With 120 men routinely out on a daily basis, and taking into account the normal commitments of a field regiment, the personnel generally available in the regiment area during daytime are the Commanding Officer or Second-in-Command, Adjutant or Quarter Master, Subedar Major, Regiment Havildar Major, sentries, clerks, mess staff and a few tradesmen. Truly, artillery regiments in the Kashmir Valley are discharging their onerous responsibilities with Izzat-OQ-Iqbal: Honour and Glory.
A New Challenge
Ever since early-1990, when the present spell of Pakistan inspired, aided and abetted insurgency erupted in the Kashmir Valley, artillery units have stood shoulder to shoulder with the infantry to share the responsibility of ensuring internal security (IS) and conducting counter-insurgency (CI) operations. While infantry battalions have provided the cutting edge and have been at the forefront of conducting CI operations to flush out militants in the Valley in keeping with their traditional role, artillery regiments, including air defence artillery units, have been primarily responsible to ensure rear area security and to keep the arteries of maintenance, movement and reinforcement open.
While most of the artillery regiments are mainly involved in rear-area security duties on a daily basis, a few regiments are being employed for both types of tasks on alternate days.
Maior Responsibilities Assigned to Artillery
The rear-area security responsibilities being assigned to artillery regiments include road opening (provision of ROPs, that is, Road Opening Parties ); convoy escort and protection: guarding of important logistics and other installations, such as FPD and airfield/helipads; and running of ANE (Anti-national Elements) Reception Cells; protection of Important bases, such as the Regulating Centre at the Badami Bagh Cantt, Srinagar, from ANE fire by static deployment and regular patrolling; escort duties for pay collection parties and personnel such as field cashiers proceeding to banks at Lal Chowk, Srinagar; escort duties for fresh rations collection parties of Military Dairy Farm and FSD, Srinagar; provision of escorts for civil government officials, J&K Police and Mahila Police (CRPF) for CI operations in towns and villages; setting up of observation posts (OPs) on dominating features for the surveillance of routes frequented by ANEs ; tasks such as establishment of road blocks in conjunction with infantry battalion operations and the local defence and perimeter patrolling of own garrison and camp areas.
ARTILLERY REGIMENTS ARE PRIMARILY RESPONSIBLE TO ENSURE REAR AREA SECURITY IN KASHMIR VALLEY AND TO KEEP THE ARTERIES OF MOVEMENT, MAINTENANCE AND COMMUNICATION OPEN.
Road Opening Duties
Road opening is, perhaps, the single most important function of artillery regiments in the Valley. ROPs of one to two columns strength are employed for the opening of roads. The laying of a ROP entails the physical check of all unmetalled portions of the road, by using mine detectors, by walking over the entire stretch. The aim is to look out for antitank and anti-personnel mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Metalled portions of the road may be traversed in vehicles. However, any aberrations in the surface of the road and unusual or suspicious looking objects need to be physically checked.
Likely ambush sites are secured tactically and a section is deployed to deny their use to ANEs. All bridges, culverts, hume pipe crossings and causeways are also checked for mines and IEDs. Trees along the sides of a road are checked for Claymore mines and IEDs. Each section is assigned an area of responsibility in which it deploys: It changes its deployment location every time. The section deploys 50 to 100 metres away from the road on one or both sides of the road, as per the ground configuration and the perceived threat.
Whenever possible, the ROP is laid along a different route each time. Such flexibility hampers the ANEs ‘ disruptive activities, particularly the laying of mines and IEDs.
Deployment in built-up areas such as towns and villages poses an unique challenge. These areas are congested and have large clusters of double and triple storey houses, usually with high perimeter walls. Each village has numerous alleys and bylanes. It is almost impossible for one or two sections to prevent ANEs from firing a few bursts at passing convoys. However the lanes from which the maximum damage can be done and which afford easy escape routes to ANEs are denied to them by physical occupation. The ROP ensures that at least grenades cannot be hurled with ease at passing convoys. The sections deployed inside built-up areas are themselves the most vulnerable to attack. By deploying well dispersed and changing locations frequently, it is ensured that minimum casualties are suffered by own troops. The ANE’s often resort to provocative fire to goad the troops deployed into opening fire indiscriminately so that there are deaths and injuries among innocent civilians, for which the security forces (SF) can be blamed for the violation of human rights. It is only through painstaking training that the troops are taught to avoid falling into such a trap.
Convoy Escort and Protection
While ROPs provide area defence at particularly vulnerable points along the routes followed by army and SF convoys and other traffic, large tracts of the roads in use have to be left uncovered due to the paucity of troops. Hence, it is necessary that each large convoy is escorted by a protection party integral to it. These convoy escort and protection parties are also by and large being provided by artillery regiments in the Valley.
Early each morning, a number of Young Gunner Captains can be seen preening and moving about purposefully in the Regulating Centre convoy marshalling ground just outside the Badami Bagh Cantt at Srinagar. They are generally seen to be engaged in getting hold of their convoys comprising a motley array of troops and vehicles and briefing the drivers and the passengers about convoy discipline and the action to be taken on coming under fire. Their swagger shows their unmistakable confidence, their briefings reveal professional competence and their demeanour is that of battle-scarred veterans ready to set out for another day and may the devil do his best. Their attitude is infectious and imbues the troops comprising the escort QRTs with confidence and reassurance.
Deployment in built up areas poses a challenge It is only through painstaking training that troops are taught to avoid falling into the trap of responding indiscriminately to the provocative fire of militants inside towns and villages.
Whenever convoys are fired upon, and it happens quite often, action is immediately taken to move the vehicles out from the threatened area and return the fire. In conjunction with personnel of the ROP, an attempt is made to nab the militants responsible. However, the militants normally resort to firing only from safe standoff distances and are usually only of nuisance value.
