Army’s most critical deficiency – Good Generals – Lt Gen KK Khanna

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A lot has been written about Generals in the recent past. Not because of in-house introspection or internal check but because misdeeds were exposed in the Media. Lack of internal audit is a cause for concern. I wish to draw attention not on morals, but on Professionalism.

I have never been able to understand why no one is concerned about professionalism of Generals, the most important battle winning factor. Is it lack of interest or is the importance just not realised? Due to inaccuracies in the recording of past wars and inadequate professional analysis, we fail to draw lessons from our conflicts, with the result Generalship continues to be most mediocre, barring a few exceptions.

An accurate indicator of the state of generalship in any Army is the performance of Generals during war. In India, War Performance of Generals has not been inspiring, with a few exceptions. Of course, we have won most wars but all on account of leadership at middle and lower levels, and weaknesses of the adversary. Even in our most successful campaign to liberate Bangladesh there were many opportunities missed. Personal accounts of various participants indicate there is more than what is commonly declared. What is disturbing is the propensity to colour History for glorification either of individuals or of the Army.

Generalship is not mere planning and issue of orders. Generals must ensure optimum utilization of available resources, achieve their aims at minimum cost, and deal with unforeseen challenges and adversities, which are inevitable. At Command level skill lies in conducting Defense with minimum forces and generating maximum force for offensive operations even when conducting strategic defense. At Corps and Division levels the generals must utilize all their resources optimally to accomplish their missions. The plans, both in defense and attack must show some originality if not brilliance.

Generals must inspire confidence, be prepared to lead by example, and support their subordinates when needed. In case of adversity they must take their share of blame instead of finding scapegoats.

Except for a few Generals there are few other names that shine. Critical study of our own campaigns since 1947 indicates failure to utilise our resources optimally, in any war, and plenty of opportunities that were missed. No comments are offered on peacetime generalship, which must be examined separately. A quick analysis of our past wars will throw light on the proficiency of our Generals in war.

Operations in J&K in 1947 – 48

At the time of Independence there were only six Indian brigadiers, of which one went to Pakistan. Therefore the rapidly promoted generals must be excused for drawbacks in operations and appreciated for what they achieved. Yet for the sake of learning lessons, a critical analysis is essential.

Our initial reaction to induct troops into J&K was magnificent, both into the Kashmir Valley and into the Jammu Region. However after the battle of Shalateng, instead of reinforcing 161 Brigade advancing to Uri, we withdrew a battalion from 161 Brigade to place it under 50 Para Brigade at Jammu.

At a time when it was critical to induct more troops into the Valley across Banihal Pass, can we believe the Indian Army deinducted a Bn from the Valley, just to place it under another formation, within a fortnight of induction into the Valley?

Not that there was anything great about this battalion. It was this battalion, 1/2 PUNJAB, that withdrew from Jhangar in December 1947 without putting up a fight against tribals, abandoning even its MAHAR machine gunners. The Commander was Brig Md Usman.

With a battalion withdrawn, the newly raised 161 Brigade’s advance to Uri was affected. The dilemma to save Poonch or to advance to Muzzaffarabad thereafter is part of History. Even after the successful reinforcement of Poonch, and the Brigade falling back to Uri in November 47, no effort was made to advance either to Muzzaffarabad or to Haji Pir till May 48 by when Pakistan regular army had been deployed in J&K. Even the air base at Srinagar was withdrawn for the first winter.

Having driven the raiders out of the Kashmir no effort was made to occupy passes around the Valley such as Tut Mari Gali, Nastachun, Razdan, Zojila or Burzil. Even after the fall of Dras and Kargil, in May 48, Zojila Pass was not occupied despite there being a Corps Commander in J&K and an Indian Army Commander in Western Command, by then. Somehow the importance of passes was not realised.

During the entire campaign no thought was given to recapture Gilgit and the Northern areas. The task was not even mentioned in the directions given by the new Army Commander in January 1948. The besieged garrison at Skardu was last supplied in February 48 and then left to fight to the last and surrender to the barbarians in August.

Even though a company had been sent to Leh in February 48, and another one air lifted in May, after the fall of Kargil and Dras, CO 2/8 GR was airlifted to Leh only after the fall of Skardu in August, to coordinate the defence of Leh. Amazing! Why not in June?

