Thursday, April 08, 2010

Unmanned eye in the sky in Dantewada

UAV trials to start in rebel zones next week

CRPF jawans in Allahabad on Thursday at the cremation of one of their colleagues killed in Dantewada. (AFP)
New Delhi, April 8: The home ministry plans to start trials of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) next week in Dantewada, where Maoists trapped and killed 76 CRPF personnel on Tuesday, and other rebel zones.

The UAVs, which will aim to give paramilitary forces on the ground an eye in the sky, will be unarmed — unlike similar flying machines on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that are used to hit the Taliban.

The move, along with other measures to improve the CRPF, came on a day the government announced a one-man panel to probe possible lapses in intelligence and breaches in safety procedures that led to the Dantewada killings.

The announcement about the UAVs followed Union home minister P. Chidambaram’s statement earlier in the day indicating the option of using air power against Maoists was open. “My view is that if necessary, we can revisit it. We have to reflect on it,” he said after a meeting of the cabinet committee on security this morning.

A senior ministry official said “the trials (of the UAVs) will begin in Dantewada and elsewhere next week”. The process of acquiring the Israeli manufactured UAVs is being speeded up, he said, adding that the paramilitary forces could get them within four months.

The UAVs will scan forest areas from 3,000-5,000 feet above the ground, with information and visuals on Maoist movements available real time to the troops. The defence forces already have several such UAVs. “These are needed at the border,” said the official.

Chidambaram said the Maoists were buying weapons from “arms bazaars” across the border, alluding to Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. “There are arms bazaars across the border. They (the rebels) bring them clandestinely into the country,” he said, adding that another source was the arms looted from slain troops.

Chidambaram also said mine-protected vehicles had been ordered from abroad, including 280 for the CRPF, because of the “extremely limited capacity” of the Indian public and private sectors to produce them.

Although, the government said today the probe panel would pinpoint the reasons for the carnage, there was a view within a section of the government that the battle of Mukram — the theatre of the conflict in the Dandakaranya forest — had exposed the lack of an intelligence-gathering network in Maoist-hit areas.

“We have appointed a one-member inquiry committee headed by a retired DG-level (police) officer. The committee will submit its report on what went wrong in Dantewada within a time-bound period. Only then can we comment on reasons of this failure,” said the official, accepting that lack of training was a possible reason. Other officials echoed him, but said the failure to follow standard operating procedures was also to blame.

Sources said the CRPF company targeted in Mukram had not had any refresher training for over a year, the last one being held in March 2009. “The problem is that our edifice to train the paramilitary has not kept pace with the increase in the number of personnel. In contrast, the defence forces have,” said the official.

The ministry now plans to have more training centres. One plan on the table is to hive off the force into two units — one for maintaining law and order and comprising older personnel and the second, made up of younger, better trained jawans for anti-insurgency duties. The CRPF has already identified 10 such battalions for anti-insurgency.

Another sore point in the ministry is the use of the paramilitary forces for what they believe are non-essential duties. One recent example was the use of the CRPF to control employee protests in the Punjab power board. “Why can’t Punjab police handle such trouble. Why should the CRPF be deployed for this?” asked a ministry official. The deployment was done after Punjab chief minister met the Prime Minister.

Army spots holes

There were “internal deficiencies” in the way the CRPF carried out the Dantewada operation, army chief General V.K. Singh said today, adding the battalion involved had not been trained by the military. He said there were “problem areas” in training the CRPF personnel but added the 62nd battalion, whose men were massacred on Tuesday, was not trained by his force.

“At times, we don’t get homogeneous entities for training. It means that if it is a company (for training), it does not come to us as a company (together), which happens in the army.”

Singh said the performance of the army in counter-insurgency operations was better as “it is the complete lot that comes to us for training, right from officer to the man down below.”

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