Investigation

2014-2019: 14 instances when Intelligence failures led to ghastly terror attacks

The incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, which on a decline from 2009 to 2014, have been on the rise under the BJP govt and in 2018 with Kashmir showing the highest fatalities in terror-related violence

Soldiers look towards smoke billowing from a building where suspected militants had taken refuge during a gun battle in Pampore, on the outskirts of Srinagar 

Vivashwan Singh

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, speaking at the BJP National Convention in the National Capital, said, “We have not had one major terrorist attack in this country after 2014. This government under the leadership of PM Modi has ensured one thing that there shall not be an opportunity for terrorists to disturb the peace.” According to the government's own data, presented to Parliament by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there was a "major terrorist attack in the hinterland" in both 2015 and 2016. There's no policy statement or government release where the difference between a major or minor attack has been defined clearly since it’s a matter of perception. According to South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP), there were 388 "major" incidents in India from 2014 to 2018 using their definition.

The incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, which were showing a steady decline from 2009 to 2014, have been on the rise under the current government and in 2018, Kashmir saw the highest fatalities in terror-related violence in a decade with 451 deaths, according to SATP. The data recently released by the Ministry of Home Affairs shows that between 2014 and 2018, there has been a 93 per rise in the number of security personnel killed in terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir. Furthermore, these five years also saw a 176 per cent rise in the number of terrorist incidents in the state.

Based on the information available in the public domain, it seems that Intelligence reports have not been given required attention by the NDA governments. While the accuracy of the claims regarding Intel failure in Pulwama needs to be objectively reviewed in the weeks ahead, what stands out now is the uncanny similarity with what happened during Kargil in May 1999. In both, early inputs received from local sources were either ignored or not given enough importance that was warranted to guarantee national security. In April 2017, a parliamentary panel had rapped Intelligence agencies for the terror attacks in Pathankot, Uri and a few other places, saying these strikes “exposed the deficiencies” of the agencies but there was no analysis of their “failure”.

One area where the Indian security establishment could have done better is in the Intelligence (or Intel) domain. Almost three years have passed since the January 2, 2016 terror attack at the Indian Air Force station in Pathankot but the probe has not been completed by the National Investigation Agency. No analysis seems to have been done of the “failure” of the Intelligence agencies to provide credible and actionable inputs regarding the attacks at Pathankot, Uri, Pampore, Baramulla and Nagrota. Apart from Kashmir region, the security forces also failed paying attention to Intel when it came to Left wing extremism. Some of the prominent instances are listed here.

2014

Chintagufa Attack, Chhattisgarh

Casualties: 14 CRPF personnel

14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and about a dozen wounded in an encounter with the Maoists near Chintagufa in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on December 1, 2014. It was the biggest loss of lives in anti-Maoist operations after the NDA government assumed charge in May. Security forces were deep inside the forests, about 450 km from state capital Raipur, when Maoist gunmen attacked them, using villagers as shields. The CRPF had launched a special operation on November 16 to corner the First Battalion of the CPI(Maoist)’s Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee which had a stronghold in the area. However, the attack was an epitome of Intelligence failure since Intel agencies failed to crack a Maoist code. Maoists had warned of an attack using a code word in a press release issued on November 24 to announce the observance of the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) week between December 2 and 9. Released by the Dandkarnaya Special Zonal Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), the press statement stated, "During the PLGA week, we will carry out a ca dk vk ks u ugla.” The garbled message in the press release about PLGA week mentioned a code about an apparent attack.

2014

Gadchiroli Attack, Maharashtra

Casualties: 7 policemen

Just two days after the Gadchiroli police arrested Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba for alleged Maoist links, Naxalites triggered a powerful landmine blast on May 11, 2014, in an unlikely area of the district, killing seven policemen on the spot and leaving two grievously injured. The blast happened around 9:40 am when a police vehicle passing by Murmuri village in Chamorshi tehsil of the district was hit by a powerful IED explosion.

2015

Kathua Attack, J&K

Casualties: 1 policemen and 2 CRPF personnel, 1 civilian

A 'Fidayeen' squad of militants in Army fatigues stormed a police station in Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua district, killing four persons, including three security personnel, and leaving 10 others injured in the wee hours on March 20, 2015. This was the first major militant attack in the state since the formation of the PDP-BJP coalition government on March 1. Police officers said a group of two to three militants of a 'fidayeen' squad stormed Rajbagh Police Station in the wee hours and opened indiscriminate fire. Six persons were killed in the attack including two militants, two CRPF personnel, a policeman and a civilian while 10 others had been injured. On March 21, 2014, six people including two militants were killed in a similar attack on the Rajbagh police station in Kathua district. Terrorists had launched an attack on an Army camp in Samba district of Jammu and Kashmir. The militants opened fired and lobbed grenades at an Army camp in Meshwara area of Samba around 5:50 am.

