General Bikram Singh has reprimanded local commanders for allowing ambush along Poonch LoC, say sources

Even as Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Thursday came out with a fresh statement blaming the Pakistan Army for the killing of five Indian soldiers at the Poonch Line of Control (LoC), Army chief General Bikram Singh has taken his local commanders to task for Tuesday’s ambush.

During a visit to Jammu and Nagota on Wednesday, General Singh is learnt to have given a talking-to to the local brigade commander and the divisional commander and demanded to know how the Standard Operating Procedures were neglected during patrolling along the LoC. Sources indicated that a high-level review of LoC security, as well as punishment for erring Army officials, was on the cards.

Mr. Antony’s revised statement in Parliament reportedly took cognisance of the new inputs provided by the Army chief, who gave a detailed briefing to the Defence Minister on the incident.

Mr. Antony spoke of the involvement of the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group commandos. He warned Pakistan that neither India’s restraint nor the capacity of its armed forces should be taken for granted.

According to sources, the SSG has been active since 1956 and has seven battalions and three independent commando companies, one of which — Musa company — undertakes amphibious operations. Former Pakistani Army chiefs General Pervez Musharraf and General Mirza Aslam Beg are known to have served in the SSG.

The sources said Indian troops’ patrolling habits were likely to have been kept under surveillance by the Pakistani Army, which often struck when a change of guard was under way in the Indian Army. On this occasion, the 21 Bihar Regiment was being replaced by the Maratha Light Infantry unit.

Tuesday’s ambush suggested that the local unit could have made certain tactical mistakes, said sources. They indicated that the Pakistani Army could have been observing the Indian patrols over the past month and used night-vision devices such as hand-held thermal imagers and sensors.

According to sources, commanders on the ground ought to have anticipated that Pakistan armed forces might use such a change-over period to carry out an attack. “The LoC is highly volatile; it involves 24X7 alertness and vigil. Recent developments in Pakistan also indicate that there is desperation to [inject terrorists into Indian territory]. The way the ambush was planned involving a group of 20 members of special troops, it is possible that their attempt to push in infiltrators has been successful,” a source said.

Pakistan has repeatedly caught India’s local forces on the wrong foot — particularly in sectors such as Rajouri, Poonch, Mendhar and Uri. It would appear that General Singh’s instructions to the ground-level commanders — delivered in the wake of the beheading of an Indian soldier on January 8 — to launch aggressive action within their area of responsibility have not been heeded.

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