Thursday, June 11, 2015

Lessons of the Surgical Strike in Myanmar

In the early hours of 9th June 2015, Indian Army’s Special Forces launched a cross-border attack on two rebel camps in Myanmar. The operation was not just a retaliatory response to the 4th June attack on an Indian Army convoy that killed about 18 army personnel, but was also pre-emptive in nature. India must seriously consider setting up a unified Special Forces Command in the wake of a changed geo-strategic environment in the sub-continent.

On 4th June 2015, in one of the worst attacks suffered by the Indian Army in a decade, at least 18 soldiers of the 6 Dogra Regiment were killed and 11 injured when Naga militants ambushed their convoy in Manipur's Chandel district.

The attack occurred between Paralong and Charong villages around 8.30 am when militants used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) at the convoy.

Most of the bodies were charred, officials said.

They laid an ambush on the road from Tengnoupal and, as an administrative convoy of four to seven vehicles reached the spot, the attack was launched. The attackers detonated country-made mines and opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) - called "Lathods" - on the soldiers of the 6 Dogras, according to reports reaching army headquarters.

This was the first time the Indian Army had lost 18 soldiers in a single strike in 20 years. It was also the first time that RPGs were used by insurgents on the army.

"An elite strike unit of Naga Army, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) carried out the ambush today (Thursday)," The NSCN-K said in a statement issued to the media.

The 9th June Operation – 

Intelligence and Planning

Sources said once clearance for the raid was given by the highest level of the government, detailed plans were drawn up for the assault by troops of the elite 21 Para (Special Force) Regiment.

Prior to the operation, intelligence was gathered by operatives who crossed over into Myanmar a couple of days earlier and returned with precise co-ordinates of the terror dens along with photographs.

Once specific intelligence inputs came on the two camps, showing that they were housing several National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) militants, and of other groups such as PLA (Peoples Liberation Army of Manipur), UNLF (United National Liberation Front) and the MNRF (Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front), the plan for the commando raid moved quickly. "Inputs clearly said that some militants in the camp were involved in the attack on our troops in Chandel last Thursday," one source said.

At a camp in the Ponyu area, the NSCN (K)'s 3rd brigade is based. And among its cadres were those who participated in operations against the Army. In Aungzeya area was the other camp which housed a mixed group of militants. Both camps had about 25 militants.

The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) had the necessary data ready since many months about the activities of the insurgent groups in the area which is called ‘Greater Nagaland’ by the militants. The local insurgent groups want a ‘Greater Nagaland’ carved out of the Naga-dominated areas in the neighbouring states within India and contiguous areas in Myanmar.

The commandos trained for three days at a make shift camp before carrying out the strike.

The Strike

Contrary to media reports, an Army source said: "There was no heli-drop. It was a one-night, ground operation. We couldn't have carried out a heli-drop because that would have alerted the militants." The SF troops were moved close to the border in advance by helicopters and were dropped off at Manipur-Nagaland junction with Myanmar. On the night prior to the strike, about 20-25 commandos trekked across the porous border into Myanmar. For some stretch of the approach to the target, they crawled in order to avoid detection.

Once on the ground, the contingent of the Special Forces split into two groups and headed for two camps being run by NSCN (K) and KYKL, who are believed to be responsible for the deadly ambush on June 4, they said.

The teams trekked through the thick jungles for at least five kilometers before they reached the training camps. "Each of the two teams was further divided into two sub-groups. While one was responsible for the direct assault, the second formed an outer ring to prevent any of insurgents from running and escaping," the sources said.

The strike by the Indian forces on the two locations across Tuensang in Nagaland and Ukhrul in Manipur lasted about 45 minutes and the camps were annihilated. There are conflicting reports on the number of militants killed in the operation. The army sources state that the militants suffered significant casualties - the number of militants killed has been between 22 and 50. The Indian raiding party returned safely without suffering any casualties.

Thermal imagery was also used to track the operation about which Myanmar authorities were kept in the loop, they said. Mi-17 helicopters of the Indian Air Force were put on standby, ready to be pressed into service to evacuate the commandos in case anything went wrong.  "The operation was carried out based on specific and very accurate intelligence" and the operation was overseen by General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Dimapur-based 3 Corps Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, the sources said.

