Friday, June 12, 2009

Army role in Naxalite fight

SUJAN DUTTA
New Delhi, June 9: The Indian Army is working on a plan to set up a local command in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur district, whose primary responsibility will be to monitor Naxalite activity and train the state’s police forces in counter-insurgency tactics.

This is the army’s first move to create a structured body to deal specifically with Naxalite activity. But army headquarters and the defence ministry do not equate this with a deployment of armed forces against the Maoist insurgency.

The “sub-area command” to be created in Chhattisgarh will be headed by a brigadier. A sub-area command of the army is a static peacetime formation assigned to a geographic location from where it does not move. Such a command reports to a larger area command, usually headed by a major general.

The Bilaspur or Raipur sub-area command is likely to report to the Jabalpur Area Command in Madhya Pradesh.

The army chief, General Deepak Kapoor, visited Raipur in March. He was told that the Chhattisgarh government had identified land for the army in Bilaspur. Kapoor himself has said that Naxalite activity was a matter of concern but the army was not going to be deployed.

Defence minister A.K. Antony has also ruled out deploying the army, except as “a last resort”.

However, the reliance on state police forces in Chhattisgarh and Orissa is running low. In the Orissa Assembly yesterday, the Congress, which is in the Opposition, said it would not object to the army being called in because, the party alleged, state police had failed.

For the past four years, the army’s Allahabad-headquartered central command is monitoring Naxalite activity. Chhattisgarh and Orissa also come under the central command’s area of responsibility.

An army source said the central command had the resources to raise training institutions and a sub-area command in Chhattisgarh could be supported by it.

The army supports the Counter-Terrorism and Jungle Warfare School in Kanker in Chhattisgarh that is run by a retired brigadier, B.. Ponwar.

Ponwar was the commandant of the army’s Counter- Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Vairangte, Mizoram. A retired colonel of the army also heads a Special Task Force of the Chhattisgarh police.

With the creation of the sub-area command in Chhattisgarh, it can be expected that the army will increase its monitoring of the region.

It will also intensify its involvement in training the police and the paramilitary. A secondary activity will be recruitment.

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