Should COs be Leading from the Front? (Part-2)

In part 2 of our debate, four Colonel rank officers sent in their responses adding to the discourse on whether or not COs should be leading from the front.

Should COs be Leading from the Front? (Part-2)

Following our debate 'Should COs be leading from the Front? (Part-1)' published following the unfortunate deaths of five 21 Rashtriya Rifles (21 RR) personnel, including the Commanding officer (CO) Col Ashutosh Sharma, in a joint operation with the Jammu and Kashmir Police (JKP) on 2 May, 2020, more respondents; COs who have served in Counter Insurgency environs have sent in their responses, prompting a second part to an already all encompassing debate. Responses are as follows:

Col. Pradeep Dalvi (Retd)

Firstly, let  me start  my response  with offering my heartfelt condolences  to the family  of the martyred  officer  and  jawans  of 21 RR who laid  down their lives in Handwara ops.

Secondly, operations in CI grid especially in J&K  are always  going to be small team operations led by young officers  and JCOs. There have been cases  especially in the north east where large operations have been undertaken  with coordination at the appropriate level. Since the last few years we have lost COs in small team operations  where  senior officers have led from the front . That brings in the question “whether COs should lead  from the front”.

Thirdly, it  takes about  two decades  to train COs and he is at threshold  to hold senior assignments  in future. Being an instructor in AWC , Mhow, I remember officers  doing  SC courses asking me  for “ Gurumantra  for successful Command”. It gives  me  an impression that the present  generation of  officers have evolved their own mantra  which I am  trying to decipher.

Command of the  Bn or RR bn in CI grid /LOC is considered  a stepping stone for successful command. That involves gallantry award, nomination to HC and equivalent courses and lastly next  rank  be it  Brig or Maj Gen .

Statistics  reflect that the above categories of  officers have a better chance of promotion  to the next  rank compared to their counterparts  who command in peace time locations. This mind set amongst the officers, especially Infantry, have led to taking risk at all levels resulting in some of the finest COs getting martyred in the operations which could have been led by JCOs/NCOs.

Having operated along with RR Bn in sector HQ, let me  enumerate some issues that are playing on the minds of COs.  Firstly he has to operate and produce results in two years of his command. One third of the manpower of the Bn including officers are always being turned over resulting in pressure on officers to produce results in a short  time. Coy cdrs with 8-9 yrs of service have inadequate experience and exposure resulting in CO supervising, coordinating and taking undue risk even to the extent of leading  from the front.

The point here for consideration is in the event of CO leading from the front “ how far front the CO must be”. Should he be leading the charge with a small team to clear  the house or should he be close  enough to control and coordinate  the entire operations.

I think this question will  get resolved  if you stick to the basics of tactics  taught during JC courses.  Here in such a situation I think CO should always  place himself  close to the inner cordon to direct  and coordinate the operations. It does not mean  that CO  should lead the operation and  carry out house to house clearance drill.  

If you compare recently conducted operations (Handwara encounter and Riyaz Naikoo encounter at Beighpora) you will notice that Beighpora operations were done with a lot of deliberations and planning resulting elimination of Riyaz naikoo and two other terrorists without casualties to own troops. I am sure the Officer in charge of the operations must have led from the front  and located himself close enough to influence  the operations.

Lastly and sadly some of  our senior officers including  some veterans believe in this policy of leading from the front  to an extent  that officers  should lead the charge. All available  options  are not explored  before taking such decisions and case in point is Pampore operations a few years back where  fine young officers of SF lost  their lives.

Col. Rajinder Kushwaha (Retd)

I entirely agree with Col Pradeep Dalvi. This is what I had said in my piece. You see the ball game in Counter Insurgency and Counter Terror (CICT) operations is entirely different. In his given area of responsibility in the CI grid. The CO is the backbone of the CI grid. Should he fall victim or get captured by the militants, while leading the operation at sub team level,  he would jeopardise the whole CI grid.

The essence of CICT operations is that they were conducted at a lower level in floating localities. We have come a long way from CASO and SADO to mission- oriented and Target based operations in the CI Grid. CO’s job to identify targets and allot to subunits and his sub teams. Large scale operations are a rarity these days. The emphasis is on real time actionable intelligence.

Successful CICT operations demand locating a ‘Needle in the Haystack’ with the help of trustworthy informers —- which are developed by the subunits. They are called “Moles” amongst insurgent organisations. Without them, it is grappling in the dark. Those who have operated in CICT environs,they will understand it.

Those who have only seen the “matches”  from the galleries, can not envision this doctrine of CICT operations. By commanding Brigades and Divisions (Call them RR Sectors or RR Force HQs) in CICT operations, one does not become an expert on Counter Insurgency. One has to have first hand knowledge at sub unit level.

Col. Alok Asthana (Retd)

The question must be answered only in this specific situation, not in thin air. I don’t know the facts first hand. However, most media reports that these 5 people went in all by themselves. The means of communication with the unit was the cell phone of CO. They were all killed, no one knows how. Unit came to know of it some hours later. If these are indeed the facts, then it was a terrible plan.

Whoever made that plan was responsible for these 5 deaths. Those who are ok with such planning, or implementation or even daring, are responsible for several such deaths in future too. What an army we’ve become - very liberal with the lives of our men.

In our desire to hide the weaknesses of the army, we’re portraying a wrong picture. This has been happening since 65 war at least and is the biggest single reason for the army being so bad as an institution despite some very fine officers. Let us  stop getting our men killed. A good start can be made by stopping the system of awards.

Col. Gill (Retd)

Firstly, propagating that a CO should not lead from front can have adverse effects on junior leadership. No such advice should be given. The best ways is:-

Secondly, stop giving awards to paper tigers sitting in headquarters. They want decorations by pushing the commanding officers for results.

Thirdly, do not sack a CO/ Junior leader on the first go if a terrorist has got away. Remember a terrorist is well trained and he sees his getaway route first before selecting a hideout.

Lastly, an award should only be recommended after a case study of each operation.


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