Brig PS Gothra (Retd)
“We were grazing our goats in the jungle below when two gunmen appeared and they asked us to leave the place immediately. So, we left our goats behind and are moving to our hamlet to inform our parents,” said the four children when we saw them coming up on the track we were moving on. I could clearly see fear in their eyes. We gave them some toffees and after a little talk could judge that the children were speaking the truth and it was almost sure that there were two terrorists seen by the children and there could be some more.
Dead tired after five days of search operations on a very long ridge, we had started descending on a foot track along K Nala after the operation was called off. I had thirty soldiers, five police constables and ten BSF constables.
I left the children to go to their parents but I was in a dilemma. It was already five in the evening. Another one hour it will be dark. The jungle below is unknown to me or my troops. As it is they are dead tired. An encounter with terrorists will lead to number of casualties on our side and the terrorist may still get away. A quick mental calculation gave me three options.
Option Cowardice: – To avoid contact by retreating to top of the ridge and take a different, safe route along another ridge. But it will take longer. The troops might look down upon me. And the word will go across to police and BSF about my chicken heartedness.
Option Bravery: – To surround the jungle, get reinforcements and search in the morning. Problem with this option was that surrounding an unfamiliar place in darkness, may lead to troops banging into each other while laying cordon. With great difficulty only a loose cordon can be laid and the terrorists may still get away. Tired troops may be lax in surveillance at night. In case the fire fight starts it will be impossible for me to control the operation.
Option Stupidity: – To rush to the place where the terrorists were last seen and search the area to seek encounter. The option had the inherent problem that I may get several casualties and get into a position where it is difficult to extract. Even the reinforcement may find it difficult to reach me at night.
Earlier in my life I had instinctively indulged in the ‘option stupidity’ several times. I got away without any loss. But I had recently done staff college so I had to weigh all the options and take a considered decision.
In combat no one is right or wrong. Each situation throws up a number of options. It is like the Vikram and Vetaal story.
Anyway, that day I took the option mix of stupidity and cowardice with a modification. After briefing the Jawans I started moving my column cautiously and slowly down the same route. It took us two hours to cross that jungle patch. Seeing our alertness, the terrorist didn’t dare to fire at us. Next day when we came back to search the area the terrorists were nowhere to be seen.
The thought of letting the terrorist get away, kept haunting me for years. It was only a few years ago I could shrug off the guilt when I heard of the death of some Jawans where their commander had chosen to fight at an unfavourable time and place.
In case you were there as the commander of the troops what would you have done? Were there more options available?
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