The government of Myanmar was reportedly informed about the strike after their offices opened on the morning of 9th June. India and Myanmar have a "Hot Pursuit" Agreement pursuant to which, both the states' forces can cross the border, with consent, if they get any information on militant activity on the territory of the other state. In the past, Operation Golden Bird had been conducted along the Myanmar border in 1995 and Operation All Clear inside Bhutan in 2003. 

There is no doubt euphoria, on the successful surgical strike by the troops of the Indian Army’s 21 Para across the border in Myanmar. But one must appreciate the fact that faced with an existential threat, considering that Myanmar may not be a safe haven after all, the militant groups are likely to re-group and respond. Indian forces may have to be on the alert to foil attacks on civilian and military targets in the region in the foreseeable future.

Joint Special Forces Command

It is high time that India establishes a Joint Special Forces Command which will oversee and exercise operational control over the Special Forces of the three branches.

The Special Forces of states like the US, UK and France are placed under a unified command to enable optimal utilization of resources and achieve operational synergy.

In the US, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is a unified combatant command which oversees the various Special Operations Command of the four branches of the armed forces, namely, the Army, Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps. USSOCOM conducts several covert and clandestine missions, such as direct action, special reconnaissance, counter-terror operations, etc. Each branch has a Special Operations Command that is unique and capable of running its own operations, but when the different special operations forces need to work together for an operation, USSOCOM becomes the joint component command of the operation, instead of a SOC of a specific branch.

Joint Special Operations Command is a constituent command of the USSOCOM and is tasked to study special operations requirements and techniques to ensure interoperability and equipment standardization, plan and conduct special operations exercises and training, and develop Joint Special Operations Tactics.

In the United Kingdom, the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) and the Royal Navy’s Special Boat Service (SBS) are under the control of the UK Special Forces, a unified command of the Ministry of Defense.   
The proposal to establish a Special Forces Command in India was made in 2012 by a select panel on national security called the Naresh Chandra Committee.

“The Indian concept of employment of Special Forces has yet to graduate from that of tactical in support of conventional operations to strategic employment, as the US [Navy] SEALs,” or the British Special Air Service, said Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier and defense analyst. “This will have to be a political decision and would require a high degree of strategic sophistication, which I do not think the Indian political leadership is displaying for now.”

An Army official said India’s special ops forces — which number about 10,000 troops from the Navy, Air Force, Army and paramilitary units — have been used only for conventional warfare and internal security threats. The officer argued the special ops forces should be used for strategic tasks, such as deterrence against irregular threats and asymmetrical warfare.

According to General Katoch, asymmetric war is not launched against the military, but a nation. “Special Forces must be central to asymmetric response, but in the current context, we neither have the political will nor even the military will, and hence have not been able to establish deterrence to this asymmetric war.”

Bureaucratic barriers also may have played a role in the government’s inaction.

“The Indian bureaucracy, which supposedly handles these issues, has neither the expertise nor the structure needed for the purpose. The reluctance to allow the creation of a professional body can only be attributed to the bureaucracy’s fear of losing their clout and turf,” said Venkataraman Mahalingam, a retired Army brigadier and defense analyst.

Not all Special Forces’ operations can be publicly acknowledged or given publicity. In the Myanmar operation, the government of Myanmar had cooperated by allowing Indian troops to carry out the strike. In other situations, the forces may have to be inserted into enemy territory without the knowledge of the host country and objectives must be achieved in utmost secrecy. These types of clandestine operations can be carried out more effectively if a unified command is set up.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

US Special Forces' Operation in Syria - The Killing of Islamic Leader Abu Sayyaf

Unlike other operations of the US Special Forces, the raid which resulted in the killing of an Islamic State leader in Syria in mid-May 2015 did not receive much publicity. The raid, nevertheless, illustrates the effectiveness of the Delta Force and the intelligence gathered on the shadowy organization and its leaders. 

