29th July 1997
NEW DELHI: Deep in the Kashmir Valley, unconventional warfare is the name of the game in the battle against Pakistan-trained militants. And the principal proponents of this type of warfare are the Army's paratroopers.
In March this year, at the defence investiture ceremony held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Maroon Berets won six Shaurya Chakras for service.
A small 10-battalion post-Independence creation of the Army, the paratroop regiment has proved its mettle both during war and peace. With the nature of conflict in South Asia having changed since 1971, the primacy of paratroops in the Army's scheme of things has come to be repeatedly underlined.
The only regiment in the Army to be made up entirely of volunteers, the paratroopers have an inbuilt system of selection that enables them to select highly motivated officers and jawans. From the commencement of the gruelling probation period, which separates the chaff from the grain, the various para units create a fighting body that relies on stealth and speed for success.
In special operations, stealth achieves surprise; speed in executing a task aids stealth and operational judgements based on actionable intelligence together contribute to success. To ensure stealth, the Maroon Berets have to move on foot to approach their target. Using vehicles would only announce the arrival and attract counter-action like small arms fire or landmines.The swift conduct of operations forms a major ingredient for success which is largely possible due to a decentralised organisational structure, working mode and reporting channels a para hallmark. This entails small combat teams under the control of a leader for operational planning; but on the ground, the command and control structure is tailored to encourage individual initiative in making operational judgements. Soldiers themselves decide whether to engage or avoid the enemy if sighted unexpectedly, select routes for movement, halt or move towards a target.
Unconventional warfare stresses close quarter combat skills where soldiers engage militants with small arms fire at a range as close as 30 metres. Another feature is the `sentry silencer' which involves unarmed combat skills. Paratroopers, prior to attacking a militant hideout, have to first deal with the guard if the situation permits. A sentry can be silenced either from a short distance using a weapon fitted with a `muffler' or else by creeping up behind and eliminating him using a dagger or physical prowess. Surprise is the strongest weapon in unconventional warfare. To strike an enemy when he least expects symbolises surprise.
Close quarter combat involves the art of ambushing the enemy. As a rule, militants secure their movements by attempting to ascertain possibilities of the Army staging an ambush at specific places. To avoid such a possibility, their scouts reconnoiter the route a few hours in advance to detect any Army presence. But paratroopers often outsmart militants and lay innovative ambushes based on surprise and daring which catches the foe on the wrong foot. The thumb rule of a good ambush is to minimise movement and ensure against disclosing one's presence in the area. To do so, an ambush party remains away from the area but rushes in at a critical moment to attack.
Clearly special warfare has proved successful against militants while playing them at their own game. And little wonder that the Pakistan Army has begun to use its paratroopers directly in the Kashmir militancy. A Special Services Group (SSG) havildar was captured recently near Udhampur. The SSG is the Pakistan armed forces' commando force.