Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Armed IAF copters for Maoist terrain

SUJAN DUTTA

An Mi-17 helicopter
New Delhi, Nov. 17: The Union home ministry has recommended arming helicopters of the Indian Air Force that are being used in the counter-Maoist operations.

The IAF is using armoured Mi-17 helicopters to transport state and central police forces in Maoist zones. Arming would involve weaponising the Mi-17s with light or medium machine guns.

The guns will be manned by the Garud special force, whose main task is to protect the assets of the IAF.

The Union home ministry’s recommendation comes after the Indian Air Force sought the permission of the government to open fire in self-defence.

Air chief marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik disclosed on October 1 that he had sought the permission of the ministry of defence but that “it was really up to the home ministry” because the IAF’s helicopters were being deployed as aid to civil administration.

A senior air headquarters source said here this evening that the IAF was still to get the “rules of engagement” that would govern its role as the Centre and states step up the offensive against Naxalites.

“The CCS (cabinet committee on security) has to clear it. Nobody wants collateral damage,” the source said. The government and the IAF are equally aware that use of lethal air power, even in self-defence, can harm non-combatants.

Air Chief Marshal Naik has said that the IAF will not go “into Rambo-style operations”.

But the IAF’s plea is that its helicopters have been shot at — Sergeant Mustafa Ali was killed — by Maoists firing automatic weapons from the ground.

The IAF has already created a task force headed by a Group Captain to co-ordinate with a multi-agency authority of the Union home ministry that will oversee the counter-Maoist operations across states.

The air headquarters source said IAF helicopters were being deployed because the central paramilitary forces did not have the wherewithal to reach the difficult zones by air.

Of the central troops that are directly involved in the operations, only the Border Security Force has helicopters. But it does not have them in adequate number.

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