The US Special Forces carried out a rare raid in Eastern Syria around the middle of May 2015 killing an Islamic State leader Tunisian-born Abu Sayyaf described as the Islamic State’s “emir of oil and gas.” About a dozen IS fighters were also killed in the raid. The commandos captured the wife of Abu Sayyaf, known as Umm Sayaff and rescued an 18 year old Yazidi woman who had been held as a slave. While details of the operation have not been revealed, it has been reported that that about two dozen commandos belonging to the Delta Force entered Syria aboard Black Hawk helicopters and V-22 Ospreys on 15-16 May 2015 and killed Abu Sayyaf.

“Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s illicit oil and gas operations — a key source of revenue that enables the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan in a statement.

Oil smuggling provides "a key source of revenue that enables [Islamic State] to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians". the White House said.

According to an official of the Department of Defense IS fighters who defended the building and Abu Sayyaf tried to use women and children as shields, but Delta Force commandos used precision fire and separated the women and children. The operation, it is learnt, involved close hand-to-hand combat.

The commandos involved in the raid came under fire as soon as they landed near a multi-storey building used by Abu Sayyaf as his residence, in al-Amr, about 20 miles south-east of Deir al-Zour, near the oil facilities that he administered for the Islamic State. Around a dozen Islamic State fighters were killed in the exchange of fire with the US forces. According to reports, Abu Sayyaf “tried to engage” the commandos and was shot and killed. The commandos thereafter took his wife and the Yazidi woman back to the waiting aircraft. The raiding team was back in Iraq with the two women around dawn. Defense Department officials stated that the commandos succeeded in seizing laptop computers, cell phones and other materials from the site which may assist in intelligence assessments.

The objective of the night raid was perhaps to capture Sayyaf alive, but, he was reportedly killed after trying to “engage” U.S. forces. Still, both the Pentagon and the White House hailed the mission as a success, resulting not only in the seizure of some of Sayyaf’s communications equipment and other potentially valuable materials, but also the capture of his wife, Umm Sayyaf, who is also suspected to be a member of the Islamic State and a key player in the group’s terrorist activities.

The Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in a statement said that the killing of Sayyaf dealt a significant blow to the group. The slain leader was said to be involved in the terror group’s military operations and managed its “illicit oil, gas and financial operations” that enabled the Islamic State to raise funds for it to operate. According to DoD officials, the raid was approved by President Obama. While Carter declared the operation — Sayyaf’s death included — a “significant blow” to the Islamic State, some experts responded to the announcement with caution.

In an interview with the New York Times, former CIA analyst and White House national security advisor Bruce Riedel said it seemed like the raid was “a collection mission, the goal to capture someone or two someones who can explain how ISIS works.”

While suggesting that, in lieu of Sayyaf, “perhaps the wife can do that,” Riedel added, “To me, it demonstrates we still have large gaps in our understanding of the enemy and how it is organized.”

CNN’s analyst Peter Bergen was also skeptical. Pointing out that raids like the one on Sayyaf likely put the Islamic State’s leadership on high alert to operate more carefully, he questioned the real value of the mission.

“Taking out the guy who runs effectively the most important financing stream is obviously significant,” he said. “But what’s really significant is the computer records and all the materials that he would have with him as the head of this financing arm, if indeed that is the case that he is really that important.”

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Putin’s Strategy in Ukraine

[This post may be read along with the author’s earlier post on crisis in the Ukraine]

There is a growing apprehension that if the US and the West fail to stand up to Russia over Ukraine, Europe could descend into a major war.

A former US ambassador to Estonia predicted that Estonia and other Baltic States – all members of the NATO – could be targeted by Russia if Putin is allowed to hold on to Ukraine territory which has been seized by force. Serhii Plokhy wrote in the March of 2014 that if the Russian President’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimea region succeeded, Russia may seize other parts of Ukraine and beyond like Moldova and the Baltic States which had substantial numbers of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking minorities.

The genesis of the present conflict goes back to the last days of the Soviet Union whose collapse according to Putin was the “greatest geo-strategic catastrophe of the century.” Putin according to Ukrainian media reports had also questioned the legality of Ukraine’s secession from the Soviet Union in 1991. These two statements of the Russian President should give the West and the US an indication of the enormity of the challenge at hand and to find an amicable solution to the crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the nineties, the West did not have a strategy to partner Russia, (the successor state of the Soviet Republic) but was instead subjected to Washington’s triumphalism and superiority; it was a sort of imposition of victor’s peace. Russian pride was hurt and national interests undermined by the expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance right up to the Russian border. A partnership with Russia would have weaned Russia away from China and an alliance could have been forged to tackle the rampant jihadism in the form of Al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Middle East and elsewhere. This foresight was sadly missing then. Putin’s game plan, today, is a result of that folly.

