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Friday, 30 October 2009

From Today's Papers - 30 Oct 09

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Obama inks military budget bill; Pak to get $2.3bn

Lalit K Jha/PTI / Washington October 29, 2009, 10:57 IST

US President Barack Obama today signed a $680 billion defence budget bill that provides $2.3 billion military assistance to Pakistan with tough condition to make sure that the funds are not squandered or diverted to affect the "balance of power in the region".

Obama said the Defence Authorisation Bill for 2010 eliminates some of the waste and inefficiency in the defence process that will better protect the nation, troops and save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

"The bill includes a commitment to the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan, expanded programmes to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists, and a reformed system of defence acquisition to save taxpayer money," said House Majority Leader Steny H Hoyer.

The military aid money to Pakistan for the fiscal 2010 as mentioned in the bill has two major components -- $1.6 billion for the Coalition Support Fund and $700 million for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund.

For the $1.6 billion Coalition Support Fund, the bill would require that, before any more such money is spent, the Obama administration must certify that doing so is in the US national interest and will not adversely affect the region's balance of power.

India feels that the American assistance to Pakistan should be more focused on building counter-insurgency capabilities rather than conventional defence equipment which can be diverted for other purposes.

Govt withdraws some Kashmir troops in peace gesture


VICTORY TO THEM: Soldiers hold their weapons after a gunbattle against terrorists in Srinagar.

Jammu: The government is withdrawing about 15,000 soldiers from Jammu and Kashmir, a military official said on Thursday, in a move aimed at boosting prospects of peace talks with the disputed region's separatist groups.

India has been under international pressure in recent months to reduce tensions along its Pakistan border particularly Kashmir so that Islamabad could focus on fighting the Taliban on its western border with Afghanistan.

But military analysts said the slight thinning of troops in the Jammu region was linked with ongoing efforts to resume talks with Kashmir's separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference rather than extending an olive branch to Pakistan.

Kashmiri separatists urged New Delhi to pull out troops, release prisoners and end alleged human rights violations after the Indian government offered to resume talks this month to end a two-decade insurgency.

A military spokesman said one army division was being moved in a phased manner since September from the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch because of improvement in the security situation. It wasn't clear if these were troops deployed on the border or on internal security duties.

"The readjustment and relocation of troops is subject to security reviews and periodic assessment of ground situation," Lt. Col. Biplab Nath said.

The troops who are being moved out are in the Jammu region and not the Kashmir Valley which is the centre of the revolt.

Violence is now at its lowest in Kashmir since a separatist insurgency in the region broke out in 1989, but officials say incidents of "infiltration" of militants from Pakistan have risen over the past few months.

Ashok Mehta, a retired general and New Delhi-based strategic analyst, said the removal of troops was a goodwill gesture aimed at Kashmiri groups.

"The current de-induction of troops has nothing to do with the Afghanistan war," he said.

The announcement of the troop movement came as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is touring Kashmir said the security of the disputed region must rest in the hands of police.

"The responsibility for maintaining law and order in the state will be increasingly devolved on the Jammu and Kashmir police," he said.

India moved about 4,000 soldiers from its Pakistan border in Kashmir in March. There are an estimated half a million Indian security personnel, including soldiers, deployed in Kashmir.

"Deployment and redeployment is based on threat perceptions and this particular army division has moved out as the situation is better," said Col S. Om Singh, another army spokesman.

A faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference began a dialogue with the government in 2004, the first since the beginning of the insurgency, but it broke down two years later.

Defence procurement procedure amended
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 29
The Ministry of Defence today introduced a crucial amendment to its defence procurement procedure (DPP) and empowered independent monitors to check and probe corruption charges against its officers and manufacturers.

Over all, the amendments would encourage domestic industry besides ensuring transparency and accountability, said ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar while releasing the contents of the amendments here today. These will come in to effect from November 1.

At present the DPP has the scope of an integrity pact for all projects in excess of Rs 100 crore. This is a binding agreement between the government and bidders for contracts. The existing provision provides for appointment of independent monitors (IM) in consultation with the Central Vigilance Commission. The role of these monitors was, however, very limited and undefined.

The new amendment defines and enlarges the role of IMs to enable them to scrutinise complaints with regards to violation of the integrity pact, Kar said.

A major impediment in the growth of defence industry in the country has been lack of information with the domestic industry on defence requirements. Such information has generally been treated as classified. Consequently, the indigenous industry is unable to plan technology, up-gradation or joint collaboration with associated foreign industries.

The ministry also announced a public version of the “long-term perspective plan” of the Armed Forces outlining technology perspective and capability roadmap covering a period of 15 years would be widely publicised and made available on the ministry website.

Probe ordered into land fraud at Darjeeling army station
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 29
Defence Minister AK Antony today ordered a probe into the alleged land fraud at a military station in Darjeeling in which at least two Army Generals were said to be involved.

Antony issued orders to Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, taking note of reports that senior Army officers were allegedly involved in the fraud committed by a private institution, officials said.

The Army has already instituted a court of inquiry into the allegations that the Generals and senior officers had issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) to an institution that bought some land adjacent to the Sukhna military station at Darjeeling a few years ago on the pretext of starting a branch of Ajmer-based Mayo College.

The ministry probe would be independent of the Army inquiry, officials said.

The Defence Minister’s action comes a day after he talked of zero-tolerance towards corruption and gave assurance that even senior officers would not be spared if bribery charges were proved against them.

Trained in India, to fight in Iraq



New Delhi, Oct. 29: An Indo-US wargame that ended today in Uttar Pradesh helped retrain part of an American contingent that went into action in Iraq and will be redeployed in the war-ravaged country, scaling up the bilateral exercise that was originally projected as a peace-keeping drill.

