Hyderabad: Could Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant Adil Ahmad Dar, the vehicle-borne suicide bomber, who attacked the CRPF convoy leading to the deaths of 49 CRPF soldiers in Pulwama on February 14, have been neutralised before he could drive his vehicle right into the convoy, had a sniper and his spotter been deployed?
“Strategy and tactics (like having rooftop snipers) are dictated by a host of factors, including terrain and most of the movement (in the Kashmir valley) is through built-up areas along with civilian traffic,” says Director General of the elite counter terrorism force, the National Security Guard (NSG).
Speaking exclusively to this newspaper in his first interview as chief of the NSG after taking over in February 2018, Sudeep Lakhtakia said that positive identification of a potent threat is always a challenge, as is isolation of the target from the civilian population.
Telangana state cadre IPS officer of 1984 batch, Mr Lakhtakia, who previously worked in the Special Protection Group (SPG) and also in the CRPF where he supervised operations in J&K, said that multiple discreet security measures are taken to ensure the safety of the troops during movement.
Though there have been fidayeen attacks in the past in J&K, the suicide bombing attack using Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VB-IEDs) is a different phenomenon in the area, which comes under the category of “bold attacks”.
With the Pulwama attack and the retaliatory action by India of bombing terror camps in Balakot, Pakistan has changed the security scenario in the country, the NSG chief said. But the USP of the NSG is to constantly prepare for newer challenges, he added.
“With our current deployment across the country, we are prepared to tackle any serious challenge, along with the states. Our response matrix has undergone a complete revamp and various eventualities are well rehearsed for prompt action,” he says.
Amid increasing threats by terror groups, the Chief of the Black Cats commando force says that any threat posed by JeM, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba or any other terrorist group “will be met with our complete potential for earliest neutralisation of the threat”.
His long stint in the Special Protection Group (SPG), where he dealt directly with the security detail of none other than the Prime Minister of India, gave him an eye for minute detail.
Thereafter, his tenure as Special Director General with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), where he supervised anti-militancy operations in Jammu and Kashmir, gave this 1984 batch IPS officer of Telangana cadre a firm grip on the ground situation in the Valley, especially during the heightened wave of violence after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen “commander” Burhan Wani.
Now, as Director General of the elite National Security Guard (NSG) or the “Black Cats” — a special force tasked with combating terrorism — senior IPS officer Sudeep Lakhtakia says that while there have been fidayeen attacks in the past in Jammu and Kashmir, the suicide bombing attack using vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VB-IEDs) is a different phenomenon in the area.
Speaking exclusively to this newspaper in his first-ever interview as chief of the NSG after taking over in February 2018, Mr Lakhtakia gives his take on the Pulwama attack, the role of the NSG, and the security scenario in the country.
The usp of NSG is to constantly prepare for newer challenges
As chief of the NSG and someone who has worked in the CPRF earlier, what is your analysis of the Pulwama terror attack and do you think there were any lapses?
The Pulwama attack has added a new paradigm to the challenges being faced by the security forces in J&K. Intruding into a convoy was not difficult, as the road is open for general traffic. Every terrorist action, however, makes life more difficult for the common man. While there have been fidayeen attacks in the past, a suicide bombing attack using Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VB-IEDs) is a different phenomenon in the area. VB IEDs fall under the category of “Bold Attacks” using a vehicle as an instrument to launch a terrorist attack. Terrorism is constantly morphing and appearing in newer forms. Combined with the recent phenomenon of cowardly abduction and execution of security forces personnel, attacks on family member etc., this incident reflects the growing frustration of terrorists groups and their handlers. The CRPF is an extremely resilient force. Its record in combating terrorists in J&K or Maoists in left-wing extremists speaks for itself.
Though there was a general feeling that such a large contingent of CRPF jawans should not have travelled in one single convoy, the other argument is that travelling in one large convoy is actually advantageous instead of travelling in smaller numbers. Your take on this?