Lessons not learnt

The Ukraine crisis must not be viewed in isolation. Russia’s increasing insecurity post-1991 as a result of the policies of the West and the US in particular has played a major role in triggering the conflict. The West did not learn from the 2008 Russo-Georgian War either. Georgia under President Mikheil Saakashvili had sought membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) which served as a major stumbling block to Russo-Georgian relations. During the NATO Summit in Bucharest in April 2008, the then US President George W Bush favoured offering Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine. However, Germany and France opposed the proposal on the ground that it would provoke Russia. NATO stated that Georgia and Ukraine would become members of the alliance and pledged to review applications for MAP in December 2008. The Russian President Putin stated that an expansion of NATO to Russian borders “would be taken as a direct threat to Russia’s security”. Russia’s policy became aggressive after the Bucharest Summit and it actively planned for an armed conflict with Georgia to thwart the latter’s accession to NATO and to bring about a regime change.

Putin’s Strategy and Objectives

Not only has the 2008 conflict with Georgia given Putin confidence, the annexation of the Crimean region with minimum efforts has emboldened the Russian strongman to go all out in eastern Ukraine. According to Michael Kofman “Moscow has found a winning tactic during its annexation of Crimea, and has made it the overarching strategy for achieving interests in broader Ukraine.” Russia’s use of operational ambiguity to create confusion, mobilizing the populace in support of its objectives, and creating points for plausible disengagement all suggest one thing: Moscow has become far more clever and capable than the West originally gave it credit. Western leaders continue to misjudge the nature of Ukraine, and Russia’s plans for it. That led to the loss of Crimea and may conclude in the loss of other regions of Ukraine.

Putin learnt and understood the shortcomings of the erstwhile Soviet military adventure in Afghanistan. He has chosen not to rely on overt and brute military force, rather opting to use proxies and Russian intelligence operatives and Special Forces under the garb of separatists in Ukraine. Russia is also using its conventional build-up to deter/counter any direct response from Ukrainian forces or the West. The West has been anticipating a Russian conventional thrust through its armoured column, which is very unlikely. The military build-up and the threat of invasion is leverage. Though Moscow may exercise the conventional option should its current tactics fail to achieve its objectives. By avoiding the use of its conventional forces Russia has given itself the option to disengage and deny any involvement, and the ability to spread disinformation about the conflict to sow confusion. In the intervening period, the plausible threat of an all-out invasion has rendered the West helpless.

Moscow is not keen to overstretch its army, at least not unless its current plan suffers an unexpected setback. However, even if Russia does invade, it will be a short-term push to break the Ukrainian military and withdraw, as it did in Georgia in 2008. Russia has sufficient military power to hand a crushing defeat to Ukraine’s military, but not an occupation force suitable for Ukraine. However, Vladimir Putin’s strategy is not aimed at annexing Ukraine in the short term. The strategy is to breakup, depriving Kiev of sovereignty in the east.

One thing is certain that Moscow has a huge stake in Ukraine and considering the upper hand Russia has today it would be impossible to expect Putin to surrender that advantage. According to Kofman, at a minimum, Putin would want Kiev to give political status and autonomy to the separatist-held regions, akin to the relationship between China and Hong Kong.

Ukraine is a lynchpin of Putin's plans for Russia, whether it's reassembling a historical empire or shoring up the Russian economy, Conley says. So whatever happens must support that. Kaplan says Putin can't pull back without gaining assurances that Ukraine will never become part of NATO. Ukraine, he said, needs assurances about its sovereignty and energy security.

Another analyst imagined three possible outcomes: A slow-simmering war that lasts for many years. A ceasefire that doesn't entirely satisfy Moscow and Kiev but essentially creates a frozen conflict for a long time. Or a political settlement where Russia withdraws forces from Ukraine and Kiev recognizes the separatists, Kofman said.