2014

Chandel Attack, Manipur

Casualties: 20 Army personnel

On June 4, 2014, around 20 soldiers were killed and another 11 injured when they were ambushed during early hours in the Moltuk valley of Chandel district in Manipur. Troops from 6 Dogra Regiment were returning to their HQ in Nagaland’s Dimapur and were travelling in a convoy of four trucks that were carrying 46 soldiers in all. The attack, which started with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast, took place when the convoy reached a hilly area about 125 km from Imphal and around 15 km from the Myanmar border. A day after the soldiers of Dogra infantry regiment were killed, it was revealed that it was a serious Intelligence failure that led to the tragedy. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) had given inputs of a possible attack but it was apparently not taken seriously. Assam Rifles reportedly underestimated the threat from Naga terror outfit Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) after the group abrogated the ceasefire earlier in 2015.

2015

Gurdaspur Attack, Punjab

Casualties: 5 police personnel (1 SP, 2 policemen, 2 home guards)

In a major terror attack, three Fidayeens, believed to have come from Pakistan, on July 27, 2015, attacked passengers in a moving bus and stormed a police station, killing seven persons, including an SP, while all the terrorists were gunned down after a day-long operation. Weapons and a Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment were recovered from the building where the terrorists were holed up. Terrorists next entered Dinanagar police station and opened heavy fire, in which Superintendent of Police, two home guards and two policemen were killed. This was the first major terror attack in Punjab following the assassination of former Chief Minister Beant Singh on August 31, 1995. The Intelligence agencies had warned of two infiltration bids by terrorists based in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). Naming terror outfits Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the inputs shared with security agencies had indicated that the terrorists were planning to slip across the border under cover fire from Pakistan Rangers.

2016

Pathankot Attack, Punjab

Casualties: 7 security personnel (5 Defence Security Corps personnel; 1 IAF Garud commando; 1 National Security Guard)

On 2 January 2016, a heavily armed group attacked the Pathankot Air Force Station, part of the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force. Four attackers and two security forces personnel were killed in the initial battle, with an additional security member dying from injuries hours later. The gun battle and the subsequent combing operation lasted about 17 hours on 2 January, resulting in five attacks and three security personnel dead. The attackers, who were wearing Indian Army fatigues, were suspected to belong to Jaish-e-Mohammed, an Islamist militant group designated a terrorist organisation by India, the US, the UK and the UN. Punjab Police were aware about the possibility of a terror attack around New Year's eve following an Intelligence alert from the Union Home Ministry, raising questions on their preparedness and reaction to disclosures by Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh who was briefly kidnapped by the terrorists. Former RAW Chief AS Dulat raised questions about failure of security agencies in thwarting the attack. "Generally Intelligence agencies get the flak, but here is a case when you had pinpointed Intelligence and still you could not make it. Why," he asked.

2016

Pampore Attacks, J&K

Casualties: 8 CRPF officers (June), 3 RR soldiers (December)

At around 16:40 on 25 June 2016, a CRPF convoy, consisting of six vehicles, was ambushed by three or four militants while en route from Pantha Chowk to Pampore. Carrying AK-47s and grenades, the militants attacked a bus carrying over 40 CRPF officers, killing eight officers and injuring over 20 others, several critically. The town of Pampore suffered a similar terror attack on a convoy of Rashtriya Rifles in December 2016. What is shocking is that not more than 24 hours before the convoy was attacked in Pampore, the Intelligence agencies had warned the security forces about a “possible terror strike”. According to a report in The Asian Age, the Intelligence input before the Pampore attack that killed 3 soldiers, had stated that banned outfits were planning a major stand-off with the Indian armed forces on the National Highway. It even had specifics that there was a strong possibility that convoys would be targeted using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). At 12.30 pm on Friday, a message based on human Intelligence was dispatched, warning security forces of an impending attack. "Credible input suggests that militants have planned IED blasts followed by firing on NH or a major town today (Friday). Take all necessary precautions," read a part of the warning. In 2016 alone, seven major terror attacks had occurred on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, mainly in south Kashmir.

2016

Uri Attack, J&K

Casualties: 18 soldiers

In the early morning on Sunday, September 18, 2016, armed militants entered an Indian Army base in the town of Uri, killing 18 soldiers. Several hours later, four militants were killed in a shootout with the Indian Army. Even as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the investigation, reports have emerged that security lapses despite specific Intelligence may have enabled Pakistan-backed terrorists to cross the border and kill 18 soldiers. According to a report in The Asian Age, Intelligence inputs about the possible terror attacks were provided some days ago and accordingly shared with the forces on ground, said the report.

