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Sunday, 22 February 2009

From Today's Papers - 22 Feb 09




Supreme Commander of Armed Forces
has No Time for Ex-soldiers


New Delhi
A delegation of ex-soldiers Saturday marched to the Rashtrapati Bhawan and returned over 3,000 gallantry and meritorious service medals to protest the rejection of their demand for "one rank one pension" - and complained that President Pratibha Patil, the supreme commander of the armed forces, "did not have time to meet us".

Patil, the supreme commander of the armed forces, did not personally receive the medals, which were collected by presidential palace officials.

"We are really hurt that the supreme commander of defence forces did not have the time to meet us. We expect she (Patil) will give us time and listen to our problems," said Major General (retd) Satbir Singh of the Indian Ex-servicemen's Movement (IEM) that organised the protest for the second time this month. The previous one was on Feb 8.

The IEM is demanding that irrespective of the date on which a soldier retires, he or she should get the same pension, which rises every time there is a wage revision. The demand has now arisen because of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, which did not address the "one rank one pension" issue. The government has rejected the demand on administrative and financial grounds.

"We fought for the country without caring for our lives and are now compelled to fight another battle for our rights. We are demanding 'one rank one pension' and as a protest are returning the honours we won by putting our lives at take," Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra said.

"We feel so dejected today that we are compelled to return out lifetime honours for our rights. Despite a raw deal being meted to us, we are ready to lend our support in any hostile situation," said Maj. Gen. (retd) Balbir Kataria while handing over his meritorious service medal.

Despite the central government rejecting their demand, the ex-soldiers have decided to continue their struggle.

"We are in process of collecting more medals and will return them to the president. We have received support from across the country and ex-servicemen abroad to take the struggle forward," said Warrant Officer (retd) K. Bala.

Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju had Wednesday said that though the "one rank one pension" demand had been rejected, "the government is also examining whether certain improvements can be made in the pension being given to the old pensioners".

According to IEM officials, a sepoy who retired before 1996 gets a monthly pension of Rs.3,670, but one who retired between 1996 and December 2005 gets Rs.4,680. A sepoy who retired after January 2006 gets Rs.8,700.

Effectively then, an army havildar, who retired earlier, gets pension money that is less than what a sepoy retiring after January 2006 gets though the havildar enjoys a higher rank. The mismatch applies to all ranks.

Pensioners on the warpath

Sandeep Unnithan

February 20, 2009

India Today expert view on Pensioners on the warpath

For decades, Colonel Kanwar Bharadwaj's proudest possession was the Sena Medal which the President pinned on his chest for gallantry in the face of advancing Pakistani forces in Jammu and Kashmir during the 1971 war. Almost 30 years later, his son Captain Umang Bharadwaj was posthumously decorated with the Shaurya Chakra for fighting insurgents in the same state.

Recently, Kanwar packed his and his son's medals into a clear bag, taking them back to Rashtrapati Bhavan where he had so memorably been decorated. "We earned these medals in the face of fire, but the unequal treatment by the government has forced us to return them," says Colonel Bharadwaj, 65, who retired a decade ago. He joined thousands of other ex-servicemen who returned their medals in an attempt to sensitise the Government to their demand of One Rank One Pension (OROP) or the same pension for the same ranks irrespective of the date of retirement.

India has a 1.1-million-strong army with a larger force of ex-servicemen— nearly two million pensioners, or two retired soldiers for every serving soldier. In contrast, there are 39 lakh central government employees and only 19 lakh pensioners, or one retired person for every two employees. This is because government servants retire at the age of 60, but soldiers who are recruited at the age of 19 begin retiring from the age of 35. This is done in order to keep the armed forces young.

Each year around 55,000 personnel retire from the armed forces but less than 10 per cent find re-employment in the government. In the absence of jobs, pension becomes a powerful rallying point for former servicemen.

For close to two decades OROP—currently given only to MPs, service chiefs, army commanders and secretaries to the government—has been dangled as a carrot. Former servicemen are a respectable votebank with the ability to influence outcomes in several north Indian states, which is why they are courted.

UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi endorsed OROP at a rally in Punjab in 2002 and the Congress even included it in its 2004 poll manifesto. With less than three months for the general elections, there are signs of this becoming a political issue again.

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh has firmly endorsed it and BJP President Rajnath Singh said that the party would consider the demand very seriously and include it in its election manifesto. "This is not a committal answer and we are prepared to support only those political parties who will grant us OROP," says Lt-General Raj Kadyan (retd), President of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM).

The present Government has already ruled out OROP. Responding to a query from MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju said OROP was unacceptable due to 'administrative, financial and legal reasons'.

The financial implications—estimated at Rs 2,200 crore each year—and the prospects of similar demands from other government employees is one reason the political parties get cold feet. "The minute you open the door to OROP, the government will go bust," says a finance ministry bureaucrat. "If other employers like the Railways begin asking for OROP, the Government will simply be overwhelmed by requests."

There is, however, little unanimity on this. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence this year endorsed OROP for the armed forces. "The OROP demand is completely justified due to the unique nature of the armed forces. If MPs can get the same pension why can't a country with a trillion-dollar economy support its soldiers?" asks Chandrashekhar.

The Sixth Pay Commission is silent about OROP and has widened the disparities between ex-servicemen, say retired soldiers. A soldier retiring on December 31, 2005 for instance will draw Rs 3,917 throughout his life as pension but his compatriot retiring just a day later will draw Rs 6,100.

Likewise, a hawaldar with 24 years of service who retires in December 2005 gets Rs 5,600 and a sepoy, who is two ranks his junior but retires after 2006 with 17 years of service receives Rs 6,860.

An out-of-the-box recommendation on how to reduce the pension burden did come, and not from the armed forces, but from the contentious Sixth Pay Commission.

Last year, it suggested that service personnel be inducted into Central paramilitary organisations (CPOs) like the BSF and the CRPF after their early retirement where they could serve till the age of 55.

This would reduce the need to pay full pensions, fill about 35,000 vacancies in the CPOs and defence civilian posts every year and reduce the government's pension burden by nearly Rs 800 crore each year which the government could use to pay OROP to past pensioners. Lateral inductions would in fact have obviated the need for more pensions. "If our soldiers are given some sort of employment till the age of 60, we will not need to pay them pensions," says Kadyan.

However, the Ministry of Home Affairs, which controls the CPOs, refused to allow lateral induction of ex-servicemen. In a letter to the Ministry of Defence last year, Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta ruled this out citing various problems of seniority, differing ethos and selection processes.

The real reason say exservicemen is that the police organisations are afraid of losing control over the recruitment process and of being swamped by the armed forces.

With each passing year the pension bill has been increasing. Defence pensions currently account for less than 40 per cent of the government's annual pension bill of Rs 30,000 crore. "Must we continue to burden the taxpayer by carrying so many pensioners? Even the US cannot afford to give pensions to so many veterans," says Major-General Surjit Singh (retd), arguing for lateral induction into the paramilitaries to end the pension debate. But with innovative solutions being given short shrift, the war between the former servicemen and the Government seems to be going nowhere.

'Supreme commander of armed forces has no time for us'

NEW DELHI: A delegation of ex-soldiers Saturday marched to the Rashtrapati Bhawan and returned over 3,000 gallantry and meritorious service medals to protest the rejection of their demand for "one rank one pension" - and complained that President Pratibha Patil, the supreme commander of the armed forces, "did not have time to meet us".

Patil, the supreme commander of the armed forces, did not personally receive the medals, which were collected by presidential palace officials.

" We are really hurt that the supreme commander of defence forces did not have the time to meet us. We expect she (Patil) will give us time and listen to our problems," said Major General (retd) Satbir Singh of the Indian Ex-servicemen's Movement (IEM) that organised the protest for the second time this month. The previous one was on Feb 8.

The IEM is demanding that irrespective of the date on which a soldier retires, he or she should get the same pension, which rises every time there is a wage revision. The demand has now arisen because of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, which did not address the "one rank one pension" issue. The government has rejected the demand on administrative and financial grounds.