"That is the best likely outcome but most difficult to achieve politically," Kofman said of the last scenario. Just as Putin would find it difficult to fritter the gains of the conflict, it would be equally impossible for Kiev to grant recognition to the separatists.

Latest: CNN has reported that the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany have reached an agreement after marathon talks lasting nearly seventeen hours in the Belorussian capital of Minsk. A ceasefire is slated to come into force on 15th February and an agreement for both sides to pull back heavy weapons.

If the ceasefire holds -- which is far from certain -- it could bring to an end a 10-month conflict that has claimed more than 5,000 lives, many of them civilians, and plunged East-West relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Though the details of the agreement are not available it is likely to have in place a much broader demilitarized zone to run along the current front lines.

A deal was struck in September 2014 in Minsk which had also called for a withdrawal of heavy weaponry, self-rule in the eastern regions and a 30 km buffer zone along the Russian-Ukraine border. However, the deal disintegrated and fighting erupted. Only time will tell whether the parties to the conflict truly intend to put an end to the fighting on the ground.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Paris Terror Attack

At least 12 people including two police officers were killed and several others seriously injured in a terrorist strike at the Paris office of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo on 7th January 2015.

Witnesses told French media agencies that multiple gunmen were involved, and that they were seen armed with AK47s and at least one rocket launcher. According to one eye witness two black-hooded men entered the building with Kalashnikov rifles and started firing. They later escaped in a black car. At the time of writing, the Paris police stated that they had no clue about the identity of the terrorists.

French President Francois Hollande visited the scene in Paris's 11th arrondissement. Paris raised its terror alert to the highest setting in the aftermath of the attack, while the gunmen themselves are still reported to be on the run.

The Charlie Hebdo magazine is most famous internationally for publishing a controversial series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in 2012.

A year earlier, its offices were firebombed after a spoof issue featured a caricature of Mohammed on its cover.

According to Le Monde, a source said that one of the magazine's cartoonists, known as Riss, was injured during the attack.

The radical Islamic State group threatened to attack France minutes before Hebdo tweeted a satirical cartoon of the extremist group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi giving New Year's wishes.

This attack comes a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the European Union it should crack down on "Islamophobia" amid rising anti-Muslim protests instead of trying to teach Turkey lessons about democracy.

Erdogan told Turkey's ambassadors posted abroad in a speech in Ankara that they should pursue an assertive foreign policy to represent strong and self-confident "new Turkey" under his rule.

"Believe me it is regrettable that the EU is trying teach a lesson to Turkey instead of trying to tackle very serious threats it is facing," he said.

Erdogan said racist, discriminatory activities and Islamophobia were on the rise in Europe, complaining that racist organisations won sympathy in some Western societies with "each passing day".

"The Islamophobia -- which we constantly draw attention to and warn of -- represents a serious threat in Europe."

"If the issue is not dealt with seriously today, and if populism takes European politicians captive, the EU and European values will come into question," he said.

His comments came a day after controversial German group PEGIDA rallied thousands of people in Dresden for a demonstration against what it calls the "Islamisation of the Occident". One wonders whether the Turkish President will continue to issue idiotic statements even  after this terror strike.

The liberal immigration policy and affording asylum to people from North Africa and Middle East is now undermining the peace and security of west Europe. The West needs to get tough with terror spawning in their backyards and bar entry to so-called refugees from places like Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and other trouble spots.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Foiled Terror Bid or A Staged Encounter

An unnecessary controversy has erupted over the interception of a suspect boat by the Indian Coast Guard and its destruction off the coast of Gujarat on New Year’s Eve.

On New Year’s Eve, the Indian Coast Guard, acting on intelligence inputs received from India’s premier technical intelligence agency the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) thwarted what could well have been a terrorist attack on India’s off shore assets like Bombay High or on naval bases on the West coast or on a city in a repeat of 26/11. The Coast Guard intercepted a suspicious looking fishing boat reportedly carrying four persons about 365 kilometres (197.08 nautical miles) off Porbandar Coast. The suspect boat is known to have sailed from Keti Bunder, near Karachi and according to a statement (considered to be vague and giving rise to speculations) released by the Indian Ministry of Defence “was planning some illicit transaction”. According to media reports, the NTRO intercepted a call on 31st December 2014 (according to some reports it was 30th December 2014) originating in Karachi about a Pak fishing boat planning to conduct an illicit business in the Arabian Sea. The NTRO is reported to have been tracking the boat right from the time it left Karachi. The NTRO alerted the Coast Guard about the suspect boat, which in turn dispatched Dornier aircraft to trace the vessel.

