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 units, have been primarily responsible to ensure Rear-area Security and to keep the arteries of maintenance, movements and reinforcement open Some other forces such as the BSF and paramilitary forces like the Rashtriya Rrfles. Territorial Army battalions and the CRPF, have shared with the artillery the responsibility of keeping the lines of communications open However, the lion’s share of effort in this regard has been that of the artillery The concept of Rear-area Security has matured In Kashmir Valley.
While some artillery regiments are primarily involved only in Rear-area Security duties on a daily basis, a few regiments are being employed only for CI operations, in thoroughbred infantry style. Some others are being employed for both types of tasks on alternate days.
Major Artillery Responsibilities
The Rear-area Security responsibilities being assigned to artillery regiments, include following :-
- Road opening (provision of ROPs, that is Road Opening Parties).
- Convey escort and protection.
- Guarding of Important logistics and other Installations, such as FPD, Khunamoh and airfields/helipads.
- Guarding 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 Lai Chowk, Srinagar.
- Escort duties for milk and fresh rations collection parties of military Dairy Farm and FSD, Srinagar.
- Provision of escorts for civil goverment officials, JOE 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. One such occasion was during the disarming of JKAP (J&K Armed Police) personnel.
- Local defence and perimeter patrolling of own garrison and camp areas.
The CI operations being conducted by some artillery regiments in their designated areas of responsibility, include the following :-
- Cordon and search of militant infested villages on specific information of the presence of militants. In the case of small villages, cordon and search operations are conducted by artillery regiments entirely on their own. For larger villages the task is shared with infantry battalions in which case artillery regiments may be employed only for cordon or search or partly for both.
- Domination partrols 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 to deny to them unfettered access to the comforts of family life. This ensures that they are forced to suffer privations and consequently, there is a drop in their motivation levels and morale.
- Operations to seek encounters with ANEs in areas where they are known to operate.
- Road block 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 or restricting their movement to the hours of darkness.
- Ambushes at night along roads and tracks known to be frequented by the ANEs Raids on the militants’ jungle and mountain hideouts whenever information about these is obtained.
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.
Road Opening Duties (ROPS)
Road opening is, perhaps, the single most important function of artillery regiments in the Valley. ROPs of one to two column strength are employed for the opening of roads (Incidently, the term ‘ROP’ has become a generic term regarding road opening duties “Has the ROP been laid?” “When is the next ROP?” “At what time will your ROP be effective?” “Hay Natha Singh is on ROP today.” The term ‘ROP’ is In common use as spelt out in the examples.)
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 anti-tank and antipersonnel 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 it 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 (See Diagram opposite).
Deployment in built-up areas such as town 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 ensured that minimum casualties can be caused to own troops. The ANEs 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 troops are taught to avoid falling into such a trap.
Whenever possible, the ROP is laid along a different route each time. For example, in the diagram the ROP from Sharkhrew to Srinagar could also be laid via Balhama and via Ladu. Such flexibility hampers the ANEs disruptive activities, particularly the laying of mines and IEDs. Once the complete ROP is deployed, the ROP commander transmits the ‘road clear’ codeword to the Sector Headquarters. The waiting convoy is then given marching orders. The ROP’s most important task is to ensure the safe passage of the up and down convoy in the morning and the afternoon. As an immediate reaction, the ROP commander has a QRT (Quick Reaction Team) available with him. A QRT comprises one JCO and 21 OR (three sections of seven OR each) in three modified 1 Ton (or two 1 Ton and one 3 Ton) vehicles.
After the convoy has passed, the sections carry out vigorous patrolling of their areas of responsibility. They also carry out specific searches as per the ROP commander s orders. Rest and a break for breakfast and lunch is organised in pairs while the rest of the section maintains a continuous over the road as Army and SF traffic other than regular convoys keeps passing throughout day. The ROP commander utilises his QRT for domination, establishment of a road block and patrols nearby areas to gather information about the movement of ANEs. new recruitment and incidents of extortion and harassment of civilians by the ANEs Before the arrival of the second major convoy of the day, the road is once again checked thoroughly and the sections deploy again, this time at a location other than that used for deployment in the morning.
