Air Chief Marshal (retd) N A K Browne, who was heading the IAF during the controversial Army troop movements of January 2012, disclosed Friday that one of the two movements — that of para commandos from Agra — was actually planned for a month later as a joint exercise with the Air Force.
Browne also denied an explanation by the Army — given when The Indian Express had first reported on the troop movements on April 4, 2012 — that “the paras were being moved to check out the possibility of their ‘marrying’ with the C-130s in Hindon”.
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He said the Air Force had nothing to do with that para movement.
The retired Air Chief’s revelation came a day after Lt Gen A K Choudhary, the then Director General of Military Operations, confirmed to The Indian Express that the defence secretary had called him on the night of January 16, 2012 and ordered him to send back the troops who had neared Delhi.
“We had just acquired the C-130s, and the paratroopers were scheduled to conduct an exercise to test the aircraft and its capabilities. This was scheduled a month after the issue of the troop movement came to light,” Browne said.
Browne underlined that the Air Force was never consulted ahead of the January 15-16 movement of para commandos from Agra — a deployment which happened just as the then Army Chief Gen V K Singh approached the Supreme Court on January 16 against the government on his birth date row.
“This (movement) happened in January and it was strictly to do with the Army, their unit never came anywhere near Hindon, so the Air Force had absolutely no role in this. The question does not arise,” he told The Indian Express.
The then DGMO Choudhary had told The Indian Express Thursday that Hindon was the destination only on paper. “The para guys were only going to the artillery unit in Gurgaon though on paper, they were to go to Hindon,” he had said.
The Indian Express report of April 2012 had also pointed out that the C-130s were not even in Hindon then. They were rehearsing at their staging base in Jaisalmer for the Republic Day flypast.
Choudhary, as he has now confirmed, was not even aware of the movement of para commandos when quizzed by then defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma at their late night meeting on January 16, 2012.
“I was initially not aware of it. They had been coming for training and going back. They used to come and go from that area in the past also. After the meeting, I also told them to carry out no further movement and asked them to go back in smaller groups,” he said on Thursday.
The former Air Chief’s revelation now raises the question why the para commandos were moved in January when a full-fledged exercise had been scheduled for a month later.
The stated purpose of the February exercise was to check the time the para detachment would take to make it to Hindon and get airborne for any urgent mission.
The para commandos detachment in Agra is kept ready to fly out on short notice to any neighbouring country in case a friendly government is under threat. This is one of their key military tasks and is therefore a joint effort with the Air Force.