CO's Leading from the Front: Sound & Timely Advice by 71' War Veteran!

"The attrition rate of our officers particularly, at CO levels is abnormally high. How much force to employ, what weapons to use, and who should lead are entirely the prerogative and discretion of the CO."

CO's Leading from the Front: Sound & Timely Advice by 71' War Veteran!

Dear Commanding Officer,    

Here is something that I as a veteran would like to share with each one of you. As someone who has been through the 1971 war and counter insurgency operations, I empathize with your dilemma while carrying out your dharma. Like millions of our fellow countrymen I am overwhelmed by your sense of duty to the nation and going beyond the call of duty  and salute you.

The last few years have been very painful, losing the bravest of the brave. In spite of highest leadership and professionalism displayed by you, we continue to lose our men with regular frequency. But what's even more disturbing is that the attrition rate of our officers particularly, at CO levels is abnormally high. How much force to employ, what weapons to use, and who should lead are entirely the prerogative and discretion of the Commanding Officer.

No question about that. But in recent times there is a growing trend of Commanding officers themselves leading the charge. I would like to believe that it is justified but simple military knowledge defies logic of such an action. In armies world over, Colonel is a very senior rank with huge resources under his command. In our context he commands nearly two dozen officers with varying levels of skills and experience.

How justified is it then for a Colonel to personally undertake a commando action to neutralise 3-4 men holed up in a civilian house. In the best of traditions it is the job of young  officers of the rank of Lieutenants, captains and in exceptional cases majors to undertake the operations. Unless it is a huge operation involving at least two companies strength, the Commanding Officer must stay back and oversee the operations.    

During Bangladesh war on 11 Dec , one of the Battalions of our Brigade which was tasked to capture a  fortified salient in Punjab , encountered murderous fire by strongly entrenched enemy. When the leading company Commander under severe shock  refused move ahead, the troops having crossed the FUP went to the ground. It was the CO who then moved up and took charge of the attack. After 6 hour fierce battle the Sikh LI Battalion successfully captured the objective.

But they had lost more than 3 dozen men including 4 officers killed and more than 60 injured. That was war and fully justified.And it happened nearly half century ago.But today with advantage of advanced technology there sure must be better and more effective methods to neutralise the terrorists. Use of flame throwers or gases that don't kill but paralyze senses temporarily or ear splitting explosives that stun the target must be explored.

Terrorists dread the thought of dying by fire which is against their faith. All the conspirators are terrorists without weapons. In such environments the line between a terrorist and innocent civilian is very thin. Don't mix collective social and  community development like setting up education centres, skill development etc with fighting terrorists. You need to be discreet. Commanding officers performing individual acts like raids and commando action is akin to using a sledge hammer to smash a peanut.    

It takes two decades to produce a Commanding officer. Time apart, the cost to the establishment and the nation is incalculable. Some of them are exceptionally qualified, highly decorated, and very skilled whose leadership and services needs to be preserved and nourished. Commanding Officers getting involved in raids at team levels could be because of any of the following reasons.

1. Non availability of suitable officer

2. Trust deficit. Lack of confidence in junior officers

3. Pressure from Higher ups to produce results

4. Giving too much importance to media

5. At times personal ambitions.

6. Prestige of Battalion.  

It could be a combination of above. Of all the above the most damaging is serial 5. Personal ambition, can blind your sense of intellect and judgement. Beyond a point it has no value. Scriptures teach us selfless action.

Dear sirs, in Kashmir you are fighting an asymmetrical war and a Dirty one at that. It is not the classic insurgency war. It's much more than that. It's a unique type of  combo war with a heady mix of terror, religion , politics and treachery. You must realise as soldiers you are pitted against the filthiest amalgamation of conspiracy and ruthless game.

We as soldiers are trained to fight unquestioningly and uphold Dharma. We are trapped from all sides by human rights, patriotism, regimental spirit, personal honor. Most of our casualties have happened because we felt saving civilian lives was more important. We have got carried away with our ideals of protecting civilian lives at any cost. But here in Kashmir you are living in a hostile environment where a large number of people are highly radicalized.

They are co-conspirators in many cases and lure the security forces into the trap. How naive can one get. We must innovate and find ways of neutralizing the terrorists through  technology and minimum casualties. Like the doctrine of 'minimum force' we must evolve the doctrine of ' minimum casualties'. We must strategize a new concept for Kashmir keeping the extraordinary peculiarities there.

Don't wait for college of warfare to propound new theories. The seed for a theory is sown on the battle fields. It is you who has to bring in the paradigm shift in our thinking. You must script our history. Pass on your experience to youngsters and build a team. Resist temptation of doing it all by your self.    It is very complex situation therefore and conventional methods just wont do. We cannot afford to lose a single soldier leave alone a JCO, an officer or for that matters Colonel.

Your life is too precious to be sacrificed and getting killed by these cowards in cahoots with traitors. As leaders of brave warriors you have the onerous task of fulfilling national objectives. Train you junior officers, motivate your men to accomplish these tasks. Young officers have more physical energy and creativity. Groom them and give them a chance.

They too would like to perform and don a medal proudly on their chest. Every time a Unit loses its Commanding Officer, do you know the trauma that your men undergo. The pain is no less than that of your loved ones when they lose you.My Battalion lost one the finest officers of our army when as a Commanding Officer he was martyred fighting.

He was awarded Ashok Chakra. It's been 27 years but the pain still lingers. A  Battalion  Commanding Officer is an institution. Don't fritter it away just because you want to kill two cowards holed up hiding behind women and children. Is that all you are worth ? No sir, this army and this  nation can't afford that. Some among you may not agree with my views.  

That's fine. Some may not acknowledge openly because it is politically not correct. In private and deep in their hearts they know what I am saying. Every one of your countrymen  would like you as commanding officer to kill that coward and live to tell the  tale before the nation.

We have seen enough coffins. Soldiers martyrdom must be honoured. That's in war. Here you are fighting not an enemy but terrorists and their supporters. They are not soldiers.    You are the man on the spot. You are the judge. You alone can  take the decision. If after reading this you still feel you must lead from front , please do not hesitate.

Go ahead. The nation loves you all and will stand by you, no matter what. I am reminded of Gen Patton's famous words, which however apt may not be the right quote here. Because our culture does not approve that language and unfair to some one who has sacrificed his life. But I do approve of the spirit in which he said it. Finally I want to see each one of you alive after every operation and wish  each one of you success and glory. Good luck.

Colonel Vijay (Full name withheld).

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