BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 3(2) September - October 2000

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The Rashtriya Rifles

B BHATTACHARYA

Genesis

The last decade of the 20th century was particularly bloody for Kashmir. By May 1990 it was clear that Kashmir valley was in the grip of an insurgency of intensity not seen before. It started out in the urban areas and then spread to the countryside. The army which till then was the guardian of the international border (IB) and the line of control (LOC) was called in to assist in Counter Insurgency (CI) ops. Based on its experience with low intensity conflicts in Nagaland, Sri Lanka and Punjab, the Indian Army was quite wary of trying to replicate strategy and tactics successfully used elsewhere. By 1993 the army had got together a doctrine for the low intensity conflict in Kashmir. In Nagaland for example, the army had learnt that physical domination of each and every village was one way to combat insurgency. Long experience had taught the army the value of the grid system. In this system the whole terrain was divided into a grid. Each node at any given time would have a platoon worth of ready to move soldiers, the so called quick reaction team which would mutually reinforce other nodes. All would be covered with heavier fire support and have adequate logistics.

However the grid often looked better on paper than on the ground. The obvious reason for this was the terrain. In the Wanni jungles of Sri Lanka where the grid had been successfully applied, civilians and villages were few and far between, and so attack helicopters and artillery could be used. This enabled heavy firepower to be brought in to support troops in the grid in minutes. Now the Kashmir valley is very densely populated and there is fear of collateral damage from using heavy fire support. So troops fighting CI had to do without it. To makeup for that the grid had to be more densely packed. This is where the army saw the need for additional forces such as the Rashtriya Rifles (RR).

The army got the go-ahead to create the RR from the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government in 1990. The initial sanction was for two sectors Head Quarters (HQs) each of three battalions. When General B.C. Joshi became Army Chief, the promise his predecessor - General Sunith F. Rodrigues - made about making the Pathankot-based 39 Division and the Bareilly-based 6 Mountain Division available for Kashmir was pending. He pushed a long-held army view, that India was involved in an extended counter-insurgency akin to the Naga problem in the North-East. Hence a new force - like the Assam Rifles - was needed which could be permanently located in the area to counter the insurgents.  And that using these divisions for CI would be playing into Pakistani hands. He instead pushed for setting up 10 more RR sector HQs - 30 battalions or the equivalent of three divisions. It was also felt that in the bargain the Army would have three additional battle-hardened divisions, ready for rear guard action during war. In 1994, the Narasimha Rao government gave a conditional go-ahead for a period of three years.

RR Organization

All units of the Army have an organizational structure called the War Establishment (WE). According to the WE are laid down the number of men, vehicles, weapons etc which the unit is authorized for carrying out it's assigned role. The infantry battalions (inf bns) in the Indian Army have a standard organization called the Inf Bn Standard. Other types of inf bns according to their assigned role are called by various modifications to the Inf Bn Standard like Inf Bn CI, Inf Bn Mountains, Parachute Inf Bn, Para Commando Bn and even (till 1975) Camel Mounted Bn. Till the RR came into the picture, the infantry battalions tasked for CI ops were on the Inf Bn CI. They had four companies and retained their battalion heavy weapons since they were dual tasked. The RR on the other hand has an organization structure tailor made for CI ops. They have six infantry companies and do not have the heavy battalion weapons which the Inf Bn CI carry although RR troops do train on them. Thus they do not incur the costs of a heavier unit. Also unlike regular army units which were rotated out of the valley regularly, the RR concept was to rotate personnel after fixed periods of deputation. Currently this is for two years. The RR units are permanently located in "sectors", with each sector being the equivalent of a brigade with three battalions. To create a distinct identity, the RR has its own dress, special insignia and flag logistics.

The RR units come under four CI Force HQs. Victor Force looks after Anantnag and Pulwana districts in the south Kashmir valley, Kilo Force looks after Kupwara and Baramulla districts in the north Kashmir valley. Both these forces come under the operational control of the 15 Corps. The Delta Force looks after the Doda district and the Romeo Force after Poonch and Rajouri. These two forces come under the operational control of the 16 Corps. Each force is headed by a GOC-in-C with the rank of a Major General. In terms of their location and use, each of the units and sectors was seen as being interchangeable with a regular, equivalent army formation. GOC Victor Force in some instances would have 2 sector HQs and a regular infantry brigade in his charge. On the other hand when 8 Mountain Division moved to Kashmir, it came with 2 brigades which were then augmented by adding a sector of the RR apart from a couple of independent mountain brigades to it.

