Intelligence officials have questioned the lack of preparedness on the part of the Indian Army in defending its installations despite having prior intelligence of an impending terror attack. In the wake of the Uri terror strike, The Sunday Guardian spoke to senior officials across multiple agencies involved in gathering intelligence and all of them stated that the strike could have been averted easily had the Army learnt its lessons from earlier such attacks.
A senior intelligence official said the fact that the terrorists were able to enter a highly fortified, well manned Army brigade headquarters was simply not acceptable. “Right now our focus is on other things, but once things settle down, someone needs to be held accountable as to how the terrorists managed to enter the HQ premises without being detected. Crossing the Line of Control (LoC), without being detected can be understood, but the fact that they managed to enter the base is something that points to a lack of seriousness on the part of senior Army officers who are stationed there,” the official said.
According to him, Uri, because of its proximity to the border, has always been high on the target list of Pakistani terrorists and with incursions across the LoC increasing in recent times, the Army should have been careful. “We could not believe initially that they had entered the base. The periphery of the Uri base was obviously not well manned. Else, how did four well armed terrorists manage to enter the base without alerting the sentries?”
As per initial investigations, the terrorists crossed the LoC on the intervening night of 16-17 September before mounting the attack on 18 September. The officials are yet to figure out where these terrorists hid for more than 24 hours before entering the Army base.
An official familiar with the investigation said that they have found that the outer periphery of the brigade headquarters had a substantive growth of wild grass and bushes, which made the work of the terrorists easier. “Despite clear instructions to keep the outer periphery clear, orders were not followed,” the official said.
A senior IPS officer, who was posted in Kashmir with the Intelligence Bureau, said that the responsibility of the recent incident rests solely with the Ministry of Defence. “A massive security audit of all military installations was ordered after the Pathankot attack and the ministry had conveyed to the government that all ‘chinks’ had been sorted out. A change of guard (6th Bihar Battalion was replacing the 10th Dogra when the attack took place) cannot be an excuse. A change of guard is a normal procedure for the Army. Security should not have been relaxed just because a change of guard was taking place,” the official said.
The intelligence agencies had shared specific inputs with the Army of an imminent terror attack, but despite that the Army commanders in Uri were unprepared. “There is something very seriously wrong due to which the incidents happened in Pathankot and now in Uri. If the defence establishments are attacked so frequently despite intelligence warning, and we are not able to stop them from entering our establishments, then the top brass of the country should be extremely worried. A rude shakedown of the top officials, including those who are sitting in MoD, needs to be done to give a message to the junior officials, that such incidents just cannot happen,” a serving Army official said.
After the Pathankot incident, the Ministry of Home Affairs had stated that the Multi Agency Centre has been strengthened and reorganised to enable it to work 24×7 to ensure real time collation and sharing of intelligence between the intelligence agencies, the states and the Centre to prevent any further attacks. It had also confirmed that security audit of all security establishments and infrastructure has also been carried out to assess physical security measures and border management had been strengthened through fencing, use of improved technology, better intelligence and synergising of intelligence flow to prevent infiltration. A committee headed by Lieutenant General (Retd) Philip Campose was appointed to look into the Pathankot incident and recommend measures to strengthen the security of various military establishments.
On 15 January, Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra had reviewed the arrangements for the safety and security of all vital civil and defence establishments and installations in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir, after which state DGP K. Rajendra Kumar had stated that the multi-agency security audit of all vital civil and defence establishments and installations across the state was complete. However, after the Uri incident, it seems that all these audits and steps taken were merely carried out on the paper.