Horse power in counter-Naxal operations

Horse power in counter-Naxal operations

As part of the on-going training to combatise the police to “fight the guerilla (Naxals) like a guerilla”, the country’s only jungle warfare college in Kanker, Chhattisgarh is keen to augment its horse squad with 12 more trained horses drawn from Bangalore’s famed stud farms.

Bangalore has always been synonymous with anything equestrian - from being home to some of the best riding schools to hosting horse shows, blue riband races and the turf club. Hence the choice of Bangalore to pick up some thoroughbreds as well as mixed breeds to engage in defensive operations such as early warning of potential Naxal strikes, outskirts surveillance of towns and villages, and psy-warfare.
Last week’s Naxal strike in Raipur that claimed the lives of four jawans who were returning from patrol duty and rode their vehicle over a buried IED (improvised explosive device), is a typical situation where the horse squad could have averted such a heavy casualty.

Says Brig (retired) B K Ponwar, Commandant, Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC), Kanker: “Naxalites pave the entry points to their jungle hideouts with IEDs. Using vehicles is risky as well as gives away to the Naxals the pattern or route of operation. Horses, on the contrary, can run cross-country and help approach the Naxals from any side, giving psychological dominance to the security forces.”
Symbolically, the college’s horse squad, which has 34 horses, including two sourced from Bangalore - Tipu and Tanatina - is named Chetak, after the faithful charger of Maharana Pratap.

“Horses never say die and serve their master until they drop dead. It is up to the rider to know when the animal should be rested,” says Brig Ponwar, a passionate Polo enthusiast, who has ridden the famed Zanskari ponies on the high slopes of Leh. His latest batch of 600 trainees, including some IPS officers, began training at the college from October 25 in armed mounted patrolling, firing pistols and AK 47 from horseback.

Best form of offence
The horse squad is used in defensive rather than offensive operations. Hence, thoroughbreds can adapt just as well as their tough, mixed breed counterparts from Marwar region.
Drawing on his Army background, Brig Ponwar had invited Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor to visit the college in March, the first ever official trip by any army chief to the restive state. The General could not make it, but a determined Brig Ponwar met him in Raipur, requesting replenishment of his horse stock.

Gen Kapoor acceded to the request and, according to latest reports, the college has been allotted six horses by the Army. If all goes well, October to March is the shopping season for horses as the animals are transported by road in expanded chassis, each holding six.

“Horses are not common in Bastar and trained horse riders even more uncommon. I asked trainees interested in riding to put up their hands and almost every hand went up,” says the brigadier.

Not all work
It’s not all work and no play for these horses and riders. Horse squad Chetak participates in cavalry sports such as tent pegging and endurance races as well. In the last endurance race in Jodhpur, organised by Raja Gaj Singh, the squad returned with five bronze medals. Come December, the squad will be off for another endurance race at Dundlod in Jaipur, hosted by Equestrian Federation of India.