" We fought for the country without caring for our lives and are now compelled to fight another battle for our rights. We are demanding 'one rank one pension' and as a protest are returning the honours we won by putting our lives at take," Commodore (retd) Lokesh Batra said.

" We feel so dejected today that we are compelled to return out lifetime honours for our rights. Despite a raw deal being meted to us, we are ready to lend our support in any hostile situation," said Maj. Gen. (retd) Balbir Kataria while handing over his meritorious service medal.

Despite the central government rejecting their demand, the ex-soldiers have decided to continue their struggle.

" We are in process of collecting more medals and will return them to the president. We have received support from across the country and ex-servicemen abroad to take the struggle forward," said Warrant Officer (retd) K. Bala.

Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju had Wednesday said that though the "one rank one pension" demand had been rejected, " the government is also examining whether certain improvements can be made in the pension being given to the old pensioners".

According to IEM officials, a sepoy who retired before 1996 gets a monthly pension of Rs.3,670, but one who retired between 1996 and December 2005 gets Rs.4,680. A sepoy who retired after January 2006 gets Rs.8,700.

Effectively then, an army havildar, who retired earlier, gets pension money that is less than what a sepoy retiring after January 2006 gets though the havildar enjoys a higher rank. The mismatch applies to all ranks.

© Copyright 2008 ExpressBuzz

Obama signs 'Barack' to fallen troops' kin

Christina Bellantoni

In his first few weeks in office, sometime between celebratory bill signings and phone calls from foreign leaders, President Obama sat in the Oval Office for the most somber task of his presidency - penning letters to families of troops killed in combat.

" This was real, it was personal, it was so important to us," said Thya Merz, whose son Marine Lance Cpl. Julian Brennan was killed Jan. 24 in Afghanistan.

The letter was signed " Barack," Ms. Merz told

The Washington Times.

" Not 'president,' just his first name, and it just felt like, OK, my son has been acknowledged," she said.

Mr. Obama personalizes each letter, asking staffers to gather details about the service member, such as their hometown and where they were stationed, a White House aide said. The letters are sent to parents and spouses, and sometimes children of the fallen troops.

The president writes the notes by hand, then the letters are typed before he adds his signature.

Mr. Obama wrote the first few letters for troops who died in Iraq and Afghanistan while George W. Bush was president, and has written at least a dozen more since taking office.

The president told NBC News that the duty falls to him, though he did not initiate the wars and opposed the invasion of Iraq. In those moments of signing the letters, he said, " you realize every decision you make counts."

The White House declined to release any of the private letters or the names of families who received them, but The Times spoke with some who shared the contents of their letters.

Cpl. Brennan, 25, was supporting combat operations in Afghanistan's Farah province when he was killed last month.

Ms. Merz said the president's letter to her family in honor of her son was "lovely" and added, "It is meaningful to have Julian's death noted personally by him."

Six weeks before Cpl. Brennan was deployed, the Brooklyn resident married his fiancee to make sure she would have benefits if he was killed abroad.

Ms. Merz said she and her son often talked about national service. Like the president, she opposed the war in Iraq. As for Afghanistan, she described herself as ambivalent, but said that she and her son came to an agreement that " if our nation was going to engage in military action, everybody should serve."

As a parent of someone in combat, she realized, " I no longer have the privilege of saying I don't agree and not paying attention to what our nation was doing," she said.

Ms. Merz said she was struck by the personal tone of Mr. Obama's letter, which arrived before the official correspondence from Congress, and she wasn't sure whether they were his words or those of a staffer.

When told by The Times that Mr. Obama writes the letters himself, she said the words became more powerful.

" It says to me that he, too, will be paying attention to more than just the numbers, but the real stories," Ms. Merz said.

" One of the things I felt committed to even though I didn't agree with our military ventures was reading the names of the troops killed as they were listed," she said. " I just need to think about these people as individuals, and I hope that as a nation we are doing that and seeing them as real sons and daughters."