After the  government gave the go-ahead to setup the RR, the army decided to milk its existing units by 10-20% of their personnel to set up it up quickly. The officers and men came on deputation from all branches of the army including the Infantry, Army Service Corps, EME, Artillery, Armoured Corps. The infantry provides 50%, services 10% and other arms 40% of the troops. In fact the army mothballed a few armoured regiments and transferred their manpower to the RR.

Each regimental center was given the task of raising 1-2 battalions in one year time. During this period, the units were raised and sent to the Northern Command where they got another 4 to 6 weeks to consolidate. All of them went through a structured 8 week course in special CI schools. They were then given another month to stabilize and then sent to the more dormant sectors of Kashmir and to the Punjab. To provide some experience base, 6 RR battalions were exchanged for 6 Assam Rifles units.

In raising the Rashtriya Rifles to full strength, the Army also had to dig into its war-wastage reserves, with the best available vehicles, weapons  and radio sets going to the RR. In fact the RR units were even the first to receive bullet-proof jackets and patkas. With manpower drawn from all its  arms and services, the Army has had to deal with serious shortages  in many of its conventional units, for Rashtriya Rifles battalions are maintained at full authorized strength. However once the teething problems were overcome the RR proved it was worth the trouble.

Evolution

The initial RR units performed well despite certain inherent weaknesses in their class and composition. They were raised on All India/All Class basis with troops from all over the Army. The logic being that since the units were going to fight an insurgency, there should be no scope for vested interests in accusing a battalion of bias based on a class or regional attributes. Unfortunately, this setup created problems in the field. The initial RR units were like transit camps, with troops coming and going at regular intervals. There was little camaraderie and cohesion among troops. There were also numerous problems of administration and even of indiscipline. COs of infantry battalions who were asked to provide manpower generally used to use that as a chance to get rid of trouble makers. If the initial battalions performed well in hostile conditions, it was mainly due to the professional competence of officers who were asked to lead them.

Keeping this in mind, a decision was taken to alter the basic composition of the RR battalions. Instead of its units comprising of troops from all over the Army, two RR battalions were made an integral part of each of the infantry regiments and other arms. Now not only are majority of troops of the two RR battalions drawn from the other units of the Regiment, but their Commanding Officer or the 2IC, is from the same regiment. This ensures not only functional cohesion but also the regimental esprit-de-corps. This experiment has produced excellent results even while the units were deployed in the most difficult areas.

Table 1:  RR Sector locations

   Sector 1   Anantnag
   Sector 2   Kulgam
   Sector 3    Kangan
   Sector 4   Doda
   Sector 5   Baramulla
   Sector 6   Poonch
   Sector 7   Kupwara
   Sector 8   Kupwara
   Sector 9   Kistwar
   Sector 10   Baramulla
   Sector 11   Banihal
   Sector 12   Badgam

Table 2: Some known RR battalion affiliations

  Battalion  Affiliation
 4 RR  Bihar
 7 RR  Punjab
10 RR  Rajput
11 RR  Dogra
12 RR  Grenadiers
13 RR  Kumaon
15 RR  1 GR
17 RR  Maratha
21 RR  Guards
22 RR  Punjab
32 RR  3 GR
36 RR   Garhwal  Rifles

Another change that was made was to have the Union Home Ministry (MHA) - instead of the Ministry of Defence - take over the burden of funding the RR. Although this was a good step, in reality it existed on paper. In 1997, the MHA owed the Army Rs.950 crores for the RR. The budgetary outlay for the force was Rs.263 crore in 1998-99. This was  upped to Rs.375 crore in the revised estimates for that year and the outlay for 1999-2000 was Rs.587 crores. Clearly if the funding were to come from the correct source in time, the army could use it for its modernization programmes.

