Attack on Pathankot AFS: Quick Assessment





A quick summary and assessment of events basis whatever I’ve come across in the media. I’ve also added my comments along with it.

The terrorists entered India on the intervening night of December 31 and 1st January. Some news reports have claimed that the Innova was ARRAINGED to pick-up the terrorists from across the border. It was after the vehicle broke down/had a flat that terrorists hijacked the SP’s vehicle and made way away with it.

[Comment: Now, this is the FIRST most curious part of the whole event. And IMO, points towards the use of drug smuggling network to facilitate the strike. It is quite possible that the Innova was arranged for picking up the terrorists by facilitators on Indian side. When the Innova broke down, the terrorists made a call to their handlers and appraised them of the problem.

It was because of this call that SP was activated. I’ve convinced that the SP is a key player in the drug smuggling network. He was most probably asked to facilitate movement of some ‘smugglers’ – the fact that he decided to use his own car shows that instructions came right from the top on Indian side. One of the news report talks about a local political leader involved in harbouring the terrorists. I would not be surprised that the same person activated the SP and got him to personally facilitate the movement.

And that is why, while the terrorists killed the driver of the Innova car, they did not kill the SP, which should’ve been the normal course of action. That is because they were confident that he would not give away their plan. But it seems when the SP realized that the people he had picked up were not your garden variety smugglers but terrorists, he fabricated the story of ‘army personnel’ having kidnapped him and all that…I think he tried to send across the message as clearly as possible w/o compromising himself. And this is where we lost the crucial time.

This act of arranging the second transport after first broke-down and that too by activating a very high value asset like SP again points to the fact that Pathankot AFS was always the target. Unlike earlier Gurdaspur or Sambha attack, focus was maintained and every effort made to reach + attack the target. Here I would like to go with the theory that since Mi-25 to be gifted to Afghanistan are from Pathankot based squadron, Pakistan Deep State wanted to really drive home the point]

The SP was ‘kidnapped’ at around 3:30am on January 1st and the base was attacked 24hrs later at about 3:30am – 4:00am on 2nd January.

[Comment: While no news report talks about where exactly the SP was ‘kidnapped’, the road distance could not have been more than 50km by any stretch. In fact, it should’ve been lesser. The million dollar question is where did the terrorists hide in the intervening 24 hours? 

Again, I refer to news report about some local politician giving support to these men. It is highly likely that terrorists moved as close to the target as possible before the alarm had gone off. And the SP vehicle was off the road pretty soon after the ‘kidnapping’ drama. 

As I said earlier, the road distance is low, the roads are very good and the vehicle would’ve been at the hiding destination in under an hour. It is quite likely that SP himself drove them to a pre-designated point where someone else took over. And terrorists hid for next 18-24 hours.]

The base was attacked from the southern end where a river/canal exists the base.

[Comment: I request people to have a look at Google Earth map of the base. This place is 6+ km (as the crow flies) from the National Highway 15 which links Gurdaspur to Pathankot. And to reach this point, you need to navigate village roads (if coming by vehicle) or navigate open fields/ground between villages in the area. 

I would wager that someone dropped them as close as possible to this point – this is because the assault point seems to have been chosen with lot of planning and powers-that-be would not have wanted the terrorists to lose their way and end up assaulting from some other position. GE shows there is a gate and entry point to base from this side and road leading up to.

I think these fellows were dropped not more than 1 km away from this point. Again, points to deep local help and the sheer desperation from Deep State to launch this strike. Another important point – the first set of targets to come up when you enter from this point is the magazine area, the hardened aircraft shelter (HAS) lie further ahead. Quite possible that these terrorists had planned to take hold of one of these and make large fire-work]

Security being beefed up at the Base and presence of Army SF and NSG.

[Comment: After the alert was sounded at around 4:00pm – 4:30pm on 2nd January, it seems NSA had moved the Army SF and NSG components to Pathankot AFS. But my assertion is that this was done not from the purpose of securing the base but for AFS to act as node for reacting to situation anywhere else in the region. 

The actual act of securing the base consisted of inducting 2 x infantry platoons to secure the technical area. The big question remains – why was not a whole infantry battalion inducted to secure the entire premises? I know we used TA battalions during 1999 and Op Parakaram to secure bases]  

High casualties on our side.

[Comment: I think the terrorists used the same tactic as used in the attack on army base in Uri. They might have attacked in two teams. While the QRT reacted to the first set of attackers, the second set could’ve ambushed the QRT or follow-on forces which rushed to the spot. I would not be surprised if DSC and Garuds were caught in a cross-fire. 

Loss from NSG could be because of throwing men at the problem to quickly take out the terrorists. Again, it is plausible that terrorists took hold of one of the magazines and had to be neutralized quickly. No news about involvement of Army SF – quite possible that NSG was asked to lead the operation with Army SF on standby as back-up or for handling other contingency, if required. 

And the C-130J in the air could’ve been the same aircraft which ferried NSG from Delhi to Pathankot – So, the brave chaps got it airborne even as fire-fight was happening on the base!]

Picture source: http://images.indianexpress.com/2016/01/pathankot-7593.jpg

Comments

Ravi said…
Rohit,

Congratulations on this. Very well done. By now you will know that your analysis was correct and you will also have read Ajai Shukla's article, which has been shamelessly plagiarized by BBC without mentioning his name.

Just a bit of ancient history. Your C-130 comment reminded me of the siege of Khesan in Vietnam, 1968. Three NVA divisions surrounded a reinforced Marine regiment (four battalions)at Khesan in an effort ot stage a Dien Bien Phu. Siege went on for months. Much of the battle was spent with the Marines counterattacking the NVA to get them back out of direct arty spotting range of the air strips (shades of Walong 1962, here!)

C-130s used to land and take off amid mortar and artillery fire delivering supplies, replacements; and evacuating casualties. On days when the fighting was too heavy for landings, the C-130s would do level level pallet drops under fire.

US dropped 100,000 tons of bombs during siege, and fired off over 150,000 155mm, 175mm, and 8" artillery shells, aside from uncounted 105mm shells.

Eventually US 1st Air Cavalry Division managed to break the siege. The Cav were generally helicoptered into the field and usually picked up by the late afternoon, except for patrols who would stay for a few days at a time. They took a lot of pride in being clean! When they arrived at Khesan, they were completely appalled at the conditions on the base. The Marines had been packing up garbage and human waste and stacking it along the sand-bagged perimeter of the airfield, because they had no way of disposing of it. So there were massive rats and flies everywhere and a huge stink pall over the base! Just some of the realities of war that the history books and heroic portrayals omit to mention!

Siege of Kohima is another equivalent.
sas mac said…
You have asked pertinent questions and I believe that we must destroy this drug culture that is destroying our youths in the border areas about the tactical engagement in the airbase I think we can never rely on media reports.good work
sas mac said…
Good work and you have asked pertinent questions I hope the government wakes up to the drug menace in Punjab and tackle it with ruthlessness and efficiently

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