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Suraj Jagtap asked: What is the approach of armed forces and their response to urban terrorist strikes?

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  • Vivek Chadha replies: The question seeks clarity on the approach of “armed forces” to urban terrorist strikes. It may be presumptuous on my part to assume that the word “armed forces” has been used by mistake and the question actually relates to police and NSG. However, I will attempt to answer both aspects.

    The armed forces in our context comprise of the army, navy and air force. These forces are never the first responders in case of a terrorist strike in urban areas. The first response will almost always come from the police, anti-terrorism cells and, thereafter, specialised forces like the NSG. However, as was the case during 26/11, support of the armed forces can be requisitioned. Therefore, their role is likely to remain in support at best in most areas in the country. The only exception can be disturbed areas where the armed forces are deployed. A similar attack in Srinagar could witness a greater role of the army in support of the police and central armed police organisations (CAPOs) like the CRPF.

    This brings me to the approach of the police and CAPOs. Their approach can be better understood by first understanding the aim of terrorists when an urban strike is undertaken. They want to spread the fear of unknown, discredit the ruling elite, achieve the greatest possible publicity through the sheer audaciousness of the target and nature of attack. Large scale civilian casualties are one of the means of spreading this very message as seen during 26/11 and 9/11 attacks. Therefore, the approach of the security forces is to minimise collateral damage, civilian casualties and loss of property. This limits the sensationalisation of the assault, thereby defeating terrorist aims. Security forces also aim to neutralise the terrorists in a systematic and clinical manner, displaying the efficiency and capability of the state vis-à-vis the terrorists. Finally, and probably most importantly, it is the ability to bring back life to business as usual, which is the best way of defeating the terrorist aim of spreading fear in the society at large.