Army training 50,000 men to tackle Naxals


NEW DELHI: The government may have decided not to draft it for the anti-naxal offensive, but the Indian Army has started preparing for the possibility of being called upon to tackle what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls India's gravest internal security threat.

Army Headquarters has drawn up a plan to keep about 50,000 soldiers - approximately 5 divisions - in readiness to help the civilian authorities deal with the growing Naxal threat. A training programme, especially designed to meet the challenge that the Left wing extremists pose, has been drawn up, with the Lucknow-based Central Command being given the task of readying the soldiers for what could potentially be the single-biggest internal mobilisation outside the insurgency-ravaged J&K and the northeast.

The rigorous training schedule aims to re-orient troops, conditioned to fight hostile nations as well as insurgents of J&K and northeast, for a battle which is to be fought in the heartland and against an enemy adept at blending into the population.

The Army believes that its approach will be radically different from the way paralimitary troops engaged in the anti-Naxal fight have been taken through the paces. Army officials say that paramilitary forces are engaged in random jungle bashing which is fraught with the risk of collateral damages. As against this, they plan, if and when called in, to create a security grid which would isolate the civilian population from the insurgents.

The anti-Naxal training module focuses on acquiring intimate knowledge of the topography and the tactics used by Maoists. All this would require the sodiers to unlearn many of the lessons imparted to them for conventional warfare, and use tactics different from those in vogue in J&K and northeast.

The Army, which has already identified four senior officers for appointment as security advisors to the worst Naxal-affected states, plans to keep the specially-trained divisions in "ready-to-deploy" condition.

For that, it is pulling out troop components from artillery,armoured and other arms to put them through the new training module. Besides, the infantry units returning from counter-insurgency deployments in Kashmir and northeast will be put through the new training schedule once they have had enough rest and recuperation, sources said.

As a prelude to the eventual deployment, the Army has already stepped up its intelligence gathering capabilities in the Naxal belt. It traditionally never had any intelligence networks in the tribal areas of central India. To fill the gap, Central Command soldiers who understand tribal languages, have been deploying for intelligence gathering and analysis.

Authoritative sources said the four brigadiers, with extensive experience in counter-insurgency operations in northeast and Kashmir, have been identified for deputation to the Union home ministry. These officers will be appointed as security advisors to the unified commands, comprising paramilitary and state polices, that are being set up in Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.

These officers would be based in New Delhi as the defence ministry is reluctant at present to post them in the states, given the confusion over chain of command and other concerns, sources said.