One unforeseen consequence of the RR being a CI force is that it has led to command & control problems with other police organisations. The latter started arguing that the RR was in effect now a central police organisation (CPO), just like the BSF and the CRPF under the MHA. While BSF units deployed on the border are under the operational command of the Army, the BSF argued it believes that the application of the same structure in the matter of internal security duties would be inappropriate. There is scope for even further reorientation of the RR to make them more effective. Tackling insurgency and terrorism is heavily dependent on intelligence gathering, frequent shifting of units engaged in the conflict should be avoided. There have been occasions when a unit was moved from South Kashmir to the LOC and then back to South Kashmir - all within six months.  Also it is common knowledge that even now the best of the officers and jawans, with the right experience and training, are not spared by the regiments for duty with RR battalions. While combating low intensity conflicts, most actions are either at the platoon or the section level and it is important to have the best trained and seasoned 'junior leaders' leading the men into the fray. In a lot of places, they are pitted against highly motivated & trained mercenaries, who are guided by locals familiar with the terrain and topography.

Further it might not be a bad idea to modify two full fledged units of each of the regiments for the RR role for a period of two or three years instead of troops from different units of a regiment teaming up to form the core of the RR battalions. This will ensure greater cohesion since most men and officers would have known each other for a long period. In case of a full-fledged war, the same units on CI role can be used for rear area security. The army did have a system earlier where regular infantry battalions were raised on a reduced counter-insurgency establishment. These modified infantry battalions were used in the 1971 war with minimal reorganization. This system avoids the current hybrid composition of the RR battalions.  Care is needed to ensure that troops of other arms/regiments/units deputed to a RR battalion are properly assimilated and dont feel left out. In one case, the accused in a serious act of indiscipline who was not from the parent regiment, put down discrimination against men like him for his actions. 

The RR In Action

The initial RR battalions deployed in the terrorist-infested areas of Tarn Taran in Punjab and Anantnag in Jammu & Kashmir proved to be extremely effective. In Punjab, the deployment of the Army and RR units did contribute to the turnaround in the situation. Since then the RR has been increasingly fighting the low-intensity war on behalf of the army in Kashmir. Casualty figures indicate that from 3 out of 44 army casualties in 1991 being from the RR, the figure has gone up to  82 out of 150 in 1996. Up to February '97, 17 RR officers (including 1 Colonel, 4 Lt. Colonels and 7 Majors), 13 JCOs and 169 ORs  have made the supreme sacrifice. The officer to OR casualty ratio for the RR (at 1:9.94 till February 1997) is almost double the average for the army in the Kargil and 1971 war (at 1:20).

Lt. Col. Shanti Swarup Rana, of the 13 Rashtriya Rifles, was one such officer. Born on 17 September 1949 in village Baila of Hoshiarpur District of Punjab, he initially joined the Army in the Corps of Signals and was later  selected for the Army Cadet College, Dehra Dun. After  completing his training, he was commissioned into 3 Bihar on 11 July 1977. A veteran of Operation Rhino, Operation Pawan and Operation Rakshak he became 2IC of the 13 Rashtriya Rifles, after being promoted to the rank of Lt. Col. in 1994.  On 02 November 1996, Lt. Col. Rana was entrusted with the task of destroying two terrorist camps in the Haphruda forest of Kupwara District in Jammu & Kashmir. Lt. Col. Rana spotted four well-fortified hideouts stocked heavily with arms & ammunition including 800 kg of explosives. In a gallant & swift strike he, with his troops, crawled towards the bunker and threw hand grenades and destroyed the hideouts.

One more hideout came to notice. During the action that followed, the terrorists resorted to heavy firing from their well fortified bunkers. Lt. Col. Rana organized his troops, crawled towards the bunker and threw hand grenades inside. Two foreign mercenaries came out firing heavily. Lt. Col. Rana killed them both instantaneously. Meanwhile the terrorists seriously injured Lt. Col. Rana in heavy firing from another location. In spite of this, the gallant officer kept on boosting the morale of his soldiers. When one more terrorist advanced towards the soldiers, Lt. Col. Rana, without caring for his own life, charged and killed him in a face-to-face encounter. In this action, the gallant officer suffered more injuries and made the supreme sacrifice. Lt. Col. Rana thereby displayed indomitable courage, patriotism and gallantry of the highest order for which he was awarded the Ashok Chakra (posthumous).

