IAF men did not flee from forests, says chief Browne

Such snide comments would divide the security agencies

The Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel, who came under attack from the Maoists in a Chhattisgarh forest last month, did not flee the spot as alleged by the Home Ministry officials and police, claimed IAF chief N A K Browne.

Volleying questions on the IAF personnel, including two Garuda commandos, allegedly deserting an injured policeman and loaded weapons in the forest, Browne said: “All nonsense. No weapons were left behind. One machine gun was jammed in a bracket because of the crash.”

Browne’s reaction came in the wake of Union Home Secretary R K Singh officially complaining to Defence Secretary Sashi Kant Sharma. Besides, the Chhattishgarh police chief claimed the IAF personnel scampered off the spot.

Days after being questioned by the Union Home Ministry on the conduct of his men, Browne said such snide comments would divide the security agencies at a time when the need was to fight the Maoists together. The IAF has already conducted around 6,000 sorties in anti-Naxal operations.

“If such sniping (by the union home secretary and the director general of police, Chhattisgarh) continued, it would lead to a division in security agencies, not only in anti-Naxal operations but also in the Valley. We need to work as a team and the IAF is fully committed to its role in the anti-Naxal operations,” he said.

An IAF MI-17 IV helicopter was on a rescue mission to the Timalwara helipad in south Chhattishgarh on January 18. While landing, the helicopter was hit by ground fire from the Maoists.

Multiple bullet hits had extensively damaged the fuel tank, hydraulic system, rotor blades and air conditioning generator, resulting in hot oil and fuel gushing into the passenger compartment, followed by multiple systems failure. Consequently, the helicopter crash-landed.

Browne said both sides exchanged fire for 35-40 minutes.  The two commandoes had sustained chemical injuries. Since the wireless operator (a Chhattishgarh policeman) could not be evacuated because of his injury, other crew members decided to move to the nearest CRPF camp for back-up.

He was rescued by a CRPF team within three hours and brought to Jagdalpur, the district headquarters, in an armoured car and subsequently flown to Raipur, where he is recuperating.

“We are taking a number of corrective steps to avoid recurrence of similar incidences in future,” he said.

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