2016

Baramulla Attack, J&K

Casualties: 1 BSF trooper

On the midnight of the 2nd and 3rd of October 2016, militants attacked a camp of the Indian Army's 46 Rashtriya Rifles in Baramulla district of Jammu and Kashmir, India. The attack was said to have begun at 10:30 PM local time, with at least one officer of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) killed and a number injured. Two militants were also reportedly killed. The attack came within weeks after militants attacked an Indian Army installation in Baramulla district's Uri area.

2016

Nagrota Attack

Casualties: 2 Army officers, 5 soldiers

On the morning of November 29, 2016, at around 5:30 IST, three militants dressed in police uniforms attacked the Indian Army's 166 Field Regiment unit in the town of Nagrota, near the Jammu city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Five Indian Army soldiers, including two officers were killed in the gun battle. Although Northern Army's Commander-in-chief Lt-General DS Hooda had rejected the existence of any Intel prior to the attack but it cannot be ignored that Indian Intelligence had warned of an imminent strike on a high-value military target in Jammu just ten days before the Nagrota attack. According to a report in The Indian Express, Intelligence services had been monitoring at least one Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) cell in the Valley which had been plotting an attack on the XVI Corps headquarters in Nagrota for at least two weeks before the attack. The attack raises the question as to how the attackers succeeded in traversing the route to Nagrota, and what additional security measures were put in place at sensitive installations.

2017

Sukma Attack, Chhattisgarh

Casualties: 25 CRPF personnel

The Sukma attack was an ambush carried out by the Maoists against Indian paramilitary forces on 24 April 2017, during the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency. It was the largest ambush since a similar attack in 2010, in the neighbouring district of Dantewada. The ambush took place between Burkapal and Chintagufa in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh, India. A group of 300 Maoists attacked a 99-member troop of the Central Reserve Police Force. Three Maoists and 25 police personnel were killed in the ensuing firefight. Those who survived, or have since been investigating the attack, speak of Intelligence failure. It was the worst Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh since 2010.

2018

Sunjuwan Attack, J&K

Casualties: 4 soldiers

In the early hours of February 10, 2018, at around 4:10 am IST, four heavily armed militants attacked a camp of 36 Brigade which housed Army personnel as well as their families.They entered the residential quarters and opened fire, killing four soldiers and injuring at least nine others including women and children. The terrorists had struck before dawn the previous day and managed to sneak into the camp from the rear side of the base after a brief exchange of fire with the sentry on its periphery. Despite Intel, security forces failed to prevent the terror attack on the Sunjuwan Army camp by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militants. Intelligence inputs had warned of an attack by JeM around the death anniversary of Afzal Guru. Guru was hanged on February 9, 2013 while Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat was hanged in Tihar jail on February 11, 1984.

2018

Sukma Attack, Chhattisgarh

Casualties: 9 CRPF personnel

On 13 March 2018, an IED blast occurred when a contingent of CRPF's 212th battalion was patrolling in a mine-protected vehicle in the forest of Kistaram area in Sukma district, Chhattisgarh. At least nine Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed and six others were injured in the attack. The blast ripped the vehicle apart and some dead bodies were found 20 to 30 feet away from the blast site.

2019

Pulwama Attack, J&K

Casualties: 49 CRPF personnel

In one of the deadliest attack ever on security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, 49 CRPF personnel were slain and several others were injured when a Jaish suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying over 100 kg of explosives into a CRPF convoy of 70 vehicles in Pulwama district. Recent Intelligence inputs about the possibility of a suicide bomber travelling in a car had alarmed security forces, prompting high-level meetings to combat the threat. However, no viable solutions to stop him could be found, security officials told India Today. Based on certain inputs, ways to combat car bombs were discussed within the forces including the CRPF. The Jaish-e-Mohammed attack, targeting a CRPF convoy using a car laden with explosives, resembles the modus operandi of terror attacks in Syria and Afghanistan.

The “huge rise” in the number of terror attacks against security forces signifies that the government has failed to carry out a thorough investigation into the sudden spurt in terror activities under the Narendra Modi administration. There were 364 attempts of infiltration in 2016, of which 112 were successful in comparison to 121 infiltration attempts and 33 net infiltration in 2015. The Union Home Ministry should instruct the Security Agencies to complete the investigations of these attacks at the earliest so as to identify the loopholes in the Intelligence setup.

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Published: 3 Mar 2019, 12:30 PM