Hand grenades hurled by young boys sitting or walking on the road itself, are a more dangerous threat and can cause serious casualties if dropped inside a bus full of troops. The only remedy is to keep the convoy moving at a brisk pace. For this, it is necessary to ensure that all & civilian traffic is halted for a convoy to pass. It Is an important duty being performed with diligence and competence by artillery regiments in the Valley.
Counter Insurgency (CI) Operations
The CI operations being conducted by some artillery regiments in their designated areas of responsibility include the cordon and search of militant infested villages on specific information of the presence of militants; domination patrols in the area of responsibility to gain information and intelligence, to deny an opportunity to ANEs to operate in the area, to prevent the villagers from openly harbouring ANEs, to save villagers from extortion and exploitation by the ANEs and to show the flag; selective specific search of known militants houses and those of their sympathisers so as to maintain pressure on the ANEs and reduce their motivation levels and morale; operations to seek encounters with ANEs in areas where they are known to operate; road blocks to check civil buses, trucks, tippers and private vehicles, so as to deny the free use of public transport to the ANEs, forcing them to walk long distances and to restrict their movement to the hours of darkness; ambushes at night along roads and tracks known to be frequented by the ANEs and raids on the militants’ jungle and mountain hideouts whenever information about these is obtained.
Considering that the number of artillery regiments performing these infantry-style tasks is relatively small, the results achieved have been almost spectacular. Also, artillery regiments being employed for CI operations are not located at or near the most heavily infested belts of Kupwara, Sopore, Baramullah, Anantnag and Pulwama. The incidence of militancy in the areas where they are located and operating is relatively much lower. As such, they have to work that much harder for each success- that is each ANE killed or apprehended, each weapon, magazine or grenade recovered. Credit for the well publicised catch of approximately 130 to 150 young boys, being forcibly taken to POK for training in 1993, belongs to two artillery regiments deployed in the Sonamarg-Gund area for ROP duties.
In addition to the above mentioned functions, artillery regiments also conduct goodwill operations and organize medical camps for the civilian population. The problems of the villagers are identified and their grievances redressed to the extent possible, occasionally by interceding on their behalf with the local civil officials. The attitude of artillery regiments is humane and irreproachable. Death-in-custody (DIC) cases are virtually unknown.
Training, Administration and Welfare
Each artillery regiment is expected to provide two battery columns for operations up to six times a week. Unlike a rifle company column which has more personnel, a battery column comprises one to two officers, three JCOs and 60 OR. These personnel are utilised to perform the operational tasks allotted to a regiment, be they rear-area security tasks or Cl operations tasks. With 120 men routinely out on a daily basis, and taking into account the normal commitments of a field regiment, the personnel generally available in the regiment area during daytime are the Commanding Officer or Second-in-Command, Adjutant or Quarter Master, Subedar Major, Regiment Havildar Major, sentries, clerks, mess staff and a few tradesmen
Credit for the well-publicised catch of approximately 130 to ISO young boys, being forcibly taken to POK for training in 1993, belongs to two artillery regiments deployed in the sonmarg-gund area for ROP duties
Is technical and tactical gunnery training being neglected ?. The answer varies from regiment to regiment. Though it cannot be conducted in the tried and tested classical manner of individual training by means of upgrading and refresher cadres, followed by battery level training, with the training year culminating in the regiment’s annual practice camp, gunnery training need not be neglected. Each regiment devises its own methods and evolves ingenuous procedures to ensure that professional excellence is not compromised. Practice camps are held regularly and the guns continue to shoot together on target, on time. Of course it takes a heavy toll of the officers (12 in a regiment!) and of the men.
It is indeed a Herculean struggle for the battery commanders to ensure that routine administration does not suffer for want of adequate guidance and supervision by officers and that welfare activities are not given the go by. It calls for the greatest reserves of will power and energy to return after a day in the field and wrestle with paperwork. Reports and returns have burgeoned to levels which senior officers who last served with a regiment five years or more ago, cannot even imagine. While apprehending a militant and capturing a weapon are events which bring cheer, the connected paperwork would dampen the enthusiasm of the most ardent Staff College graduate. FIRs, Seizure Memos and Interrogation Reports are not the stuff that feeds dreams of honour and glory in the field
Honour and Glory
Quite often on the battlefield, artillery regiments have been called upon to perform the role of infantry – to occupy defences in the face of a relentless enemy onslaught. The Gunners have always “heaved to” with alarcrity and zeal and helped to stem the rot. On a large number of occasions, artillery battery commanders have had to take over an infantry battalion, OP officers have had to take over a rifle company, when the Commanding Officer or the company commander was slain or seriously injured, particularly during an attack operation. The Gunners have always risen to the occasion leading from the front. Kashmir has been no different.
Although a secondary role, the Regiment of Artillery has traditionally performed its infantry role with professional elan and excellence. Hence, when the gauntlet of rear-area security and CI operations was thrown down to the regiments in the Kashmir Valley, it was taken up with resolution, enthusiasm, confidence and courage. The Gunners have been out there in the pouring rain and the falling snow and the winter blizzards as long as the infantry. Numerous brave Artillerymen have made the supreme sacrifice for a worthy national cause. Many others have suffered deep wounds and had limbs torn asunder. But, the units of the Regiment of Artillery are carrying on the good work of keeping the arteries open for traffic with selfless devotion to duty, in the highest traditions of the Regiment – the pursuit of professional excellence even in the face of daunting odds. Truly, artillery regiments in the Kashmir Valley are discharging their onerous responsibilities with Izzat-OQ-Iqbal: Honour and Glory.