The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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IAF joins counter-insurgency

Kumbhirgram airbase (Cachar), Oct. 3: The war on militancy in the Northeast will no longer be restricted to the ground.

A batch of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots and airmen is being put through their paces at the Counter-insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte in Mizoram and will join the army and paramilitary forces on the job as soon as they are ready.

Though the IAF will be only a back-up force, that itself could make a big difference to the success rate of operations in a region plagued by insurgency for decades.

The need to train air force personnel in counter-insurgency techniques was first felt after the Ulfa’s mortar attack on the Borjhar IAF base in Guwahati last year.

Group Captain Shamsher Singh, who is in charge of the Kumbhirgram IAF base, said the air force had woken up to the reality of “domestic aggression” and would not be caught napping in future.

Militants based in Bangladesh, just 27 km from the airfield, and Myanmar, which is 57 km away, present the most potent threat to Kumbhirgram. “Our airbase is located in a strategic position and hence the need to bolster our defences,” the officer said.

A source said the army and the air force would work out a collaboration strategy after the first batch of pilots and airmen finish their counter-insurgency drill at Vairengte.

The strategy will be as much as about strengthening the counter-insurgency structure as about protecting remote air force stations across the Northeast from militant attacks.

The defence ministry’s decision to utilise the services of the Eastern Air Command as a back-up force is reflected in the activity at Kumbhirgram. The flying drills of helicopter pilots have been made compatible with the training programme of army and paramilitary personnel at the Vairengte counter-insurgency school.

Group Captain Singh said the Kumbhirgram airbase, which was handed over to the IAF in February 1987, would soon become the main centre for training pilots to assist the army and paramilitary forces in counter-insurgency operations.

He said a “quick-reaction team” had been constituted for internal security.

“Jungle-survival capsules and courses have been developed to train all aircrew for exigencies that might arise across the Northeast. Later, new helicopters (MI-8 and MI-17) will be used to supplement the efforts of the army and other forces in counter-insurgency operations.”

The Kumbhirgram airbase hosted an Indo-US counter-insurgency exercise in March.

The air force has been using MI-8 helicopters, each having the capacity to carry 64 rockets and 1,000 kg of explosives, in joint exercises with army and paramilitary trainees at Vairengte.

A demonstration by MI-8 pilots and jawans of the army’s 9 para field unit, which is undergoing training at Vairengte, confirmed the effectiveness of the new strategy. “The induction of the air force into the counter-insurgency structure is a big boost for ground forces,” Maj. K. Madhu, task commander of the unit engaged in the drill, said.

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