New Delhi: If the Air Force gets its way, it would have the right to fire in self-defence when fighting Naxal rebels. P V Naik, Air Chief Marshal, confirms that he has formally requested the Ministry of Defence to sanction this.
In September, a bullet fired by Naxals missed an air force pilot in Chattisgarh. Before that, in April, a helicopter on a casualty evacuation mission was targeted by Maoists when it was flying over Gadchiroli in Maharashtra.
And in November 2008, a flight engineer was killed when Maoists fired at a helicopter evacuating injured policemen in Chhattisgarh.
The air force wants to use heavy and light machine guns to hit back at Maoists. Without the right to fire back, it says its operations against Naxals are severely limited.
But for the government, the issue is a complex one, not least because tribals in Naxal-infested areas could be caught in the crossfire.
Defence Minister AK Antony says, "We have not taken a decision, we will decide soon, but we do not want to directly use the armed forces against the Naxals."