A Coast Guard vessel CGS Rajrattan was diverted to the area of the suspect boat after it was detected by the Dornier. At the time of interception around midnight of 31st December, the suspect boat was unlit and was not on the usual route adopted by fishing vessels. The suspect boat did not have a name and was approximately 365 kms west-south west of Porbandar. When the Coast Guard vessel warned the boat to stop for further investigation, it tried to escape to the Pakistani side of the maritime boundary by increasing speed. The CGS Rajratan gave chase to the suspect boat for nearly one hour before managing to stop the boat after firing warning shots. The four persons on board the boat finding themselves cornered, hid themselves and set the boat on fire resulting in an explosion. The boat sank in the yearly hours of 1st January 2015 and the persons on board were believed to have been killed in the explosion on the boat.   

Pakistan, as usual, was quick to deny the Indian claim that the fishing boat was of Pakistani origin and it was ferrying terrorists and/or explosives. It raised question marks about the incident and denied that such an incident was of India’s making to tarnish Pakistan’s ‘image’. The Pakistanis were not alone. There were seasoned commentators in India and members of the opposition who questioned the veracity of the government’s claim.

A leading English daily, the Indian Express in its article raised several doubts over the encounter including suggesting the “use of disproportionate force” by the Coast Guard vessel. According to the article, “highly placed government sources” had stated that the intelligence had no link to terrorism and made no reference to any threat to India. The article seemed to suggest that NTRO intercepts pointed to small-time smugglers of liquor and diesel ferrying bootleg cargo from Gwadar to other fishing boats which were to have carried it into Karachi’s Keti Bunder Harbour. The article also raised doubts about the weather over the area at the point where the suspect boat was interdicted.

If a section of the media and certain members of the opposition have been foolish to question the government and the security agencies involved in the operation about the veracity of the incident, then it is pertinent to point out glaring lacunae in respect of the   questions raised. Firstly, what was an unmarked fishing boat with lights put doing 365 kms west south-west off Gujarat coast? Secondly, if the persons on board were petty smugglers ferrying liquor or diesel, why did they try to evade capture and flee? Thirdly why did smugglers blow the boat when cornered? Since when did firing warning shots across the bow aimed at suspected terrorists amount to use of lethal force? It is preposterous to even suggest that the Coast Guard personnel shot and destroyed the boat.

If the boat was engaged smuggling as has been suggested in the Indian Express article, between the port of Gwadar and Karachi, a rational explanation is owed to the readers as to what was the boat doing off Porbandar coast? The location of the purported smuggling route Gwadar-Karachi and the point of interdiction are miles apart. Again the theory that those on board were petty smugglers ferrying diesel to India is laughable because diesel is dearer in Pakistan as compared to India. And if it was drugs, then the contraband could have been dumped in the sea and they could have subjected themselves to search by the Coast Guard.
A question has been raised as to the basis on which a boat was intercepted beyond India’s territorial waters. And whether India had committed a breach of international law in so doing? The incident, indeed had taken place approximately around 197.08 nautical miles of the Indian coast, well within India's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Under international law (the law of sea) freedom of navigation is guaranteed and no boarding is generally the norm. However in exceptional circumstances, a naval ship may verify the boarded vessel’s right to fly its flag or may check its documents and further examine the suspect vessel if suspicion persists. In this case the suspect boat did not fly any flag and it was only subsequently identified as ‘Qalandar’. Given the tenuous relationship existing between India and Pakistan and sea route having been taken by Pakistan sponsored terrorists to attack Mumbai on 26th November 2008, India was well within its right to have asked the boat to stop for inspection. Also India’s energy resources are located in the proximity of the interdiction point.  

The NTRO-Coast Guard operation can be criticized only on the ground of not having followed the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down in the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike. In order to avoid a blunder of the scale of 26/11, the Indian Navy was appointed as the nodal agency for coastal security and INS Angre in Mumbai was designated as the Joint Operations Centre (JOC) for the western maritime frontier.

