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Made-for-camera operation shows chinks
Arrest bright spot amid goof-ups
- Loss for life

New Delhi, Sept. 20: Delhi police’s Jamianagar operations, like the assault in Jammu on August 28, were made-for-television encounters with the killings just beyond the frames of the cameras.

Yet, even a first look at the footage and visuals available raises questions on how prepared the police’s special cell — formed 22 years ago at the peak of the Punjab militancy — is in counter-terror skills.

A big plus for the police in Jamianagar is the arrest of Mohammed Saif. This does not fall into the recent pattern of counter-terrorist operations in which suspects are almost always killed.

The killing of one of the special cell’s stars, inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, said to be a veteran of 80 encounters, emphasises the lack of preparation. Storming the flat —the way Delhi police did — is one of several tactics that counter-terror forces employ while attacking a terrorist shelter. It is also the most obvious one.

By definition, a counter-terrorist operation is expected to be stealthy. Stealth was the last character the police exhibited yesterday.

“The incident happened in my neighbourhood, about 150 metres from my house… I had gone out of the area for some work while the incident was taking place around 11am, but found it impossible to reach back home 2 hours later, because the road for about 1 and a half km (on both sides) was completely blocked, not by the police vehicles, but by the parked OB vans of the countless TV channels, some of which I never heard of before,” writes a blogger, Yousuf Saeed, who lives in Jamianagar.

“Each of these vehicles had its generators on, and thick video cables jetting (sic) out of them for several metres to the other end where the cameraperson and the excited anchor were shouting how two terrorists have been killed in the fierce encounter. Most local people are surprised at the speed with which the TV crews arrived here and in such large number. Apparently, Delhi police had already told a section of the press they are going for a raid in Batla House.”

The police are yet to give conclusive public evidence that the alleged terrorists who were killed — Mohammed Atif Amin and Mohammed Sajid, and the one arrested Saif — are among those whose sketches were released after the September 13 blasts.

Even then, the killing of Mohan Chand Sharma is evidence that there were killers in the flat in L-18 Batla House who were ready and waiting. Sharma, despite his experience, and probably because of the worry that hung over him because his son is in hospital with dengue, was without a bullet-proof vest.

It is unthinkable that when the “Global War on Terrorism” is over half-a-decade old, a counter-terrorist force would act with such callousness.

“Obviously they were not expecting much opposition,” says an army officer who has served three terms in Kashmir. “Seek-and-destroy operations in built-up areas are always dicey and much depends on the intelligence input.”

Almost all security forces in seek-and-destroy operations in Kashmir ensure their personnel are wearing bullet-proof vests and patkas/helmets. If there is information that a suspect is in a house, officers examine whether it is necessary to storm or whether they can “drain” the militants.

“Draining” means starving the militants of rations, firing intermittently so that their stocks of ammunition run low, maybe even call in the fire brigade and use water cannons to force them out after ensuring that there are multiple cordons around the building. In Jamianagar, the cordoning was clearly deficient because two militants, by the police’s own admission, escaped.

The army officer says a special operations team such as the one Sharma was leading would have bullet-proof vests and stun grenades or smoke cells to mask the “fire and move” before a storming.

“It is also a game of patience,” says the officer. “But if you are pushed for results you think of storming. Shock-action with small arms (like the Israeli Uzi) specialised for close quarters battle is indispensable for this.”

There is little to show Delhi police have been working on these lines.

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