IED Rips Holes In Jammu And Kashmir Defence
22 August 2000
GAURAV C SAWANT
New Delhi: The killings of Brigadier B S Shergill, commander 7 Sector and Colonel Rajender Chauhan, commanding officer 21 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Kupwara district on Monday afternoon scream of chinks in the defence armour. The militants detonated the remote-controlled IED planted on the road at Warpora village, 12 kms from Handwara town at 3.30 pm today, when the Brigadier, who had taken over just three days ago, was being driven around by the Colonel on an ''area familiarisation tour''. Sources said officers had been on a briefing on counter insurgency operations all morning. When they neared Jachal Dor, near the RR battalion headquarters, the IED exploded, killing the officers and their signal (wireless) operator. The standard procedure in the army in counter insurgency operations is that a road opening party (ROP) marches out at dawn and checks for land mines and IEDs along the road and 50 metres on either side. Armed soldiers are then stationed along the path till dusk. ''This happens all along the Jammu-Srinagar-Leh highway every day. There''s an armed jawan every 100 meters. Every few kilometers, there is a machine gun mounted on a jeep. But there is a problem here too. The performance of most of the hand-held mine detectors is not up to the mark. Secondly for 10 years, soldiers have been doing the same task and monotony has set in. The terrorists too know their routine and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) by now. Thus, they are able to evade the security net,'' highly placed sources in the Army Headquarters told The Indian Express. The IEDs can be neutralised to a large extent by the use of jammers, devices that jam the wireless signal which activates the IEDs. ''Terrorists hide in forests and villages and detonate the IEDs. Unfortunately, jammers are too few in number and only for VVIPs,'' said another official. However, even jammers cannot provide complete protection since they are powerless against weight activated mines which explode under pressure of the wheels of a truck or a car. The political impasse on talks notwithstanding, the army headquarters is learnt to have directed all formations to step up vigil. ''This terrible incident shows that even top commanders are out in the battlefield studying the situation. They are all equally at risk and when the army is out to seek an engagement with the terrorists, such casualties are bound to occur,'' he added. But what the army finds difficult to explain is that the land mine was placed barely four kilometers from the RR battalion headquarters. ''It is not that the fear of the army has gone from the hearts of terrorists. It has been reduced considerably, but the terrain and the villages provide cover to the terrorists,'' claimed another official. The army is trying to acquire more sophisticated land mine sweepers since even the Mine Protected Vehicles (MPVs) acquired from South Africa are too ''cumbersome'' for routine use and are used specifically by ROPs. ''There are vehicles with specially fitted armour plating on the floor and sides. More will have to be acquired,'' sources said. Sources in the army headquarters said that a request for the purchase of IED jamming devices is pending with the government. ''The army is functioning with outdated equipment. The IEDs can be neutralised by electronic signals. Israel is one of the countries with advanced equipment; so are England and South Africa, countries which have had long encounters with insurgency situations. We still use hand-held rods to check for mines while the latest technology detects and detonates from a distance. We can only hope that they are acquired on priority now,'' said an official.