Hotlines to coordinate with various agencies, and state-of-the-art rapid messaging service technology to communicate with ships were installed to thwart any threat in real time. The JOC (West) was to operate under the command Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C) of the Western Naval Command. Non-adherence to any SOPs, howsoever serious it may be, is a matter to be reviewed by the concerned ministry or the Cabinet Committee on Security. However, that cannot be equated with doubts being raised about the encounter itself.

Pakistan while having vehemently denied any link to the suspect boat, captured two Indian fishing vessels with twelve fishermen within 72 hours of the incident.

India cannot afford to let even  a single suspect vessel slip past as had happened in March 1993 and November 2008.  The bottom line is irrespective of the fact whether the boat carried hooch, drugs, diesel or explosives or terrorists, it deserved to be destroyed and the Coast Guard’s action unless there is cogent evidence to the contrary needs to be defended and commended.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Krittika Biswas Case: An Update

The following is an update on the Krittika Biswas incident which took place in February 2011.

The case filed by Krittika Biswas, an Indian diplomat's daughter, against New York City and others, for wrongful arrest and detention on cyberbullying charges, was settled, according to her attorney Ravi Batra.

The incident occurred when Krittika was a 12th grade student at the John Bowne High School in Flushing, New York.

She was arrested February 8, 2011 after her school alleged that she had sent threatening and obscene e-mails to her calculus teacher Jamie Kim-Ross and Ivan Cohill, her gym teacher.

The real culprit, who was uncovered later, confessed to the crime, but was not criminally charged, the suit noted.

The civil suit sought at least $500,000 and $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages, respectively, as well as the termination of Howard Kwait, principal of the John Bowne High School, and teacher Jamie Kim-Ross, who retired recently.

The main defendants were the City of New York, the New York City Department of Education; Howard Kwait, who is employed by the Department of Education; Kim-Ross, a teacher employed by the DOE; Elayna Konstan, chief executive officer of the DOE Office of School and Youth Development; Margaret Maldonado, a police officer; and Larry Granshaw, another police officer.

Krittika joined the school in the 11th grade in 2009. She had differences with Kim-Ross about how many classes she would miss during a trip she was taking to India after her grandmother's death.

Kim-Ross, her math teacher, received the first threatening e-mail on November 8, 2010, and the second one on December 16. Her parents were called to the school and warned of severe consequence, even though Krittika maintained her innocence.

School officials claimed they traced the e-mail's Internet Protocol address to the apartment building where Krittika lived with her parents. Her proficiency in French added to the suspicion because the French word merde (murder) was used in the e-mail.

Kim-Ross and Cohill received two more threatening e-mails on February 6, 2011, after which the police were called in.

At the assistant principal's office, Granshaw questioned Krittika aggressively and asked her to confess to having sent the e-mails. According to the suit, the officer said that if she refused he would handcuff her and take her to 'jail with prostitutes and people with HIV.'

When Krittika did not confess, Granshaw handcuffed her tightly, so as make it extra painful for her, and continued the interrogation, the suit stated.

The next day, at the intervention of Batra, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown freed her without charges. "Judge Brown, as DA Brown is known, took the rare step to administratively dismiss all criminal charges against Krittika based upon my word -- such that Krittika never had to step into a criminal court and pled 'not guilty,' her file was 'sealed,' and she could legally say that she was never arrested," Batra noted.

Though exonerated by the legal authorities, the school insisted on more disciplinary action, suspending her in consultation with Department of Education authorities. According to the suit, Krittika was sent to a 'reform' school where 'alleged criminals' go for their constitutionally mandated education.

Later, she allegedly met the ostensible culprit who may have been upset because he had earlier been asked to leave a class as he had failed his trigonometry regents exam. But no action was taken against him and the suit noted discriminatory practices against South Asians compared to East Asians.

"Having completely won Krittika's case on the law, I advised, and Krittika agreed, with her diplomatic family's support, that in recognition of the warm relations between India and United States, that a just resolution of this case also needed to be mutually respectful in both tone and timing so as to enhance the bilateral relationship," Batra added.

[Source: 18.9.2014]