She added that Cpl. Brennan was " just beginning to grasp the real life of the Afghanis around him, feeling very committed to the human side of what was happening in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Their last conversation was on Inauguration Day, four days before Cpl. Brennan was killed by a roadside bomb. Both supported Mr. Obama's election, but they spoke that day about the Afghan people, she said.

Ms. Merz said she had been considering making the trip from New York to Washington for the inaugural festivities, but " I'm glad I didn't. I was home to get my son's call."

" I am so glad the president is trying to do the right thing personally in terms of families and the soldiers," she said.

" He has a monumental task in front of him."

As Mr. Obama adjusts to the traditions bestowed upon the president as commander in chief, the duty is far different from saluting the Marine standing next to his Marine One helicopter or getting used to people standing when he walks into the room.

The president said on NBC News that the letters serve as a reminder - " that you've got hundreds of thousands of people - around the world who are putting themselves in harm's way and you are the commander in chief."

The White House said copies of the letters are preserved for historical archives.

The aide described the letters as " very gracious " but would not share the text because of the sensitive and personal nature of their content. The letters mention that the president appreciates the service member's sacrifice.

While serving as a U.S. senator, Mr. Obama would send families of Illinois service members condolence letters and an American flag that had flown over the Capitol.

Some he would call personally.

Mr. Bush also sent personal letters to the families of every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, he told The Times in an interview last year. He said he leaned on his wife, Laura, for support in the gut-wrenching task.

Mr. Bush also met privately with more than 500 families of troops killed in action and with more than 950 wounded veterans, said Carlton Carroll, a White House spokesman during the Bush administration.

" Everything you do matters," Mr. Obama told Fox News a few days after the NBC interview. " I'm now signing letters to the families of troops who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan.

" Every time you sign that, you are reminded that you have enormous responsibilities and so, that's why all of these debates - when I'm talking to Democrats or Republicans, one of the things I try to remind them and something I remind myself every single day is the only criteria for what I do should be - is it working for the American people?

" Because this job is too big, too important, to just want to occupy space," he said. " And if I've spent the next four years, every day, making decisions based on that single criteria, is this going to help the American people achieve their dreams and keep them safe, then I'll be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, 'You know what, you did a good job.' "

Pakistani Troops Kill 25 Militants,
NATO Supply Tanker Bombed


Islamabad
Pakistani security forces have killed 25 militants in overnight clashes as a separate roadside bomb attack Saturday on a NATO oil tanker left one dead in a tribal region, officials said.

Meanwhile, two people were killed in the Dera Ismail Khan district in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslim groups continued to rise a day after a suicide bomber killed 35 people at a Shia funeral.

Helicopter gunships and artillery targeted several militant locations overnight in Bajaur tribal district, where Pakistani security forces are fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. The action that started late Friday continued Saturday morning.

"Our forces have destroyed some important hideouts of militants and killed some 25 insurgents, including a commander Faizullah," said a security official from paramilitary troops Bajaur Scouts.

Government forces launched a security operation in Bajaur in late August to eliminate Taliban and Al Qaeda sanctuaries used to carry out cross-border raids on US-led international forces in Afghan province of Kunar.

According to the official claims, the action has so far killed hundreds of rebels, but the security forces are still struggling to gain complete control over the district.

In the neighbouring Khyber tribal region, a remote-controlled bomb planted along Pak-Afghan Highway destroyed a tanker carrying fuel supplies for NATO forces.

"One bypasser was killed and two more injured, while the driver remained unhurt," said a local official, Amirzada Khan.

NATO forces in the land-locked Afghanistan rely heavily on supplies of fuel, equipment and other items through the vital Khyber route.

According to the US State Department, up to 75 percent of the US military supplies, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops stationed in Afghanistan, go through the famous Khyber Pass.

But Taliban militants have disrupted the supplies by carrying out dozens of raids along the route. More than 400 trucks and containers have been torched or plundered over the last three months.

Separately, sectarian tensions in Dera Ismail Khan district, which borders ungoverned tribal region, intensified a day after a suicide bombing at Shia funeral procession killed 35 people and injured more than 150.