Major Padmanabha Sri Kumar was killed in an encounter with militants in the Poonch sector of Jammu & Kashmir in December 1997. His fellow officers recount the incident. "He killed 7 dreaded Hizbul Mujahideen  militants and walked out of the ambush unscathed. But when one of his men was trapped and injured, he walked back into enemy fire with guns blazing all around him to rescue the injured soldier. Major Sri Kumar was seriously injured in the rescue attempt when a volley of enemy bullets hit his chest. The injured soldier survived. But Major Sri Kumar made the supreme sacrifice of his life for the nation".

Sepoy Mechanda Ganapathy Chittiyappa, was  decorated with the Sena Medal for Gallantry for taking on  a group of terrorists and killing one of them. On 18 April 1998, Sepoy M.G. Chittiyappa was the leading scout in an operation at the village of Guldandadhar in Doda district of Jammu & Kashmir. He spotted a group of Pakistani terrorists in the area. Undeterred & unmindful of the shower of enemy bullets, he closed in and killed one of them. The rest escaped.

Yet another hero from the RR is  one of its decorated Tracker Dog 'Rex'. Rex was a recipient of GOC-in-C Commendation Card for his outstanding & exemplary performance against militants. The 9A 92 Rex, a golden Labrador was born on 25 February 1993 at RVC Centre & School Meerut. After a year's training, he was posted to 14 Army Dog Unit under Delta Force and assigned the areas adjoining the town of Bhaderwah, to help troops in trailing & tracking militants. In March 1995, operating with troops of 25 RR in jungles of Badrot, South of Bhaderwah, he tracked a militant injured in an encounter for over 3 km in the thick of militant fire. In a chase that lasted for over four hours, he managed to recover one AK 56 rifles and an haversack containing 92 rounds. Recently, in April 1998, out on a patrol in area Gulgandhar, security forces  killed two dreaded militants and badly injured one, who managed to escape. Picking up the scent of his blood, 'Rex' went hot on the trail and moved speedily & stealthily over strenuous undulating mountains. After tracking over 2 km, he succeeded in tracing out the body of the militant in a hideout where he had succumbed to his injuries. Let out on yet another 'trial' with the QRT of CO 25 RR in Daraba near Rajouri, Rex suffered an unfortunate fall and sustained serious  intestinal injuries. He was evacuated to the nearest Army Veterinary Hospital where he developed acute gastroentrities and finally succumbed on 22 September 1999.

By the time the RR celebrated its 8th anniversary it had become the most decorated organization in the Army. They had more that 500 gallantry awards to their credit. In fact 25% of the units had already been awarded the unit citation by the Chief of Army Staff for their distinguished performances. By that time the RR had already accounted for 1516 terrorists killed, 3932 apprehended and another 458 surrendered.

Table 3: Casualty figures indicate the fight is more & more the RRs.
Year RR Army  Security Forces Terrorists
1991 3 44 185 614
1992 0 50 177 873
1993 10 88 216 1328
1994 26 139 220 1667
1995 86 186 258 1377
1996 82 150 241 1329
1997   153 227 1329


   Pic 3: Rex - the RR's decorated tracker dog on a mission.

By September 1997 by the combined efforts of the Army, RR, and other paramilitary forces, the situation in Kashmir had stabalized to the extent that the army decided to de-induct 13 battalions (12,000 troops) including two brigades from the Kashmir valley over a two-year period. In fact up to Spring '99, the army had already withdrawn nine battalions (8000 troops) including a brigade from the Kashmir valley without replacements. The last batch of 4 battalions (about 4000 troops) along with a brigade HQ commenced de-inducting in April 1999 and was supposed to complete by mid-summer 1999. Despite all this the  army was still contributing about 58 battalions to the CI ops - 36 in Kashmir and 22 in the Jammu region.

Kargil and Beyond

In the spring of 1999, the Pakistani Army intruded into the Kargil heights. To deal with the situation, the army had to withdraw its battalions from CI ops in J&K. The units de-inducted included the battle hardened 8 Mountain Division which has been involved in CI ops for quite some years and which moved to Kashmir from Nagaland. During this period, the RR held the fort with the help of other paramilitary forces. Apart from that, RR  units actively contributed to operations in the Kargil heights where they fought shoulder-to-shoulder with jawans of the Sikh, Naga, Granadiers, JAK Rifles and the Para Regiments at heights of 16,000 feet and above.

