force, which has dedicated helicopters.
But now the home and defence ministries have concluded that the BSF’s helicopters are not enough. Anticipating that its role may increase, the air headquarters has sought permission from the defence ministry to open fire in self-defence, a senior IAF source said here today
The Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, said the air headquarters had not received any official communication yet on its request. But defence minister A.K. Antony has said the IAF will have the right to self-defence. The IAF is also waiting for a response on the “rules of engagement” (ROE) that it has proposed.
In Srinagar today, Union home minister P Chidambaram said: “The helicopters will be primarily used for evacuation and transportation of security forces. They will not be used for any offensive action.”
Asked about Antony’s statement that IAF helicopters would be given permission to open fire in self-defence, Chidambaram said he did not see any contradiction of policies between the home and the defence ministries. “If the defence minister has said that the IAF will fire in self-defence, then that is the policy.”
Barbora said the air force had to seek formal permission to open fire because it was not a routine measure. He pointed out, though, that there was an instance of the IAF being used offensively in internal security missions. That was in the 1960s against Mizo National Front guerrillas.
Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik has said the air force wanted to arm its Mi 17 helicopters in the counter-Naxalite offensive and put its Garud commandos on board. Over the past week, air force heavy transport planes — the Ilyushin 76 — ferried more than 3,000 central forces from bases in the north and the west to Maharashtra after 18 Maharashtra police commandos were killed in an attack by the Maoists, said Barbora. Just last evening, air force helicopters flew sorties to transport security forces near a polling station in Gadchiroli district after learning that the Naxalites were moving to raid it.
“But we are really quiet about our involvement. There is a structure. We have assigned some assets for the job and we will be part of the operations command — it will be inappropriate to call it a ‘war room’ — there will be a central operations command, we are told,” the senior officer said. The air force does not want to publicise the number of helicopters it is deploying for the offensive.
With the air force’s involvement set to be integral to the offensive, the risk factor for the service also increases. During the general elections in April-May this year, IAF helicopters flew 930 sorties from 13 airbases in 14 states, seven of them where Naxalites are active.
Between April 26 and 28, two Ilyushin 76s and four AN32 airlifters flew 3,234 central paramilitary forces from Imphal in Manipur to Bengal’s Kalaikunda, from where aerial surveillance for Lalgarh was also carried out.

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