Unknown gunmen opened fire on a group of Sunni Muslims in a market, leaving two of them dead and three more injured, said a police officer, Amanullah Khan.

The shooting occurred as hundreds of military troops were deployed in the city to quell the riots that erupted after the suicide bombing Friday.

In another incident, two suspected terrorists were killed when their explosive-laden car exploded pre-maturely in Lucky Marwat area, which is adjacent to Dera Ismail Khan.

"They were perhaps heading for Dera Ismail Khan for a terrorist attack," said a police official.

Extremists in rival Sunni and Shia factions have carried out dozens of attacks on each other across Pakistan, further threatening to destabilise the nuclear-armed country.

Lt Col Kapil Dev Readies for Combat

New Delhi
"I am feeling a complete Indian now," said former Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev, as he underwent physical and arms training here Friday after joining the Territorial Army five months ago.

"It is emotional to wear this uniform. I like to serve my country and that's the focus point," he said.

Kapil Dev, who scripted history by leading the Indian team to victory in the 1983 World Cup, was commissioned into the 150 TA (Infantry) battalion of the Punjab Regiment. He has been participating in a three-day battle efficiency test that began Thursday.

"I will learn even a bit of weapons training. If you have shouldered the responsibility of being an army personnel then I will need to know how to handle weapons.

"I hope a moment of firing does not come because firing is not a great thing to do," added the 50-year-old legendary skipper.

Kapil Dev is now an honorary lieutenant colonel. He received his badges of rank from the Indian Army chief Sep 24 last year.

"The training of the army at this age is tough. After 50 years, if you do something like this you are a bit scared. But if you are enthusiastic about it then you will just give your best.

"Why didn't I do this 30 years back? I have fulfilled a dream now and I feel a complete Indian," an elated Kapil Dev added.

Having inspired thousands of youngsters in the country to take up cricket, Kapil Dev now hopes to inspire them to don the olive green to protect the nation.

"The youngsters should think of joining the army and should give it a shot. There is a need for people from every field in the army. They can fulfil their dreams even if they serve the army," said Kapil.

The Indian Army is currently facing a shortage of nearly 11,000 officers.

The Territorial Army is a citizens' force that functions as a vital adjunct to the army.

LTTE Says Colombo Air Attack was a Suicide Mission

Colombo
Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have claimed responsibility for the Friday night air raid over the capital Colombo that left at least two people dead and 50 injured. The two-light wing aircraft were on a suicide mission, a pro-rebel website said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have claimed that two men from their elite Black Air Tiger suicide squad piloted the two light aircraft that carried out the attack on the headquarters of the Inland Revenue department in the heart of the capital, causing a huge explosion.

The Tigers have claimed that the targets were Sri Lankan Air Force facilities in the heart of the capital as well as the main airbase adjoining the country's only international airport, located about 28 km north of here.

Although the pro-LTTE Tamilnet.com said the attacks were "successful", the defence authorities here said the guerrillas had clearly missed the intended targets because of the swift action of the air force and intense anti-aircraft fire from the troops on the ground.

One of the Tiger aircraft was shot down near the Katunayake International Airport while the other crashed into the multi-storeyed Inland Revenue building, located close to the air force headquarters in Colombo.

"Why should they attack the Inland Revenue department building complex? They must have come for some other targets, but the successful anti-aircraft gunfire from the ground have failed their mission miserably once again," Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS.

The military has recovered the wreckage of the aircraft and a body of the LTTE pilot from Katunayake area. The military, quoting initial investigation, said in a statement that that the pilot, whose body was found intact, had a large quantity of explosives and bombs inside the aircraft.

"The dead Tiger pilot was carrying two cyanide capsules and a powerful bomb with his seat," the statement said.

Tamilnet published a photograph of the two suicide pilots together with Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran, claimed to have been taken shortly before embarking on their mission. It also said the two planes were piloted by a self-styled 'Colonel' Roopan and 'Lieutenant Colonel' Siriththiran.

