Monday, September 19, 2016

Some comments on the Uri Attack

The loss of life in any incident is terrible. Unlike the bureaucrats of old who felt that the armed staff are basically paid to die - I actually believe everyone has a right to live.

Unfortunately as you might expect - there is actually a response scale that typically comes into play when an incident occurs. This has evolved over the last several decades and it is deeply rooted in thinking of the Armed Forces. (Seriously - do you know of anything that doesn't have a schedule in GoI? - even the number of pieces of toilet paper you use are stipulated in some  rules of conduct.)

The first level on the incident is one where uniformed personnel are attacked during the course of their duties. Usually this definition is limited to when they are actually on patrol, but after the first RR garrisons were established, it has largely been revised to include the act of being in the base itself. The response is usually local and limited to uniformed or recognized adversaries only. Naturally the response is proportional to the casualty and challenging a flag officer produces an extremely serious reaction.

The second level incident is one where personnel out of uniform are attacked either off-base or off-patrol. This kind of behavior is seen as hostile and completely unwarranted. Most movements in India's north east even in their heyday never crossed this line and only attacked people in uniform. The response is much stronger than the previous level. I don't want to go into the specifics because let's face it - most of you don't care.

The third level incident is one where the relatives of personnel are targeted either on or off a secure base. This kind of thing has happened very rarely in history and it is seen as an unforgivable terrorist act. The response is usually very severe. Again no specifics - but you can look at history books as  much as I can.

Obviously Sri. Modi can do whatever he wants. It is all dictated by political expediency anyway.  One meeting of the brain trust and all this could become irrelevant.

At the present time, people are talking about cross border strikes, but it is difficult to do it without the help of the Pakistan Army. It should be possible to secure such help but there is inevitably a cost associated with that kind of thing and I wonder if Sri Modi is up for it. One would have to pay the Pakistani Army to arrange safe passage for the Indian strike team as it did for the Seal team that took out Osama Bin Laden. Only a long range recon patrol could produce a strike of extraordinary precision with little to collateral damage.

It may be possible to do this without Pakistan Army cooperation, but the risks and likely costs of such an option will be higher. I think it will be an extremely high risk mission with over 90% chance that the away team will be lost. Units like the SG can carry such risky long range recon patrols with ease but traditionally that has been held in reserve for reasons that should be exceedingly obvious. Naturally I am never in favor of expending SG lives unless there is no alternative at all and I would be against this option on account of those principles alone.

Another option that was doing the rounds was reinstating the artillery barrages that were used as punitive measures in the Neelam Valley. Unfortunately I think this measure is less effective now, firstly the Pakistani posture in the sector has hardened considerably and the only ones who are punished by these barrages are innocent Kashmiri women and children who can't escape the Indian artillery shells. The Pakistan Army terrorist groups or their sponsors are left largely untouched by such acts.  This was not the case a decade ago but now I fear things have changed.

The other big discussion is air strikes. If the element of surprise could be achieved it would be quite effective, but I stress there would be significant collateral damage. The Israelis have done this kind of thing time and time again, but their model for this is far more tolerant of collateral damage. Essentially the Israelis state that their responses need to match the per-capita casualty rate imposed by their adversaries. As Israel's population is quite small, the per-capita casualty rate is very high. So from the Israeli perspective an imprecise option like an airstrike produces acceptable levels of collateral damage. This argument does not apply in the Indian context.

If I was a JS in the PMO, now would be the time that I would try to attend that conference in Kanyakumari or perhaps I would try to go the my fifth-cousin-thrice-removed's son's wedding in Rangoon!

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