Naik Mekh Bahadur Gurung of Garhi-Dakra, Dehra Dun was one of them. Naik Gurung lost his life on 22 May 1999, while part of the first recce patrol team that had gone to check on the intruders. Before being shot himself, Naik Mekh shot down at least one of the mercenaries. Lance Naik Balaji Baburao Male of the 5 RR was killed in action in the Kargil sector. L/Nk Male originally joined the 109 Engineer regiment before he was drafted into the RR. With more and more troops being called into action, Lance Naik Male's battalion was also pressed into service in the Kargil sector to bolster the infantry units fighting the enemy from across the border. On Sunday, 04 July 1999, L/Nk Male's unit was called out to conduct cordon & search operations in the same sector following reports of increased insurgent activity. L/Nk Male was detailed to defuse an improvised explosive device (IED) when fate struck. Something went wrong and the explosion took away another soldier, killed in the line of duty.

The 28 RR saw action in the Mushkoh Pandrass sector. Especially during the period after the Tiger Hill fell, when the Mushkoh sub-sector became the focus of attention. Lance Naik Sukhjeet Singh,was part of an Army column when he was seriously wounded  in enemy shelling but did not leave his position and refused to be evacuated till his last breath. Rifleman Pradeep Kumar of the same unit laid down his life on 09 July 1999. The next day, the unit lost Rifleman Jagjit Singh to artillery shelling. After Kargil all the RR units involved reverted back to the valley.


Pic 4: Soldiers of 28 RR celebrating their success 
after coming back from the operation in Dras sector.


Pic 5: The RR in action at the Kanzalwan
forests in Gurez sector, north of Srinagar

It needs to be pointed out that the RR units who held the fort in Jammu & Kashmir while the army fought it out in Kargil were the unsung heroes of the battle. Keeping the road and lines of communications open, fighting the terrorists, taking land mine blasts, that was their job. During this period, 26 RR units were deployed in the valley and three to guard the Banihal/Jawahar tunnel area. The sectors in the not so important areas - like Sector 9 in Kisthwar- were withdrawn and the focus was on the lines of communication and the valley.

The withdrawal of the 58 army units from the CI grid, and the changes that were made, really disturbed it and stirred things up again. They had been replaced by 14 CPRF and 6 BSF  battalions. However the replacements were new to the area and also did not make up for the numbers withdrawn. A vast area like Doda for example had to do with only 8 units during Kargil from the 1996 peak of 20 units. Kisthwar and Banderwah area which was under Sector 9 was handed over to the CRPF. The end result of all this was that the insurgents had a field day. Despite the army's extreme reluctance  it had to redeploy its units for CI duty. In fact even the 6 Mountain Division - inducted into the Valley during the Kargil conflict - had to be deployed on mopping-up operations in the higher reaches of north and south Kashmir. The setback was estimated to take at least a year to rectify.

Keeping this in mind, after the Kargil battle, the Government decided to immediately raise 12 more battalions of the RR and 20 more battalions of the Assam Rifles. Also sanctioned were the force headquarters Kilo and Romeo. The Kilo seems to be the current focus of attention with the maximum number of sectors and units under it. Apart from the direct increase in its own strength, the raising of the Assam Rifles battalions will allow the RR battalions deployed in the North-East to move to Kashmir. It was also decided in the post-Kargil scenario, that counter-insurgency operations will be undertaken now mainly by the Rashtriya Rifles in J&K and Assam Rifles in the NE, supplemented by other paramilitary forces such as the BSF and CRPF. The Army is to be used only in extreme situations. However it it to be seen how far this can be really implemented keeping in view the fact that about 100 army units are still involved in CI ops. Either way the Rashtriya Rifles has a job to do and do it they will.

Table 4: RR Battalion wise current approximate known area of operations. The focus seems to be on the Kilo Force.

