Sunday, April 11, 2010

Security bosses’ disregard sending boys to bloody murder: Instructor

SANKARSHAN THAKUR

"The men who must actually lead these boys in operations do not want to train. Some senior officers who came last year left because they were meant to stay their tenure in tents. Ridiculous!"

Basant Ponwar
Counter-Naxalite instructor

New Delhi, April 10: India’s topmost counter-Naxalite instructor, Brig. Basant Ponwar, has slammed the government and security heads for ignoring the rudiment of training and said their “callous disregard” is responsible for “sending our boys straight to bloody murder”.

Speaking to The Telegraph in the aftermath of Tuesday’s massacre of 75 CRPF personnel near Sukma in south Bastar, Ponwar said: “The callous disregard of security bosses for proper training is sending the boys straight to bloody murder.

“This is the outcome of the arrogance of our security bosses, pure and simple, if these fellows had had the basic training they wouldn’t have suffered such loss. People need to know whose grave error this is, why such outrage is happening.”

Ponwar warned that the Sukma slaughter was a sign that the battle against Maoists was about to get uglier. “The terrible sacrifice of lives aside, I know the kind of weapons the Maoists have taken away, you can start a whole new insurgency with that kind of cache, I have been a soldier in the Northeast, I know what such a weapons grab can do for insurgent units, it is really alarming, somebody should wake up.”

In his analysis of the carnage, the troopers were “totally under-prepared” to be sent into conflict zones. “It is evident they cannot site, much less recognise, an enemy harbour, they have no notion of who can take positions where, they were sleeping in a trap, that is what it was. But then, they have not been imparted such knowledge, not their fault.”

Ponwar, who refuses to label himself retired — “I took this job the day I left the army” — heads the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC) in Kanker in central Chhattisgarh, but is irate that few use the facility he has created.

Spread across 300 acres of hilly jungle terrain, the CTJWC is India’s only institution that runs courses on counter-Naxalite operations for police forces with support from the army which deputes instructors. Ponwar was invited to set up the college after retiring as the commandant of the army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Vairangte, Mizoram.

None of the Chhattisgarh police units he has trained, Powar claims, has suffered casualties in combat, and five IPS officers who have been through his hands won the President’s bravery medal.

“But the problem is the senior people. The men who must actually lead these boys in operations do not want to train. Some senior officers who came last year left because they were meant to stay their tenure in tents. Ridiculous! You cannot train for jungle guerrilla warfare if you want to stay in air-conditioning, my institution is about real terrain training, for jungle war you better get used to living in the jungle,” he said.

“I have been pleading with anyone who listens, please come here and get trained before you confront the enemy, fighting Maoists in the jungles requires unique mental and physical qualities. But nobody listens, they are just happy to have our boys killed without giving them the skills to fight the battles they are sent into. I have long said that half-trained men fight half battles, and our boys are not even half trained, many more disasters are in the works.”

Following the Lalgarh Maoist upsurge last year, Bengal sought help from Brig. Ponwar’s school and was immediately offered it. “After a long delay, 30 fellows finally came, but all of them were sub-inspector and assistant sub-inspector-level, no officers. If the officers do not learn the ropes, who is to lead these boys?”

In the context of the revived debate over training of CRPF personnel, Brig. Ponwar said: “The CRPF do not train with me, although I will be happy to. They do not know how this battle needs to be fought, we at the warfare school do.”

Asked why the CRPF had spurned his offers, Ponwar bluntly said: “Because they think they know everything. Pressure should come on them to learn. If we want our soldiers to go into battle, give them a fighting chance, don’t feed them as fodder to the enemy.”

Ponwar has issues with the mass-contact aspect of forces deployed in Chhattisgarh, too. “You cannot win a campaign if you don’t have civilian support,” he said. “And little is done to win people over. The forces behave like a feudal army, not a force that has come to the aid of people. That is the main reason why there is such poor intelligence and information available with the forces, they don’t have a relationship with the people.”

To him, winning public confidence must be the starting point. “Ask the widows if their pensions are coming, ask if water is available, ask if they need medicine, make friends and then you will get support in return. If you have lost the people, you have lost the battle to begin with.”

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