This was the seventh LTTE air attack since March 2007 in its tiny aircraft, which are believed to be Czech-built Zlin - Z-143. But this is for the first time they lost both aircraft during their mission outside the areas held by them in the north.

Latest military details reveal that the first light aircraft, though believed to have dropped a bomb on the Inland Revenue Department Headquarters, "has apparently crashed on to the floors between third and 12th amid air defence system, which might have struck the hovering aircraft".

"Detection of parts of strewn pieces of flesh, said to belong to the Tiger (LTTE) pilot, found on some floors proved that the pilot would have lost control of it after hit by Air Defence Systems," the military statement said.

"Investigating teams have so far collected one arm belonging to the Tiger pilot who had been blown to pieces along with the crash or counter fire and the explosion that followed," it said, adding that the extent of the damage to the Inland Revenue building was yet to be evaluated.

The last Tamil Tiger air attack was on Oct 29 last year when two LTTE light-wing aircraft flew out of their hideouts in the north and dropped bombs on a power plant station at Kelaniya, Colombo, and on a military base in the north-western Mannar district simultaneously.

Sri Lankan troops operating in the northern battle-zone last month captured at least six airstrips and tarmacs in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, which had been under the control of the rebels over the past one decade.

The advancing Sri Lankan troops have cornered the rebels in an area of less than 100 sq km in the north-eastern Mullaitivu district. The military has accused the rebels of holding thousands of civilians as human shields.

Obama widens strikes inside Pakistan: Report

New York, February 21
After targeting Al-Qaida and Taliban militants in their "safe havens" on the Pak-Afghan border, US forces have now also started hitting Pakistani Taliban.

US President Barack Obama has broadened the list of radical groups to be targeted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the group led by Baitullah Mehsud is one of them, "The New York Times" reported.

The strikes are another sign that Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his Presidential campaign. The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft.

Last week, American drones attacked a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant leader. But the Pakistani Taliban chief himself was not killed. — PTI

US drones to train guns on Pak Taliban

Press Trust of India

Saturday, February 21, 2009, (New York)

After targeting Al-Qaida and Taliban militants in their 'safe havens' on the Pak-Afghan border, the US forces have now also started hitting Pakistani Taliban.

US President Barack Obama has broadened the list of radical groups to be targeted by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the group led by Baitullah Mehsud is one of them, 'The New York Times' reported.

The strikes are another sign that Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign.

The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft.

Last week, American drones attacked a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant leader. But the Pakistani Taliban chief himself was not killed.

By striking at the Mehsud network, US may be seeking to demonstrate to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to Pakistani leaders.

IAF to install Aerosat Radar at Southern Air Command

PTI | February 21, 2009 | 12:36 IST

The Indian Air Force plans to install an Aerosat Radar capable of picking up targets at low ranges at the Southern Air Command inThiruvananthapuram, considering the region's strategic importance.

The IAF's decision assumes significance in the wake of militant outfit LTTE displaying aerial capability in conducting surprise attacks.

Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Air Marshal S Radhakrishnan toldnedia-persons inThiruvananthapuram on Friday that "considering the region's strategic importance, an Aerosat Radar capable of picking up targets at low ranges would be installed at SAC in two years".

The press conference came hours before the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam carried out surprise attacks in Colombo on Friday night, killing two persons and injuring 54 others.

Radhakrishnan also said that the control of Maritime Air Operations, now under South Western Air Command, would be handed over to the Southern Air Command here.

IAF sources said in New Delhi that they have already geared up air defence units by placing mobile radars all along

the southern coast particularly to secure sensitive infrastructure following the first LTTE attack in 2007.

Those radars and air defence units are already in place and are keeping a round-the-clock vigil and are ready to meet any challenges rogue aerial vehicles may pose, the sources said.

After the Mumbai attacks there had been intelligence inputs that the next terror strike could be through the aerial route following which the IAF had strengthened its air defence units all across the country.