Battalion   Approx  Area of Operations Battalion Approx Area of  Operations
 1 RR Pulwana 19 RR Kupwara
 2 RR Srinagar 20 RR Banihal
 3 RR Anantnag 21 RR Kupwara
 4 RR Doda 22 RR Sopore
 5 RR Ganderbal 23 RR Kupwara
 6 RR Kupwara 24 RR Kupwara
 7 RR Anantnag 25 RR Surankote
 8 RR Doda 26 RR Kishthwar
 9 RR Anantnag 27 RR Poonch
10 RR Doda 28 RR Baramulla
11 RR Doda 29 RR Baramulla
12 RR Doda 30 RR Sopore
13 RR Pattan 31 RR Kistwar
14 RR  Bandipore 32 RR Kupwara
15 RR Bandipore 33 RR Bandipore
16 RR Poonch 34 RR Badgam
17 RR Poonch 35 RR Badgam
18 RR Kupwara 36 RR Anantnag

Select Bibliography
[1] Bedi, Jatinder Singh, The Tribune, Aug 20, 1998, J&K killings "failure of intelligence"
[2] Coffee Land News, Jan 2000, Sena Medal (Gallantry) for M G Chittiyappa
[3] Hoselas, Pradip (Capt.), Rashtriya Rifiles: Eight Glorious Years
[4] Indian Express, July 6, 1999, The hero of Latur took the full blast
[5] Jacob, JRF (Lt. Gen), IDR, The defence scene and the budget: An appraisal
[6] Joshi, Manoj, The lost rebellion
[7] Kumar, Dinesh, Times Of India, 1999, Army pulls out of anti-militancy duty in  J&K
[8] Masoodi, Nazir, Indian Express, May 01, 2000, Army probe nails RR jawan in Col. Balbir killing case
[9] Nayar, KK, (Vice Admiral), Amar Jawan - A Book of Remembrance, India Book House
[10] Ramesh, Vinayak, India Today, Oct 11, 1999, The New Vigilantes
[11] Reddy, Kittu, Bravest of the Brave
[12] Sandhu, Kanwar, Indian Express, Dec 6, 1999, Security forces skate on J-K's thin ice
[13] Sandhu, Kanwar, Indian Express,  May 18, 1999, This combat is not the Army's, really
[14] Sawant, Gaurav C, Indian Express, Dec 16, 1997,  Beyond the call of duty
[15] Sawant, Gaurav C, Dateline Kargil
[16] Singh,  Manvendra, Indian Express, Aug 12, 1997, MHA refuses to pay for Rashtriya Rifles' upkeep
[17] Singh, Harjeet (Col.), Doda: An insurgency in the Wilderness
[18] Singh, Prabhjot, The Tribune, July 16, 1999, Army may not resume internal duty
[19]  Singh,  Vikram Jit,  Indian Express,  May 8, 1999,  Situation better in Valley, says Army; pulls out troops
[20] Sinha, Sanjiv, Indian Express, July 24, 1999, Army will man only borders now
[21] Swami, Praveen, Frontline, Aug. 28 - Sep. 10, 1999, Changing strategies 
[22] The Daily Excelsior, Oct 15, 1999, Heroes' farewell to mute sentinel
[23] The Daily Excelsior, July 30, 1999, Hundreds throng Kishtwar streets to welcome RR
[24] The Doon City Cronicle, June 1999, Brave Doonites  among the Kargil Shahids
[25] The Hindu, Jan 27, 1997, India's Military Might On Show At R-Day Parade

Acknowledgements:
[1] Members PVS Jagan Mohan, D. Sandhu, Mandeep Bajwa, Joga, L.N. Subramanian of the Bharat Rakshak Forum provided information used in this article.
[2] The Hindu for Picture 5: The RR in action in the Kanzalwan forests, in Gurez sector, 119 km north of Srinagar
[3] Reddy, Kittu, Bravest of the Brave for Picture 5: Lt. Col. Shanti Swarup Rana
[4] Hoselas, Pradip (Capt),  Rashtriya Rifiles: Eight Glorious Years for Picture : A RR trooper ready for combat
[5] RR Battalion area of operations and sector details generated from Daily Excelsior reports
[6] The Daily Excelsior for Picture 3:  "Rex" - the Army tracker dog on a mission.
[7] The Lost Rebellion for the base J&K map of Picture 1
[8] The Tribune for Picture 4:  Soldiers of 28 RR celebrating their success after coming back from the operation in Dras sector.

 

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