Faux pas by IAF men irks ministry, seeks action

Personnel abandoned chopper after Maoist fire

The Union Home Ministry has lodged an official protest with the Defence Ministry, describing “extremely disturbing” the act of Indian Air Force personnel for abandoning a helicopter, weapons and an injured wireless operator after coming under Maoists fire on January 18 in Chhattisgarh.

An Air Force chopper had crash landed after the machine was hit by bullets fired by rebels during a sortie to airlift two policemen injured during anti-Maoists operation in the  Timilwada are of South Chattisgarh.  Among the chopper crew were two Garud commandos, besides the same number of pilots who ran to safety through they were armed and equipped with general orders to retaliate in case of coming under fire.

The IAF is also contemplating a counter attack to control the damage. The IAF helicopter was thrice given clearance by the CRPF to land at the designated spot there during a casualty evacuation mission but when the machine descended it faced a volley of bullets from Maoists, a news agency reported quoting IAF sources.

Government sources said that Home Secretary R K Singh wrote a terse letter to Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma on January 30,  saying that “the act by the members of an armed force of the Union is extremely disturbing and reflects on their battle hardiness”.
Singh has sought an inquiry into the irregularities and an appropriate action against the Air Force personnel for doing an unlike force act that “appeared to be in clear violation of the Standard operating Procedure on the subject”.

However, the home secretary said that he has taken up with Chhattisgarh government why the area earmarked for chopper landing was not sanitised – lapse visible as the firing came from adjoining hills in Timilwada. In the letter, Singh narrated the incident. 
The Mi-17 helicopter was fired upon at around 1700 hours on that day from hill surrounding the area causing injuries to the police wireless operator, who was one of the seven occupants of the chopper.

The helicopter had to make emergency landing at an undesignated place, 2.25 km from Chintagufa police station. But the six IAF personnel, including two commandos of elite Garud force, abandoned the injured wireless operator and also their weapons and the helicopter, he said.

After the media report, even Defence Minister A K Antony had ordered an inquiry as the reported incident was a dampener on the morale of the armed forces. The Chattisgarh police wireless operator Yamlal Sahu is in a critical condition at a Raipur hospital.

The IAF helicopter had taken 15 bullet hits on its windscreen, body and fuel tank forcing it to crashland. Sahu was injured with bullet injuries that pierced through his intestines.
Sources said after the incident, the IAF was refining its flying tactics over the thick-forest areas of Chhattisgarh and was also considering ways of flying the choppers with the rear-ramp open which can give a better aim to its security crew to retaliate when Maoists fire at them.

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