Bangladesh and Indian military begin Assam exercise

A two-week small-scale counter terrorism exercise involving Bangladesh and Indian military starts tomorrow at Jorhat, a strategically located district of Assam in the North Eastern part of India. The Indian army and the security forces have been fighting the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) cadres in the state.

This marks the first joint military counter terrorism exercise between the two countries. The exercise will comprise of airborne operations where five officers and 15 other personnel from Bangladesh will train with the special para-commandos of the Indian Army.

This month Bangladesh also participated in Cobra Gold multinational military exercises involving 18 nations held in Bangkok. Cobra Gold 2009 marked the 28th year of a regularly-scheduled joint and combined multilateral military exercise which has become the most visible and largest military cooperative effort in the Pacific region. The exercise prepared the respective militaries for the real-world priorities of peace support, stability and reconstruction, humanitarian assistance and combat operations.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's security officials have also participated in the second Asia-Pacific Intelligence Chiefs Conference from Feb. 18-20 in Singapore. This year's theme was "Sharing Expertise in Managing Transnational Security Issues" and the participants learnt various aspects of counter terrorism, maritime security and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Indian Army seeks secure BMS comms for regiment, battalion and below

Peter Donaldson, Bangalore

Lt Gen Prakash Chand Katoch, the Indian Army's director general of information systems, told Digital Battlespace that the ability to withstand Pakistani offensive EW capability is one of the key requirements for the new comms system that the service needs to support its regiment, battalion and below battle management system (BMS).

In a Q&A session following his announcement at Aero India 09 of an international seminar this April to gauge the offerings of the international market in BMS communications, Gen Katoch said that the Indian environment placed demands on communications networks different from those encountered elsewhere. Asked to elaborate he said: '…the war, which is being fought in Afghanistan, is quite different from our environment, if you just take the security part and what the enemy can do [in terms of] offensive EW against your networks. That is something that is not happening in Afghanistan but [in] which our neighbours… have all sorts of offensive capabilities, and we don't want our networks to be knocked out. Once you are fully net centric, [that] is going to affect your operations.'

Under the auspices of the Integrated HQ of the Ministry of Defence (Army) and working with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Directorate General of Information Systems hosted a similar seminar in New Delhi last April to scope out the new BMS. 'This seminar helped us in identifying… the technological requirements of a battlefield management system. Since last year we have [come] a long way: We have identified a number of technologies, we have identified hardware, we have identified system requirements etc.

'However, for any BMS to be a success, there is a requirement [for] a matching communication system, which is robust, which is reliable, which is resilient, through which critical information can be exchanged in the required timeframe and… in… the environmental and battle conditions that take place in India – they are quite different from elsewhere. Unfortunately, the existing legacy systems do not meet our aspirations.'

Gen Katoch said that the aim of this year's event is to raise the Indian Army's awareness of 'the correct and future trends in tactical communications… I am looking forward to a very active response from the CII and all their global partners in finding a solution to the Indian Army challenges in tactical communication systems so that we can arrive at what is the best and what suits our battlefield management system.'

This BMS communications requirement is not to be confused, the General said, with the long-running Tactical Communications System (TCS) programme, which is for higher levels of command. The TCS comes under the responsibility of the Directorate General of Signals and is being 'revisited', he explained.

Asked whether the DG Information Systems would issue a specific requirement, Gen Katoch said that it would do so two months after the seminar.

Indian Air Force on alert after Colombo raid: report

NEW DELHI (AFP) — The Indian Air Force was placed on alert on the southern coast of the country Saturday following a deadly Tamil Tiger air raid on the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, a report said.

The Press Trust of India news agency quoted air force sources as saying coastal radar and air defence units were keeping a "round-the-clock vigil" for aerial threats, given the area's proximity to Sri Lanka.

A narrow strip of water separates the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka, and India has said that any air or sea capability of the Tigers would be a threat to its national security.

Mobile radars were already in place to protect sensitive infrastructure from possible Tamil Tiger attacks, the news agency said.

An air force spokesman contacted by AFP declined to comment on the report.