Exercise Yudh Abhyas 09 – the latest in a series of Indo-US drills that began in 2004 – involved the largest deployment of ground forces by the two countries for joint training. When the exercise began, the Indian Army officially stated that the scenario for the drill was that of joint operations for peace keeping under a United Nations’ mandate.

It was more or less expected that the US Army will begin using Indian military facilities and experience to train for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with the wargame.

But the scale of the drill was far deeper than initially thought. Within the first five days of the two-week drill, it quickly morphed into an armoured and infantry exercise involving para-dropping and securing urban settlements simulating environments in Iraq and Afghanistan with live firing. Forces led by the US had invaded Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) without specific UN mandates.

Around 250 soldiers from the US contingent – of the 2nd squadron 14 Cavalry -- pulled out of Iraq in April this year after a 15-month deployment. It is marked to re-deploy there in nine months.

Till April this year the squadron was based in Camp Taji, about 25km north of Baghdad, in a zone that is the most violent in Iraq. At least one of its soldiers, Sergeant Timothy P Martin, 27, was killed. He died in a blast from an improvised explosive device in August last year.

The drill with Indian mechanised forces in Babina – one of the Indian Army’s largest and most sophisticated training centres with a large field firing range– starts off a period of re-training for the US forces.

The exercise was witnessed by the chief of the US Army Pacific, Lt Gen Benjamin R. Mixon and India’s Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen A.S. Sekhon.

The trend among US-led coalition forces to use Indian military facilities to train for “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Enduring Freedom” (Afghanistan) began in September 2007. But the drills have never involved as many soldiers, so much hardware and such massive firepower.

A unit of the British Royal Marines engaged Indian special forces in an exercise named “Himalayan Warrior” in Ladakh in September-October 2007.

The UK requested access to Indian military facilities in Ladakh and an exercise in that region because the dry desert terrain is similar to parts of Afghanistan. The British soldiers were also acclimatised at the Indian Army’s High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Sonamarg.

Last October, the US army chief, General George Casey, was also escorted by Indian Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor to Ladakh and to Indian army establishments in Kashmir and other Indian military facilities.

So far, army-level drills between the two countries involved companies (about a 100 troops in each company) or even smaller platoons. But the involvement has now been scaled-up several notches with Exercise Yudh Abhyas 09.

Just how seriously the Pentagon takes its exercises with the Indian military is indicated by the logistics that have gone into the Babina drill. It deployed 17 Strykers – the largest deployment of the multipurpose armoured vehicles outside Iraq and Afghanistan – that were shipped all the way from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where the unit is currently based, to Mumbai.

In Bombay, the Strykers, each weighing about 19 tonnes, were transported in sixteen-wheeler trucks to armoured corps base in Babina (that was started by the British with the acronym that stands for British Army Base in North India).

The Strykers and the US troops will now head back the same way for more training in the Mojave Desert in Southern California.

“This exercise (Yudh Abhyas 09) is a ramp-up in training, as the unit prepares for larger pre-deployment training exercises such as those at the National Training Facility in California,” a US army statementsaid.

The US army contingent was hosted by the general officer commanding the Indian Army’s 31st armoured division, Maj Gen Anil Malik. The Indians deployed the 7th Mechanised Infantry for the drill.

The scale of the exercise involving armoured units – India’s Russian-origin BMP troop-carriers, its latest T-90 tanks and Dhruv helicopters – and the US Pacific Army chief’s comments invariably stoked interest once again on possible joint operations.

“This is all about training with the Indian army, to enhance relationships so that we gain a greater understanding of each other. That’s really what this is all about,” the general said. “India has a professional army. I will go with the Indian Army anywhere, anytime,” he added.

But beyond the show of power and battlefield skills, there was also a pitch for arms sales to India. The Stryker vehicle itself was closely watched by the Indian forces. It can be configured for several tasks – offensive, reconnaissance, communications and evacuations apart from troop carrying.

A senior official of the Pentagon’s defence sales branch also escorted executives of defence companies Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to Babina for the exercise. The US contingent demonstrated the fire-and-forget Javelin anti-tank missile, at least a generation ahead of the Milans that the Indians use. India is scouting the markets to stock up on anti-tank systems because the Indian Army still trains for scenarios of armoured warfare.

Indian soldiers were not allowed to drive the Stryker but some of them took shots at dead tanks with the missile.

The sleek shoulder-fired Javelin hones into its target without having to be guided to it. It is made by Raytheon.

No military involvement in Afghanistan, Antony clarifies news

29 October 2009

New Delhi: Gushing sentiments from a top US military commander soon after conclusion of a joint Indo-US army exercise has clearly put Indian defence minister AK Antony on the defensive forcing him to clarify that India would not participate militarily in Afghanistan. He stated categorically that there was no question of the country joining US-led coalition forces in the war-ravaged country "now or in the future".

"I am saying categorically that there is no question of Indian military involvement in Afghanistan. I do not foresee such a situation, not now or in the future," Antony told reporters here at a Coast Guard event.

He was responding to a question if the recent Indo-US army counter-insurgency and anti-terror exercise, which saw an impressive deployment of armoured combat vehicles from both sides as well as an air complement, was possibly aimed at future joint operations in Afghanistan.

The joint exercises, conducted at Babina in Uttar Pradesh, was also the largest ever conducted by both sides.

Antony said India was involved in Afghanistan at a humanitarian level and was also providing reconstruction and rehabilitation services and programmes to the war-torn nation, land-locked nation.

The source of the defence minister's concern would be comments made by US Army (Pacific) commander Lt Gen Benjamin R Mixon who informed a press meet soon after conclusion of fortnight-long exercises at Babina, "We will be comfortable going with the Indian Army anywhere, anytime. We want to work together as militaries and ensure peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region."

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