Govt unlikely to use offensive air power for anti-Naxal ops

NEW DELHI: The government is extremely unlikely to deploy IAF's `offensive power' in anti-Naxal operations even though home minister P Chidambaram on Wednesday said the mandate about not using the force could be `revisited' if the need arose.

Senior government sources said the use of offensive airpower `within our own country and against our own citizens', even if they were `threatening war', was simply not on the cards as things stood now.

For one, it would be a `harsh and controversial escalatory step', putting India on par with `failing states' like Pakistan, since it has not been used even in counter-terrorism operations in J&K.

For another, unless backed by foolproof intelligence, offensive air operations could lead to "a lot of collateral damage'' in terms of innocent civilians being killed on the ground.

The armed forces, as it is, are strongly opposed to being dragged into more internal security duties, heavily committed as they are in counter-militancy duties in Kashmir and the North-East.

Defence minister A K Antony has, time and again, also made it clear that there is no scope of `directly' employing the armed forces in the ongoing battle against the Maoists. "There is no change in that stand,'' said a source.

This also came through on Wednesday when IAF chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik said he was against using offensive airpower in the anti-Naxal operations.

"The military -- IAF, Army, Navy -- are not trained for limited lethality. Theweapons we have are meant for the enemy across the border,'' he said, at a press conference in Ahmedabad.

ACM Naik, however, added that it was the government's prerogative if it wanted to use the armed forces as the last resort. "They can order us in at any time. At the present moment, we must leave it to the paramilitary forces,'' he said.

The IAF chief said it would require "120% intelligence'' to avoid collateral damage if offensive airpower was ever used against the Naxals. Another senior IAF officer, in turn, said, "With our precision strike capabilities, we can destroy targets but it would be dependent on very accurate intelligence.''

IAF has currently deployed four Mi-17 helicopters for reconnaissance, logistical and casualty evacuation duties in the anti-Naxal operations, apart from occassionally providing AN-32 transport aircraft.

"If the government wants to use offensive airpower, it can use the BSF helicopters under the home ministry. They can be armed with light and medium machine guns,'' said a senior military officer.

Without directly joining the battle against the Naxals, the Army is providing training and advise to the central paramilitary as well as state police forces. It has, for instance, already trained almost 200 companies of state police forces and 25 paramilitary battalions.

Incidentally, Army chief General V K Singh had only last week held that `our polity' was "wise and astute enough'' not to deploy the Army against Naxalism, which was "not a secessionist movement''.