The Kamikaze-style suicide attack targeting air force facilities late Friday night killed two people and injured 58 after one of two rebel aircraft crashed into a tax office in Colombo.

The Sri Lankan army said it shot down the second aircraft before it could do any damage.

The pilots of the aircraft both died.

Sri Lanka's Tamils share close cultural and religious links with the 62 million Tamils of Tamil Nadu, also home to thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.

India has adopted a hands-off approach since a disastrous military intervention in the 1980s, and banned the Tamil Tiger movement after holding it responsible for the 1991 assassination of former premier Rajiv Gandhi.

Resurgent Taliban not direct threat to India: Army vice-chief

22 Feb 2009, 0210 hrs IST, TNN

NEW DELHI: A resurgent Taliban gaining ground in the Afghan-Pakistan belt does not pose a direct threat to India as of now but the Army is geared to deal with any eventuality that comes its way.

"Taliban is an organisation which generally has its influence in western Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is no known influence of Taliban inside India. So, there is no direct threat as of now,'' said Army vice-chief Lt-General N Thamburaj on Saturday.

But if such a threat does "manifest itself in the future, the Indian Army is totally prepared for all different scopes of warfare'', he added.

The Indian security establishment, of course, is keeping a close watch on the developments in the Swat Valley region of Pakistan, where the Taliban extremists are now re-grouping after a truce with the Pakistani government there.

Both foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee and defence minister A K Antony have held that the Swat Valley developments do not augur well for the overall security situation in South Asia.

While Antony said it was adding to India's "worries'' after 26/11, Mukherjee said the Taliban was nothing but "a terrorist organisation'', which was "a danger to humanity and civilisation''.

Lt-Gen Thamburaj, on his part, said the Pakistan Army was in a "dilemma'' over its troops deployed along the Indian border since it was under immense pressure on its western frontier with Afghanistan.

"After 26/11, three to four of their brigades shifted from their western border to Indian border. With the pressure on them on the western side, they are in a dilemma about what to do now,'' he said, adding that the Pakistani Army had deployed 22 brigades in Swat, Baluchistan and other areas on its western border.

Asked about the likely spurt in terrorist infiltration during the coming summer in Jammu and Kashmir, he said, "Infiltration has come down in J&K in the last couple of years after the fence is in place and we have put more troops on the frontline in the counter-infiltration grid.''

"The environment in J&K has also undergone a major change. People have proved they want peace with their participation in the assembly elections in the state. There was hardly any terrorist activity in the last few months,'' he said.

'US and India must check China's arsenal build-up'

* US expert claims China planning to use moon as military base

By Iftikhar Gilani


NEW DELHI: A United States strategist on Saturday called for a greater Indo-US collaboration in defence and satellite technology to check China, which has gone overboard to sharpen its military arsenal.

Rick Fisher, senior fellow on Asian Military Affairs at the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Centre, raised concerns by giving a detailed presentation on China's threat to the world and countries around it. Describing the Taliban and China as the greatest threats to world stability, he called on India and other world powers not to ignore evidences.

Speaking to a selected gathering of academics and strategists at the Observer Research Foundation, he claimed the Chinese International Department had remained in touch with the Taliban so much so that just ahead of the 9/11 attacks, Beijing was close to recognising the Taliban-rule in Afghanistan. He said the world had no choice but to plan countervailing capabilities and respond to the Chinese military build-up.

Plans: Fisher alleged that China was planning to use the moon as a military base to take over space, which was a direct threat to India's 2015 lunar mission.

Suggesting that India should focus on launching micro and mini satellites, the American scholar offered his government's cooperation to help India's adventures into space, including the lunar mission.

Giving his presentation he said China's military budget for 2008 was increased by 17.6 percent to 417.8 billion yuan or about $58.8 billion.

He said though China's main objective was to develop firepower to overwhelm Taiwan in the event of a conflict, the larger aim was to seek a global role. Fisher added that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) possessed a growing fleet of nuclear and diesel submarines, had 650-730 mobile ballistic missiles, and was working on aerial refuelling for a significant percentage of its 2,600 combat aircraft.

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