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Army to turn on heat, asks govt to consider cross-border strikes

 2016-09-19 05:57:45.0

uri-attack NEW DELHI: The Army is going to turn the heat on Pakistan along the 778-km Line of Control (LoC) with concentrated artillery barrages, sniping and other operations, even as a section of the Indian security establishment wants the government to also consider "limited but punitive cross-border strikes" to send an unequivocal message to Pakistan. But while "enhanced military pressure" along the LoC is a tactical move to impose some costs on the Pakistan Army for continuing to aid and abet terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, the government will have to take a considered decision on conventional cross-border strikes on terror-training camps because of possible escalation into a full-fledged conflict. Army battalions along the LoC as well as forward IAF airbases on the western front have in any case been put on "full alert" to take care of any contingency, government sources said. Though "surgical strikes", covert military operations or "hot pursuits" inside Pakistani territory may not be on the cards as yet, the Army can certainly "bleed" Pakistani troops without crossing the LoC. Targeted artillery and heavy-mortar fire on Pakistan army posts and bunkers and intensive sniping to interfere with movement of their patrols are among the several tactical options used in the past. "Yes, there will be retaliation from the other side but it can be dealt with," said a source. As for cross-border strikes, some security establishment officials say a political decision has to be taken to send a clear message to Pakistan that "enough is enough". A senior official said, "How long will we keep on absorbing terror strikes, from 26/11 to Pathankot, without effectively retaliating? Our defensive approach only serves to embolden the Pakistan army-ISI combine further." Officials say there are a variety of military options with "different thresholds" that can be considered by the government short of a full-scale war or crossing Pakistan's nuclear red lines. The first could be "calculated trans-border operations" by infantry units or even the Special Forces, trained for such "irregular warfare", against military or terrorist targets across the LoC. For longer range strikes, the 90-km range Smerch rockets or the 290-km BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles can come into play. An escalatory step would be "surgical air strikes" by fighters like Mirage-2000s, Jaguars and Sukhoi-30MKIs armed with laser-guided 'smart' bombs or cluster bombs. But this will have to be carefully calibrated because Pakistan's air defence system is totally geared towards India, with the possibility of IAF taking some losses. But others sound a word of caution. "Pakistan is no Myanmar (where Indian Para-SF troops conducted a trans-border raid to take out militants in June 2015). The government has to take into account that any strike inside Pakistan can escalate into an all-out war. Pakistan, of course, often threatens first-use of tactical nuclear weapons if it is attacked by India," said an official.

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