As the security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, the Indian Air Force has kept large and medium transport aircraft on standby for deployment at short notice.
South Block has been in close touch with Indian diplomats and the government in Baghdad, working out contingency plans to evacuate scores of citizens stranded in fighting zones.
“Depending on the number of people to be evacuated, we can send in either the large C17 transporters or the medium lift C130 J aircraft. We have kept the planes on standby and are ready to fly out,” a senior officer said.
The IAF is, however, yet to receive a formal request to carry out an evacuation mission. New Delhi has issued an advisory to citizens in Iraq to leave at the earliest, using commercial means of transport. Baghdad airport remains open, and the rebel forces are still some distance away from the Iraqi capital. The IAF has a commendable record of conducting humanitarian and evacuation missions.
The Ministry of External Affairs is at the moment more worried about the 86 Indians — mostly nurses — stranded in the cities of Tikrit and Mosul that have already fallen into rebel hands. Evacuation from these cities is currently not feasible, as roads are believed to be unsafe.
The ministry on Tuesday set up a 24-hour control room in Delhi “in view of the prevailing security situation in Iraq”, after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, asked the MEA’s Secretary (East) Anil Wadhwa to chair a crisis management team to “review all aspects of assistance that can be provided to the Indian nationals in the affected area”. Swaraj has been reviewing the situation on a regular basis.
“Wadhwa has met the Iraqi Ambassador in India who apprised him of the situation and also, they discussed possibilities of ground-level cooperation and assistance in assisting Indian nationals who are in the affected area,” the MEA spokesperson said.
The government has decided to monitor the security situation on an hourly basis with the Indian Embassy in Baghdad providing updates on contacts with Indian nationals in the affected areas. The Baghdad mission is also in touch with the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI). On India’s request, an International Red Crescent team contacted the nurses in Tikrit, and has since reported that they are doing well.
India has strongly condemned the takeover of the two cities by Sunni rebels as a “direct threat to the security and territorial integrity” of Iraq, and has said that it stands by the Iraqi people in their fight against international terrorism.
The start by the government, with 44 days gone, has been measured, more practised and less frenetic.