On December 29, 2015 there was specific intelligence input of two teams of Pakistani terrorists having infiltrated into India. On India Today Television I anchored a special bulletin based on that intelligence input which said terrorists would attempt to target prime minister Narendra Modi, military installations in India including in Delhi and other vital assets and vital points.
The input was specific about military installations being high on the terror radar along with nuclear installations. On December 31, the intelligence was zeroed in on Punjab. On January 1, before the terror strike – National Security Guard (NSG) 150+ commando team led by Major General Dushyant Singh was flown into the Indian Air Force station Pathankot.
Two army columns and a special forces team were also rushed to the Pathankot Air Force Station to protect the strategic assets – aircraft, helicopters, radars, air defence sytem and the command and control apparatus. The military station was also turned into a virtual fortress. As a precautionary measure the civil market was also shut down. All this done before the first bullet was fired or terrorist sighted.
There was no intelligence failure – in fact intelligence for once was very specific and had been built up over a considerable period of time. About four months ago there was information available on open channels about a hybrid group of Jaish-e-Muhammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists being given specific military training at Sialkot in Pakistan for a specific terrorist mission in India. At that time my sources in the intelligence agencies said the aim was a "spectacular high value target" – but not of the scale of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
Operationally – there were three major lapses. Terrorists succeeded in breaching the international border and entering India. We are still not sure about the number of terrorists who succeeded in coming in undetected – ten or 15 or more. The figures are unfortunately alarming. The second was the manner in which Salvinder Singh, superintendent of Punjab police, was abducted and allowed to go and the reaction of the Punjab police to the alarm he raised. It certainly should be and will be a matter of investigation. The third was the success terrorists had in entering the IAF station breaching the perimeter somewhere along the 26km area.
The IAF insists it spotted suspicious movement on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and dispatched a Garud Commando team to investigate. This is when the first fire fight took place. Top IAF sources have told India Today that the terrorists could not succeed in their plan of inching forward towards the technical area of the airport to destroy the aircraft and assets. In this fierce fire fight commando Gursewak Singh was martyred and the terrorists split running towards the first building they came across.
The terrorists then entered the Defence Service Corps (DSC) Personnel Mess (eating and living area). The terrorists kept spraying bullets through the windows on chasing Garud Commando personnel. Some DSC personnel who were preparing for the day – unfortunately came in the terrorists line of fire and were martyred. But here it is important to highlight the unparalleled bravery of Jagdish Chand – an unarmed DSC personnel who was preparing the morning meal in the kitchen – he grappled with a Pakistani terrorist – snatched his weapon and shot him – killing the first Pakistani terrorist in this attack.
Unfortunately another terrorist while fleeing turned around and then killed the brave Jagdish Chand. By then these terrorists were challenged by the army and NSG personnel in another fire fight. The terrorists had already split into two groups. Those in the open were tracked and shot. Here again while fleeing a terrorist booby trapped the body of his slain comrade with grenades and IEDs.
Lt Col Niranjan E Kumar, the officer commanding of the NSG Bomb Disposal Team during the mopping up operations, tried to diffuse the IED/grenade, but it exploded. Another officer and some NSG personnel were injured in this incident. One terrorist had been killed by the DSC personnel, three others sources say by the Army Special Forces team and infantry unit deployed on ground. By January 2, four terrorists were confirmed killed.
The army also moved in its infantry combat vehicles (BMPs) and the Mine Protected Vehicles (MPVs). Moving in the ICVs was excellent as it provided safety to troops to move across different terrain, cover from hostile fire, night sight helped and powerful ammunition to pulverise the terrorist even when behind walls or trees. The psychological impact apart.
The Command and Control of the operations was shifted from the army brigade commander to the NSG inspector General. Perhaps the counter terror operators would like to debate the aspect of shifting command and control midway through operations. Also within a military area was there a need to call in the NSG? In the past the army has effectively dealt with similar incidents whether in Samba or elsewhere – Army special forces and infantry units have more hands-on experience in dealing with Pakistani terrorists.
Multiple forces also mean multiple command and control and standard operating procedures, sources say.
It is unfair to criticise the counter terror personnel for the duration of the operation. They are the best judges to decide how long is it needed to kill the terrorists without any casualties to self and civilians around. The mopping up operations at the IAF station Pathankot spread across 26km of area will take much longer. There are schools, hospitals, markets, administrative offices, residential blocks, recreation areas, hangers, water bodies, wooded areas – the terrorists could be hiding anywhere. It is important to ensure each person on the campus is accounted for and no terrorist hiding anywhere.
Prime minister Narendra Modi, national security advisor Ajit Doval, defence minister Manohar Parrikar, home minister Rajnath Singh and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj have a task at hand. The enemy needs to be eliminated before he enters our borders. The last fire fight should take place at the gates. Once inside our country – loss of life will always be higher attempting to prevent collateral damage.
Kill the enemy at his home or at the gates. Not in our backyard.