Sunjuwan camp attack: Indian Army needs to consider 'scorched earth' tactics against terrorists and seize initiative

If someone is prepared to die for his cause then there is very little one can do to defend oneself or one’s fortifications against being at least partly breached. The terrorists who snuck into the Sunjuwan army camp in Jammu and Kashmir are into day three of the siege even as the armed forces eliminate them one by one.

 Sunjuwan camp attack: Indian Army needs to consider scorched earth tactics against terrorists and seize initiative

The Sunjwan army camp in Jammu was attacked by JeM militants on Saturday. PTI

There is no percentage in moaning about the fact they got in. They will always manage to winkle through the guardians of the gate because that is the nature and texture of a camp in unfriendly territory. You cannot guard every inch of the perimeter. And the fact that 9 February was the anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru, the mastermind of the 2001 Parliament attack, which had forces on high alert, could be why casualties weren't higher. The same goes for the recent firing on the Chili Pora camp near Shopian.

What is now necessary is to consider the post-attack options and factor in a revised ‘scorched earth’ policy so that lives of soldiers and civilians are saved. Scorched earth may have a terrible reputation, but at least in a reworked and controlled fashion — where a specific location is targeted and not a countryside — it could be viable.

Suffice to say, if there are no hostages then exchanging fire is a luxury because a soldier or a civilian can be hit in the crossfire. It is much better to simply destroy the building in which the terrorists have taken refuge or are holed up. After all, they are only brick and mortar and can be rebuilt. The stress of flushing out these killers with boots on the ground must now be replaced by long-distance shelling.

India should not be squeamish about this approach. Even as this piece is being written, news is breaking that mortar firing and setting the building ablaze swiftly ended the Sunjuwan impasse. Once it is confirmed that no civilians are on the premises, there is no need to expose soldiers to hostile fire. India lost five good men.

More importantly, India has to accept that this demoralising scenario of having its military installations and camps invaded is not going to stop. However much one might wish it, that's not going to happen. Perhaps the only alternative now is to use intelligence to pinpoint terror training camps and bivouacs and employ preemptive measures. Take the fight to that lot and wipe out their locations.

Indian camps also have to widen the gap between themselves and the approach terrain. Again, a self-imposed version of scorched earth calls for a cordon sanitaire which creates a dead zone around the camp so there is no concealment possible, a veritable no man’s land of nothingness. You cannot have a facility nestled in a hill with rock and foliage to provide cover to hostiles. If they have to cover a couple of hundred metres of open space, it makes access that much more difficult.

The reactive responses which are currently the norm give the erroneous impression that our troops somehow have failed in their surveillance and allowed the terrorists to get the better of them. This is a very uncharitable interpretation, but it does manifest itself and since maintaining morale is of the essence — whether filing FIRs against officers and men for defending themselves against stone pelting mobs or not giving our men carte blanche against bonafide terrorists — we have to be careful before questioning their competence.

Updated Date: Feb 12, 2018 17:05:30 IST