Clear the air
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Though details are still scanty on the incidents of the night of January 18 in Sukma, Chhattisgarh, Indian Air Force Chief N.A.K. Browne has decided to settle the matter himself. He exonerated his men, saying they were only trying to avoid a "hostage situation", and urged that all agencies cooperate rather than question each other. Reportedly, Naxal firing on an air force helicopter in the dense forests blindsided the crew. The helicopter crash-landed, and a bullet hit Yem Lal Sahu, a 29-year-old wireless operator from the Chhattisgarh police, in the abdomen. What followed, though, appears to be a shameful story. The Indian Air Force crew, including two commandos of the supposedly elite Garud force, allegedly left Sahu bleeding in the armed helicopter for a nearby CRPF camp. Sahu sent desperate signals, asking for help, until he was finally located and rescued by the CRPF's Cobra unit, and taken to hospital. The delay has been deeply damaging for the young policeman. The home ministry has ordered an inquiry. This is what the air force chief has taken objection to. In fact, Browne indicated, all's well that ends well, because Sahu was recovering fine, "sitting on a sofa, having a cup of tea".
It is indeed difficult to pass judgement on a combat situation from afar, but it is also unconscionable to abandon an injured comrade from another force, and the air force team's action certainly calls for an investigation. The hostage situation excuse also assumes that the Chhattisgarh policeman's life was somehow of less value, and it cannot be used as a calculation by the military to escape, leaving behind their helicopter and weapons to fall into Naxal hands. Browne's theory about the security establishment keeping these incidents away from public knowledge, to maintain team spirit, doesn't hold. These incidents must be investigated, and lapses punished.
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