Finally, the ROP begins to reel back by 1630 hours and the troops return to the unit lines by 1800 hours after a grueling day in the field. The constant alertness, the unavoidable apprehension and anxiety and physical tiredness are bound to fray the nerves. In the evening the troops look forward to some lighthearted banter and entertainment. Star TV fare, particularly Zee TV, is much appreciated. Movies on the VCR channel provide a daily fix. The once-a-week night training in technical gunnery also provides a change from the monotonous routine. The next morning, it is business as usual as the ROP sets out again at 0600 hours to the cry of, “Jai ….”
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 partly Integral to ft. 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 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 show 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 QRT with confidence and reassurance.
The three vehicles of the protection party take their place at the head, centre and the tail of the convoy. The convoy commander and OIC of the protection party keeps himself free to move up and down the convoy in his Jeep to keep a check on convoy discipline and ensure that there are no large gaps. Bottlenecks and traffic jams in built-up areas have to be cleared quickly as vehicles are sitting ducks when halted in built-up areas.
whenever convoys are fired upon, and it is quite often, action, is immediately taken to move the vehicles out from the threatened area, return the fire and, In conjunction with personnel of ROP, an attempt is made to nab the militants responsible. However, the militants normally resort to firing only from stand-off 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 for example 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 convey to pass.
The convoy escort and protection parties act as a deterrent against militant attacks on army convoys. It is an important duty being performed with diligence and competence by artillery regiments in the Valley.
Counter Insurgency (CI) Operations
While moving from one place to another with a QRT and while escorting convoys, officers. JCOs and OR are vulnerable to ANE fire from unexpected directions at any time during the move, or even when a ROP is laid. Grenade attacks on passing SF vehicles are also fairly frequent. Of late, the ANEs have also started using rifle propelled grenades and rocket launchers. Mercifully, ANEs lack courage and adequate training, are not at all well motivated and, hence, fire from long stand-off distances with covered get-away routes. More often than not, their fire attacks are of nuisance value only Nevertheless, the omnipresent threat of becoming a casualty while moving in vehicles, causes psychological stress with long-term effects.
However, while conducting diverse CI operations, army personnel enjoy the advantage of confronting the ANEs at a time and tactically selected site of thee own choosing. Here, too, the Gunners have excelled in the planning and conduct of operations. Training in the science of technical gunnery and in the art of tactical gunnery, bestows on the Gunners a rare ability to quickly analyse a problem by discarding peripheral Issues and identifying its essential core Ingredients, to arrive at well considered solutions and to reduce the solution to systematic, yet flexible drills. In the Valley too the artillery regiments being employed for CI operations have evolved battle drills peculiar to the situations at hand and perfected and refined them to a fine art with methodical execution, rehearsals. briefings and de-briefings.
Each regiment with CI operations responsibilities has trained the equivalent of a commando platoon the personnel of which can stalk a quarry, almost as well as Jim Corbett stalked the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag. Field craft is painstakingly taught and diligently practiced. Eight out of 10 rounds count as average hits on a figure 11 target at 100 metres with an AK-47. These are standards which a hard boiled infantry battalion Commanding Officer would desire and be proud of in his commando platoon. Besides this elite nucleus force, the rest of the JCOs, NCOs and OR of a regiment are not more than a rung or two below the highest stop on the standards ladder.
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 new the more heavily Infested belts of Kupwara, Sopore. Baramulla Anantnag and Pulwama. The incidence of militant operations 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 July 1993 well-publicised catch of approximately 130 to 150 young boys, being forcibly taken to P0K for training, belongs to two artillery regiments deployed in the Sonamarg-Gund area for ROP duties.
The attitude of artillery regiments is humane and Irreproachable. Death-in-custody (DIC) cases are virtually unknown. Searches are invariably carried out in the presence of a male member of the house, a few village elders and a policeman. Due respect and consideration is shown to women and the elderly. The rod is never wielded with impunity and in a callous manner. Religious sentiments of the people are respected. The more difficult battle to win the hearts and minds of the people is also being waged with dedication, forethought and meticulous planning by the Gunners.
Administration and Welfare
Each artillery regiment is expected to provide two battery columns for operations upto 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 CI operations tasks. With 120 men routinely out on a daily basis, and taking into account normal commitments of a field regiment on courses, temporary duty, attachments, annual and casual leave, education and promotion examinations and cadres and vehicles and ordance stores collection parties, the personnel generally available in the regiment area during day time 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.
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.
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 alacrity 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 Officers and company commanders were slain or seriously Injured, particularly during an attack operation. The Gunners have always risen to such occasions, leading from the front.