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Support for copter crew from chief

Browne

New Delhi, Feb. 7: The chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, today asked the Union home ministry and the police to stop a blame-game over the shooting of a helicopter in Chhattisgarh by Maoists on January 18.

“The impression that we (the aircrew of the Mi 17 helicopter) had abandoned the helicopter and an injured policeman and walked away is nonsense,” an angry Browne said, a day after the contents of a letter from the home secretary to the defence secretary alleging unsoldierly acts by the air force was leaked to the media.

“The Union home secretary’s letter is with the media — this is surprising for all of us. Our commitment remains the same. If you keep sniping like this about something that happened in the heat of combat, the Maoists will be very happy to see the divisions among the security forces. This is a lesson for all our agencies to be together,” he said.

Co-ordination between security forces was as important in all counter-insurgency situations. “Similar things have happened in the Valley,” he said, pointing to a lack of understanding with Jammu and Kashmir police in the past.

An unpublicised standard operating procedure for IAF crew working alongside security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and in the Northeast is to depend on the ground forces of the army and not that of the police. But in Chhattisgarh, the IAF operates alongside the police.

Browne detailed the January 18 incident in Chhattisgarh. He said the chopper that was hit by Maoist small arms from a distance of about 500 metres and at a height of about 50 metres when it was descending to land sprung leaks in the hydraulic system and its cabin was flooded with oil.

“In fact, Our two Garud commandos on board still have chemical skin burns,” he said. The pilot manoeuvred away from the fire and managed to land a kilometre from the designated spot.

A Chhattisgarh police wireless operator in the chopper had probably taken a bullet below the spine. He was immobilised. The firing continued for about 45 minutes.

“The captain and crew decided if they were to split into two groups there could be a hostage situation. So they decided to go together and get help (from the nearest police station) quickly. The police operator was evacuated that night itself.

“He is recovering and well. One of our officers went and met him in the Raipur hospital when he was sitting on a sofa and sipping tea,” said Browne.

He said no weapon was left behind by the crew. But a light machine gun fitted on the helicopter was damaged in the impact when the chopper made the emergency landing.

“The chopper was hit but our boys did a very good job…. We believe we are doing our job and doing it right,” Browne said.