The escape of terrorists from the Poonch area which was surrounded by a three-tier cordon of army, police and other security forces has left questions as to the effectiveness of the measures taken by the forces. While the area of operations is one of difficult terrain and plenty of cover provided by dense forests, visibility was further reduced due to foggy conditions prevalent there.
“It is difficult to explain how the presence of caves being used for habitation in that area was not known to the authorities. There does seem to have been an intelligence problem. Visibility is the key issue in these areas. Even though the army has thermal imaging and night vision devices, these devices are effective only for a range of three kilometres in case of a vehicle and one kilometre if used to identify individual movement. In dense forest, these devices have low utility because you need a clear line of sight to be able to see your targets,” said one Special Forces officer who has taken part in similar operations against terrorists in the area.
“If they use VHF radio communication we can use direction-finders to zero in on them but that is useful only to a certain extent. If they use satellite phones then only specialised agencies can intercept their transmissions and locate them,” he says, adding, “Technology can be used only up to a certain point. After that, your terrain and the proximity of the Line of Control (LoC) are your biggest hurdles. Ultimately it comes down to troops advancing slowly through heavy fog and dense forest. Unless the terrorists give away their positions, it becomes a matter of chance if your troops come upon the terrorists. If terrorists move slowly enough, they can slip over the LoC into safety.”
But the presence of a three-tier cordon should have been a waiting noose for the terrorists. “Again it is difficult to explain precisely how the terrorists could have evaded the cordons. There is no doubt the area is very difficult to patrol. On top of that, the fog and foliage are the biggest assets of the terrorists. They could have waited for their chance and slipped through,” he says, “And since there were only around ten of them, they had a good chance. The army will now search for them and try to pick up a trail. I doubt they would still be on our side of the LoC.”