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GI Joe Meets Mowgli

US soldiers are relearning warfare in Mizoram

GI Joe Meets Mowgli
GI Joe Meets Mowgli
India may have refused to join the US-led coalition in Iraq and may be opposed to it being under an occupation force. But in a remote corner of Mizoram, a group of US soldiers and officers who will be deployed in Iraq early next year have just completed training at the Indian army's Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS). The 17-day training exercise, named Yudh Abhyas (battle practice), has drawn accolades from the American participants. In fact, according to Major Dan Wilson of the US army's 25th Infantry Division, based in Hawaii, critical aspects of the training will be incorporated in the US anti-terror operations doctrine. Wilson and his troops returned from active duty in Afghanistan this year and will be deployed in Iraq early next year.

The US contingent—a total of seven officers and 35 soldiers—also includes officers and soldiers from the 1st Battalion of the Guam National Guards and have been paired with one officer, one JCO and 40 soldiers of the Indian army's 22 Maratha Light Infantry.

"The training we have undergone here will definitely help us conduct future operations, including when we're deployed in Iraq," First Lieutenant Peter Almirez of the US army told Outlook. According to the Americans, the US army has very little training in jungle warfare and anti-insurgency operations—the only such combat school closed down nearly a decade ago. Points out Lieutenant Colonel Marcus of the Guam National Guards: "Here (at the CIJWS), we have relearnt the lessons that were drawn from Vietnam."

There was a 'realistic' touch to the simulated training situation. The US and Indian officers and men were divided into two task forces and assigned to neutralise insurgents and terrorists belonging to three aligned outfits in the make-believe Amanpur state. The most-wanted on the list of terrorists was Salim Maqsood, head of the 'Jaan-Baaz Commandos' who had to be captured, preferably alive. "The lessons were employed practically. We have 12 ranges covering a wide variety of situations likely to be encountered in a counter-insurgency or anti-terror operation," says Colonel U.S. Bawa, head of the CIJWS faculty of studies, doctrine and concept development. The Counter Terrorist Encounter Range facilitates trainees to practise a wide number of firing positions ranging from close quarters to long-range sniper shooting at fixed or moving targets in isolation or in civilian areas.

There's an indoor shooting range where targets pop up at random and the shooting skills and reflexes of the trainees are tested. The Urban Shooting and Pursuit Range was a particular favourite with the US troops as it offered a realistic situation in which troops patrolling a street had to neutralise hostile targets inside houses without inflicting collateral damage.

The US soldiers training at the school were also sent to nearby villages to conduct mock operations there. "The villagers are paid handsomely and are happy to participate in the mock exercises. The students are tasked with raiding the village, questioning the people, searching the houses and flushing out terrorists hiding there. Live ammunition is never used for obvious reasons during these mock exercises, but it allows the students to get a feel of real-life situations they will encounter in actual anti-terror operations," Bawa told Outlook.

According to Brigadier Rakesh Sharma, the school commandant, the emphasis during the joint training exercise was on teaching the students ways to see problems in their entirety. Says Sharma: "In an anti-terror situation, all components need to be addressed. Just neutralising the terrorists and busting their networks is not enough. Collateral damage has to be limited, human rights have to be taken into account and the media has to be taken into confidence." Sharma, who has served seven tenures in insurgency-afflicted Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast and was part of the IPKF in Sri Lanka, feels that the rich experience of the faculty at the CIJWS in fighting insurgency and the wide-ranging training at the CIJWS makes it the only such combat school in the world.

The joint exercise also factored in a probable situation where Indian and US soldiers may have to fight terrorists in tandem. "Insurgency and terrorism are changing shape, going from jungles to urban arenas. Hence, our focus is changing as well. We have to train soldiers for all possible scenarios," says Sharma. The Indian soldiers in the joint exercise have gained proficiency in weapons like the M-4, M-16 and M-107 rifles, the M-249 light machine gun and equipment like night-vision sights and laser-guided arms.

The latest training programme is the third that soldiers from the US have undergone at the school. According to Sharma, post-9/11, the US felt the need to send its army officers and men to India. "The US army is interested in the jungle and urban warfare components, the doctrines that have been developed here and the ethos we've developed of dealing with the civilian population," he says.

Of great interest to the US soldiers were tactics taught at the school to deal with suicide bombers, human bombs and human shields used by terrorists. "Most of the time, security forces are reactive. But at the CIJWS, we teach soldiers to call the shots against insurgents or terrorists. We teach the officers and men how to outwit terrorists. We equip them with tactics, situations and ideas so that they can outwit the terrorists. Anti-terror or anti-insurgency operations are actually a battle of wits and ideas," explains Lieutenant Colonel Rajiv Dhar, an instructor. It's apparent that the US army is happy with the training. It has proposed that the joint training exercise becomes an annual feature.

The US contingent is not only impressed with the CIJWS and its course content, but also with the Indian army. As Major Wilson puts it: "We're also taking back with us a newfound and tremendous respect for Indian army officers and soldiers. Indian troops are as well-trained, motivated and quick as the best US soldiers." Indo-US defence cooperation seems to be on the right track.

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