Indian army veterans with extensive experience in counter-terrorism have lavished praise on the Bangladesh Army’s 1st Para-Commando battalion for their conduct during ‘Operation Twilight’ in Sylhet, saying ‘we have much to learn from them.’
“They displayed a very high level of operational maturity and tactical patience. They were not derailed from their focus by Saturday’s bombings on the outer cordon. The use of snipers to take out the militants was the right choice. When militants have suicide vests on, it is important to avoid close quarter combat to the extent possible,” said Lt Gen John Ranjan Mukherjee, who commanded a corps in Kashmir and retired as chief of staff of India’s Eastern Army Command.
Mukherjee, one of India’s leading counter-terrorism veterans, with long experience in Kashmir and the Northeast, said the Bangladesh para commandos had ‘their priorities absolutely right.’
“Taking the civilians to safety first and leaving none behind to be taken hostages and doing all that while under fire was a great achievement and the right thing to do. The lessons of Holey Artisan were clearly not lost on them,” Mukherjee said.
“Unlike the Pakistan Army, which goes berserk when hit or under fire, the Bangladesh soldiers and their commanders have displayed a very cool head under adversity,” said Mukherjee, a veteran of the 1971 war.
He congratulated 17 Division GOC Maj Gen Anwarul Momen, 1st Para-Commando Battalion CO Lt Col Imrul Hassan and other officers and men involved in ‘Operation Twilight.’
“From the bottom of my heart, I give them my best wishes on a very successful operation. Being macho needlessly is no good, losing troops unnecessarily is no good.”
His one-time colleague Maj Gen Arun Roye, who was deputy chief of India’s leading counter-insurgency force Assam Rifles, said the success of ‘Operation Twilight’ was due to the ‘full delegation of authority to those who matter’.
“It was a very good idea to leave it to the commanders on the ground to decide on tactical alternatives. In India, we often have too much interference from senior officers and politicians. That did not happen there (Sylhet).”
Roye, who retired as Bengal Area GOC and was India’s military attaché in the US, praised the 1st Para-Commandos for three decisions:
- Removing the television and media from the operational zone;
- Painstakingly evacuating the civilians to avoid a hostage situation;
- Managing the combat engagement tactfully with good ‘fire control’ to prise open the location of militants for sniper hits;
Roye said that the Bangladesh Army’s handling of the media environment was a ‘lesson for all armies to learn.’
“They did the job brilliantly. Enough details were released, even videos and still pictures, but no operational detail was leaked. Our commanders made such mistake during Mumbai 26/11 operations because everyone wants to take credit,” said Roye.
“This was possible because none in Bangladesh Army or Police was into one-upmanship. That is one lesson we all should learn from.”
Roye also gave full credit to Army spokesperson Brig Gen Fakhrul Ahsan for crediting police for accurate intelligence.
“That is how you develop team spirit between different forces involved in operations. That is how you avoid working at cross purposes.”
Maj Gen KK Ganguly, who commanded Indian Army in Sri Lanka’s Jaffna operations, said that Operation Twilight shows the Bangladesh Army has nicely evolved into a ‘thinking, cerebral army’.
“Many armies have leaders who brag too much. During operations, they face TV cameras and make tall claims. Bangladesh Army seems to have commanders who think hard and finish an operation without making tall claims.”
He said ‘Operation Twilight’ will further boost the credibility of Bangladesh Army and will make them more sought after by the UN.
Former field commanders echoed the views of the senior generals.
Col Ashis Das, who fought insurgents in Kashmir and Northeast and is credited with capturing a major hill during the 1986 confrontation with China, agreed with Mukherjee and Roye.
“Fighting fanatic terrorists prepared to blow themselves up in a populated built up area is the army’s worst nightmare. The Bangladesh para-commandos displayed great skill and tactical finesse in handling a delicate situation.”
Das and his former colleague Col Partha Bhattacharyya also lauded the Bangladesh government for putting its full trust in the Army to handle the job.
“In India, we often have needless political interference. Our politicians often shy away from tough decisions. That is clearly not the case in Bangladesh,” said Das.
Col Bhattacharya, who served in Kashmir and Northeast and also in ‘very difficult situations abroad’, agreed. “Bangladesh has the political will to tackle terrorism. And they have very competent soldiers and policemen who are prepared to do whatever it takes to fight against terror.”
Both Das and Bhattacharya praised the ‘tactical restraint’ displayed by the para commandos.
“The Russians would have taken down the whole building or pumped gas into it without rescuing civilians first, as they did in the Moscow theatre years ago. The Pakistanis would have opened indiscriminate fire. The Bangladesh Army used force in the right measure, there was no overkill,” said Das.
Bhattacharyya, formerly of military intelligence, also praised the ‘quality and accuracy of intelligence’ in Sylhet.”That makes a huge difference’.
“The way Bangladesh is fighting terror speaks a lot about the country. They will do well in whatever they do,” said Bhattacharya.
Agreed Colonel Soumitra Ray.”Bangladesh Army has come a long way. They are mission-focused and task-oriented. Ops Twilight proved it.”
Credit: Subir Bhaumik