The Army on Wednesday dismissed criticism over deployment of NSG over army in a predominant manner in the counter-terror operation in the Pathankot air base, saying it was a "joint decision" and that the army was fully involved in it.
"There was NSG, Air force, Garud commandos. Application of NSG was a joint decision taken at an appropriate level which included service chiefs," said Lt Gen Kamal Jit Singh, GoC-in-C, army’s Western Command, told a media briefing here.
There has been criticism of the decision to deploy the NSG personnel flown from Delhi on Saturday morning in the air force base in Pathankot when a larger number of army commandos were available in nearby garrison in the border city itself Army’s special forces commandos were said to be better equipped to deal with the siege of the base.
Lt Gen Singh said said terrorists holed up in buildings in the air force station took "advantage" of it which took time in eliminating them.
He said they also wanted to avoid a hostage situation as a large number of families and foreign trainees were residing inside the base.
"The buildings in the air force base station are such that which are located close to family quarters. The final group of two terrorists were in a two-storeyed structure where in the first our own troops were there. They (the families) had to be evacuated first and we had to avoid hostage situation because of that it took time.
"I also want to tell you that within these barracks, which are MES constructions. They are covered with steel doors. It is like sitting inside a bunker inside a building and so terrorists took advantage of it. The final body was recovered from inside of this structure," said Lt Gen Kamal Jit Singh at the Western Command Headquarters here.
Throwing light on the use of fore to eliminate the terrorists, Lt Gen Singh said "excessive" firepower was not used because of the presence of families in the quarters and civilians pockets in the area.
"The basic concept is to safeguard the strategic assets. We also follow a principle of calibrated use of force.
"We have too much fore power which cannot be used in this operation because there were family quarters and civilian pockets outside the air force base. This is why we used that much fire power which was required in that condition.
"For that we had to take even risks. It took time….We had to localise them (terrorists) to a very small area and finally eliminated them. We were under instructions and it was our concept to avoid unnecessary casualties. We took calculated risk so as not to have unnecessary casualties," he said.
"There are strategic assets here and there can be hostage situations as there are 11,000 people live here and 3,000 families, and above all, foreign trainees and had there been any hostage situation, it is NSG body which is specially trained to rescue them," he said.
Lt General further said that it was the success of this operation that Air force was station operational. Had there been any damage to the airport, in that situation how could we have brought NSG here," he asked.
On why NSG was brought in for this operation, Lt Gen Singh said, "NSG was brought in because firstly strategic assets were over here. Secondly there can be hostage situation. People were living inside the campus which could have taken hostage…NSG are special troops (to handle such situation)."
Asked how militants entered the air force base station and what time they entered, Lt General said, "an inquiry has been ordered by airforce and NIA is investigating the case."
Asked when it received the first alert about terrorists, he said, "we got information on January one during afternoon."
"In this case it was a serious alert as we were told that 6-8 (terrorists were there)," he said.
To a question about the source of the alerts, Lt Gen Singh said, "we got alert from Punjab police also and from central agencies."
However, he said the alert issued by Punjab police on December 30, was very general which said that 15 militants had entered into the Indian territory.
On reports about Punjab police’s lapse in Pathankot terror attack, he said, " I will not comment on it. It is a subject matter of inquiry."
"We had initially report of 4-6 militants and then we made contact with six of them and all of them were eliminated," he said.
Asked whether there could be any local support to terrorists, Lt Gen said, "some localised support cannot be absolutely ruled out. It will all be looked into. NIA will look into it. All aspects of this case will be looked into it."
Asked why terrorists struck at the air force base, Lt Gen said, "it is strategically important. Imagine the kind of publicity you can gain that you have targeted strategic air base. Secondly it is in the vicinity. It is easy to reach here. It is only 25 km from the area."
On asked about potential hostage situation when terrorists attacked Pathankot air force base station, he said, "it could have developed into a hostage situation. In any case, all along the operation, there was a great possibility of taking a hostage situation because there are air men living in those barracks / residential area.
"They were brought out by army columns, NSG officials.
They were brought down from the windows," he said to a question how two of militants were eliminated.
When asked whether army started any combing operation between the period of getting first alert and attack by terrorists, he said, "combing of those areas was the primary the responsibility of police. We had to ensure security to our strategic assets. Area was checked out and QRT was in place.
Air force also carried out searching for terrorists," he said.
To a question on militant bodies, he said, "There are four bodies of militants. Two have been cooked up. Some parts of bodies were scattered around there which are being forensically examined. The other four bodies which are recovered a call will be taken whether to destroy them or not because they were carrying explosives."
Asked about the cordoning off of Tibri in Gurdaspur, he said, "there is some information. Police and army were looking into it. Every day there are two or three cases of such information it is being checked out." .
Lt Gen claimed that the operation launched against the terrorists was a "complete success" which saw "synergy" between the NSG, Army and Air Force.
"There was no collateral damage during the operation. We all must take into account that there are a large number of civilian pockets in that area. No collateral damage was caused to civilians pocket and villages which is in its vicinity (of air force base station).
"More importantly there were 23 foreign trainees from four friendly countries at air force base station. No one was harmed," he said, adding that this operation was a "complete success".
The foreign trainees are from Myanmar, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
"After getting alert about terrorists, a large number of pre-empt action were taken. We sounded red alert. QRT were sent to important places. That is because our reactions were timely (to the attack) and after immediate contact with terrorists, they were localized," GOC-IN-C Western Command said.
"We even side stepped some resources. Some specialized resources like specialized forces, mine-protected vehicles.
They were centrally located and they were side stepped," he said.
"Now combing operations and sanitization are currently on and after sanitization is over, the assets will be handed over to the air force," he informed.
He said out of nine columns of the Army, seven were used inside the air force station while two were kept outside.
"A bomb disposal team, a dog squad and there were nine mine-protected vehicle were there," he said.
"Such operations require turnover. You are under a live situation, so a turnover was carried out and due rest was given.
"Currently, we have two columns, two mine-protected vehicles and bomb disposal teams is inside the station which is helping the combing and sanitization operation," he said, adding.
Talking about the total contact time between security force and terrorists, he said it was 10-11 hours.
"In my perception, the total contact time was 10-11 hours. Balance period is that the terrorists remained dormant," he said.
He also rejected media reports that in the anti-terror operation, there was a limited role of the Army.
"It (media reports) is not correct. Because, the first contact was made by DSC, Garuds (with terrorists). Second contact was made by army column and after that they were localized.
"Third and final contact was made by army. A joint operation was launched in which army column was there, Garud, NSG was also there. Then NSG neutralized them," he said.
He added that Army’s bomb disposal team is still working at the air force station in Pathankot and they are playing a "large role" at the base.