This choice between long single convoy versus multiple smaller convoys is among a range of options each with its own pros and cons. It is essentially a trade-off and was discussed during my tenure in the CRPF. Movement and size of convoys is a professional tactical decision. Running convoys are unavoidable. However, appropriate security measures are always taken to ensure their safety, irrespective of size or distance. Existing SOPs (standard operating procedures) to maintain secrecy and security are updated from time to time.
Last year the NSG had stationed about 80 commandos in Srinagar so that they could neutralise terrorists holed up in buildings/houses. But six months later, the NSG was pulled out without taking part in any operation. Now, in the changed security scenario, do you feel the NSG should be stationed in the Valley? Were other agencies opposed to the presence of the NSG in the Valley?
The role of NSG commandos stationed in J&K has been clearly defined. Deployment and involvement of different forces is a very tactical and calibrated decision as part of the overall security strategy for operations in an area. Any insinuation about a “disconnect” between forces is baseless. There is a security grid in place in J&K. NSG is an element of this security grid. There is no one-upmanship in this collective fight. A team of experts from NSG’s National Bomb Data Centre (NBDC) was requisitioned to assist in the investigations of the Pulwama attack. NSG’s niche capabilities will be deployed when the situation so warrants.
Will posting snipers on rooftops help neutralise threats in the Kashmir valley, especially during the movement of troops?
Strategy and tactics are dictated by a host of factors. including terrain. Most of the movement is through built-up areas along with civilian traffic. Positive identification of a potent threat is always a challenge. As is isolation of the target as it easily merges with the civilian population. Multiple discreet security measures are taken to ensure safety of troops during movement. The community and local population also play a very vital role.
Can a Pulwama-type attack be prevented? What measures can be taken?
The Pulwama attack is the first such attack in the long history of proxy war and terrorism in J&K. The world has witnessed a large number of VB-IED incidents. Obviously, we have done many things right to have been able to prevent such dastardly acts. Government and security forces are taking very proactive measures to ensure safety of troops while providing security to the citizens.
After the air strikes in Balakot there have been alerts that JeM could carry out a major terror strike anywhere in the country. How prepared is the NSG and do you see newer challenges emerging for the NSG in future?
The USP of the NSG is to constantly prepare for newer challenges. We collaborate with different stakeholders to stay abreast of the emerging threats. The NSG undertakes critical analysis of emerging scenarios to prepare for different contingencies.
Keeping the Pulwama terror attack in mind, is the NSG designing newer training modules/methods for the Black Cats?
We refine our drills and training methodologies to keep pace with changing tactics of terrorists to stay ahead. With our current deployment across the country, we are prepared to tackle any serious challenge, along with the states.
The NSG already has state-of-the-art weaponry. What other plans are in the pipeline to further modernise the force?
NSG has a state-of-art inventory for conducting our operations. We proactively upgrade our capabilities to enhance our operational effectiveness in all likely scenarios. Acquisition of gadgets, weapons etc., and modernising our equipment profile, based on changing threat perceptions, is an ongoing exercise.
After the Pulwama attack and the air strikes on Pakistan, has the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued any fresh instructions for the NSG?
The MHA regularly reviews alertness and response mechanisms. NSG units are always on a high state of alert, ready and prepared to be launched for operations in the shortest possible time. Our response matrix has undergone a complete revamp and various eventualities are well rehearsed for prompt action.
NSG has trained members of paramilitary forces. Will this training activity go up in the days to come in view of the new challenges emerging for the forces?
Capacity building of other paramilitary and state police forces is a major focus area of NSG. We strive for seamless synergy with the first/second responders by sharing our best practices. We regularly train with various national and international counter terrorism forces to better understand the operational ethos of each other for improved inter-operability. We are happy to share our CT expertise with all stake holders with the common objective of enhancing our country’s security preparedness. We are coordinating closely with MHA and state/central CT forces to strengthen cooperation in this field where we all are equal partners. The security needs of the states have increased and we will work together to upgrade the skills of the first responders.
Is the role of the NSG getting more challenging now?
We are seized of the changed security milieu post the recent incidents. Any threat posed by JeM, LeT or any other terrorist group will be met with our complete potential for earliest neutralisation of the threat.