‘Army has accepted its mistakes for an act in which innocent civilians were killed’.
New Delhi: The personnel of the 21 Parachute Special-Forces (21 Para SF) regiment involved in the 5 December operation at Mon district of Nagaland had got “credible intel” regarding the movement of terrorists of the banned National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-YA)’s Yung Aung faction that was generated by its own formation and that by the Intelligence Bureau (IB).
It was after getting this “intel” which said that the terrorists will be passing through the area in a pickup truck, that an operation, led by a Major rank officer, was planned and executed. Sources aware of the development, while describing the chain of events that led to the killing of six villagers of Oting village and the injuring of two, told The Sunday Guardian that “it was an honest mistake that went horribly wrong”, and that the 21 Para SF has never even been accused of extra judicial executions or collateral damage in the past.
Sources said that the personnel of Special Forces (SF), after getting the intel, launched a surveillance exercise and set up ambush parties at two different places through which the terrorists were expected to drive through. Soon enough, a pickup that matched the intel, was spotted in which approximately eight people were spotted sitting inside the pickup. The spotter of the SF also saw a “rifle” in the hands of one of the occupants of the pickup, a development which was classified as “doubtful”. This observation was passed to the ambush parties ahead.
Following this, the objective was changed from “ambush” to “stop and check”. When the vehicle approached the first team, the SF scouts came out and waved the driver and the occupants to stop the vehicle, but they refused to do so and “sped off”. This development was then passed to the second ambush team that was waiting ahead.
The same chain of action was repeated at the second point, but this time the SF personnel fired at the tyres of the pickup truck (an action, which, as per an officer of SF, should have been avoided) when it refused to stop following which the vehicle came to a halt and the occupants, all civilian miners, as it eventually turned out, jumped out of the truck and started running.
As per the narrative shared by the officials, the first person who jumped off from the truck had a rifle in his hand that led to firing from the SF personnel on the eight occupants of the vehicle that led to on-the-spot death of six and injuries to two villagers.
When the “operation” ended, the squadron realized its “mistake”, as the official said, and it was the SF personnel who rushed the two injured to the Dibrugarh hospital. Within minutes, the Head Quarter was informed about what had happened.
However, as per the account of the two survivors and the statement put out by the various social and political Nagaland based groups, the SF personnel did not wave at the pickup before shooting at them. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), considered as the most influential of all the armed groups active in the region, too, has released a statement stating that the Indian army personnel did not signal to stop the pick-up van, a claim made by Home Minister Amit Shah in Parliament. The NSCN has called the entire event as a “botched ambush with deliberate mission to kill and nothing to do with ‘credible’ intelligence of NSCN movement in the area”.
Source said that the SF team that had taken part in the operation wanted to go to the police station. but they were told that the police team will be arriving at the location and hence they should wait.
However, rather than the police, a “mob” of irate villagers turned up who were carrying swords and muzzle guns. Even as the SF personnel were engaged in placating the understandably angry villagers, their vehicles were set on fire and the head of one of the SF personnel was “cut into half” using “Dah” (local sword) following which the SF personnel fired on the villagers for self defence after firing in the air without any effect.
At least 14 SF personnel who took part in the operation, are admitted in the hospital with the leading officer admitted in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The dead SF personnel has been identified as 24-year-old Gautam Lal, a resident of Nauli village, Tehri, Uttarakhand, who had joined the Indian army in 2018. The villagers in the region regularly carry locally made rifles that are used for hunting purposes and the fact that the SF personnel did not factor into account this common knowledge, as the chain of events show, is likely to come up during the Court of Inquiry (CoI) that has been ordered by the army. The CoI, which has already begun, is headed by a Major General rank officer. It will also examine the “credible intelligence” that led to execution of the operation. Indian army officials said that the Army has accepted its mistakes for an act in which innocent civilians were killed. The CoI will be fixing responsibility on the officers concerned for omission and commission and it is expected that stringent action is likely to be taken against them. On 13 November, an Assam Rifles Colonel, his wife and eight-year-old son, and four soldiers were killed in an ambush by terrorists near the border with Myanmar in Manipur.