Lieutenant General Kamaljit Singh, General Officer, Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Command addresses a press conference in Chandigarh on Wednesday, January 6, 2016. (Press Trust of India photo)
Chandi Mandir: The army today dismissed criticism over deployment of National Security Guard (NSG) over army in a predominant manner in the counter-terror operation in the Pathankot air base, saying it was a "joint decision" and that the army was fully involved in it.
"There was NSG, Air force, Garud commandos. Application of NSG was a joint decision taken at an appropriate level which included service chiefs," said Lieutenant General Kamaljit Singh, GoC-in-C, army's Western Command, told a media briefing in Chandi Mandir.
There has been criticism of the decision to deploy the NSG personnel flown from Delhi on Saturday morning in the air force base in Pathankot when a larger number of army commandos were available in nearby garrison in the border city itself Army's special forces commandos were said to be better equipped to deal with the siege of the base.
Lieutenant General Singh said terrorists holed up in buildings in the air force station took "advantage" of it which took time in eliminating them.
He said they also wanted to avoid a hostage situation as a large number of families and foreign trainees were residing inside the base.
"The buildings in the air force base station are such that which are located close to family quarters. The final group of two terrorists was in a two-storeyed structure where in the first our own troops were there. They (the families) had to be evacuated first and we had to avoid hostage situation because of that it took time.
"I also want to tell you that within these barracks, which are MES constructions. They are covered with steel doors. It is like sitting inside a bunker inside a building and so terrorists took advantage of it. The final body was recovered from inside of this structure," said Lieutenant General Kamal Jit Singh at the Western Command Headquarters.
Throwing light on the use of fire to eliminate the terrorists, Lieutenant General Singh said "excessive" firepower was not used because of the presence of families in the quarters and civilians pockets in the area.
"The basic concept is to safeguard the strategic assets. We also follow a principle of calibrated use of force.
We have too much firepower which cannot be used in this operation because there were family quarters and civilian pockets outside the air force base. This is why we used that much fire power which was required in that condition.
"For that we had to take even risks. It took time....We had to localise them (terrorists) to a very small area and finally eliminated them. We were under instructions and it was our concept to avoid unnecessary casualties. We took calculated risk so as not to have unnecessary casualties," he said.
"There are strategic assets here and there can be hostage situations as there are 11,000 people live here and 3,000 families, and above all, foreign trainees and had there been any hostage situation, it is NSG body which is specially trained to rescue them," he said.
Lieutenant General further said that it was the success of this operation that Air force was station operational. Had there been any damage to the airport, in that situation how could we have brought NSG here," he asked.
On why NSG was brought in for this operation, Lieutenant General said, "NSG was brought in because firstly strategic assets were over here. Secondly there can be hostage situation. People were living inside the campus which could have taken hostage...NSG are special troops (to handle such situation)."
Asked how militants entered the air force base station and what time they entered, Lieutenant General said, "an inquiry has been ordered by airforce and NIA is investigating the case."
Asked when it received the first alert about terrorists, he said, "We got information on January one during afternoon."
"In this case it was a serious alert as we were told that 6-8 (terrorists were there)," he said.
To a question about the source of the alerts, Lieutenant General Singh said, "we got alert from Punjab police also and from central agencies."
However, he said the alert issued by Punjab police on December 30, was very general which said that 15 militants had entered into the Indian territory.
On reports about Punjab police's lapse in Pathankot terror attack, he said, "I will not comment on it. It is a subject matter of inquiry."
"We had initially report of 4-6 militants and then we made contact with six of them and all of them were eliminated," he said.
Asked whether there could be any local support to terrorists, Lieutenant General said, "Some localised support cannot be absolutely ruled out. It will all be looked into. NIA will look into it. All aspects of this case will be looked into it."
Asked why terrorists struck at the air force base, Lieutenant General said, "It is strategically important. Imagine the kind of publicity you can gain that you have targeted strategic air base. Secondly it is in the vicinity. It is easy to reach here. It is only 25 km from the area."
On asked about potential hostage situation when terrorists attacked Pathankot air force base station, he said, "It could have developed into a hostage situation. In any case, all along the operation, there was a great possibility of taking a hostage situation because there are air men living in those barracks / residential area.
"They were brought out by army columns, NSG officials. They were brought down from the windows," he said to a question how two of militants were eliminated.
When asked whether army started any combing operation between the period of getting first alert and attack by terrorists, he said, "combing of those areas was the primary the responsibility of police. We had to ensure security to our strategic assets. Area was checked out and QRT was in place. Air force also carried out searching for terrorists," he said.
To a question on militant bodies, he said, "There are four bodies of militants. Two have been cooked up. Some parts of bodies were scattered around there which are being forensically examined. The other four bodies which are recovered a call will be taken whether to destroy them or not because they were carrying explosives."
Asked about the cordoning off of Tibri in Gurdaspur, he said, "There is some information. Police and army were looking into it. Every day there are two or three cases of such information it is being checked out."