South of Pir Panjal, four brigades remained in the sector throughout the year but Poonch was relieved only by November 48, even though a relief column had got through to the garrison in the summer to bring out 1 PARA from Poonch. In the sector Brig Md Usman’s achievements are played up whereas no one hears about Brig Yadunath Singh, Commander 19 Infantry Brigade, who not only relieved Rajauri, Thanamandi in April but also advanced to Poonch in the summer and later opened the routes to Poonch in November. Why?

Maybe because Brig Usman was killed by a chance artillery shell at his command post in Jhangar in July 48. While there is no harm in appreciating anyone particularly those killed in war, there is need to record our History accurately and shun professional dishonesty to fabricate glory.

Though many veterans criticise the Government for giving back Hajipir to Pakistan after 1965, no one talks of the Indian Army giving up Ledi Gali and Pir Kanthi which are west of Haji Pir on the Pir Panjal Range, in 1948. So how do we learn lessons from past mistakes?

 As stated earlier the amateur handling of forces should be overlooked on account of lack of experience of the newly promoted generals.

Sino Indian Conflict 1962

The 1962 War is full of lessons. It is the first and last time that senior leadership was criticised, more to keep the heat off the other culprits. However it is important to note no one bothered to visit Aksai Chin after 1947, by land or even by air. Our management of the border with Tibet and China could not have been worse.

Indo – Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971

The 1965 war was thrust upon us but not 1971 which was conducted at the time of our choosing. Since it led to a spectacular victory in the liberation of Bangladesh the shortcomings in senior leadership are conveniently glossed over, to preserve the sheen of Victory!

For example, the Indian Army could not recapture any position lost during any War, whether it was at Chhamb, Husainiwala, or Fazilka, even though there were adequate forces available at each of these places.

At Khemkaran in 1965, it was a controversial decision to try and recapture lost area by use of 4 SIKH, an excellent Bn that had just captured Burki. A complete brigade with armour was available but the Army Commander, from the same Regiment, chose 4 SIKH to attack the Pakistanis west of Khem Karan, leading to many soldiers killed and taken prisoner. No action was taken by the Army Commander or anyone else thereafter.

In 1971 Husainiwala, lost on the first day, was not recaptured despite the adjacent Sehjra Bulge being captured by a brigade and another infantry brigade being available nearby, uncommitted. We could have easily recaptured Husainiwala from the North, had someone desired.

At Fazilka, troops were employed but the armour failed to provide proper support leading to failure of counter attacks and avoidable casualties.

When 3 JAT crossed Ichhogil Canal in 1965 to threaten Lahore, the battalion was called back since armour could not link up.

The sluggish and limited advance of 1 Corps into the Shakargarh Bulge is well known, in both wars.

At Chhamb the failure was only at senior levels. There were adequate troops in Jaurian Sector, across the Chenab, to recapture Chhamb, but no attempt was made. Why didn’t the Corps Commander, Army Commander or the Chief order recapture of Chhamb, instead of only launching counter attacks East of Munawwar Tawi? There was adequate time after 10 December. The Chief went to Akhnur after the War, and declared he did not want to talk to the troops; hardly a mature action, in my humble opinion. Did the troops fail to fight? In the Indian Army, Generals only take credit for success, never the blame for any adversity!

In the East, during 1971, by about 09 Dec, 2 Corps had captured the Pakistani strong points at Jessore and Jhenida beyond which there was no Pakistani defence up to Dacca. 2 Corps had 50 Para Brigade less a battalion as reserve. It was the only Corps to have such a strong reserve. Yet they made no move towards Dacca. The Para Brigade less a battalion was later withdrawn from Eastern Command along with one or two armoured regiments though there was no major crisis in the West; where we were on the strategic defensive. The shifting of forces between 11 and 13 December goes against the principle of concentration of force for achievement of the Aim of War. These troops were not used even in the west. In NW sector of Bangladesh Commander 340 (Independent) Infantry Brigade at Bogra received orders to advance to Dacca and simultaneously received orders to send back armour supporting his advance! Reasons for shifting of troops are not recorded.

In J&K, the Generals in 25 Infantry Division and in 15 Corps had adequate resources to launch limited offensive operations, but failed to utilize the opportunity. 33 Brigade (ex 39 Division) was available as additional force in 25 Division. In the Kashmir Valley one infantry brigade was reserve and available. While 9 SIKH did a fantastic job in advancing across Tut Mari Gali into the Lipa Valley, a brigade remained unutilized even when there was no threat to the Valley. The attack towards Hajipir had made no progress, due to poor leadership. Despite the excellent action of 9 SIKH, the General Officer Commanding was sacked for inaccurate reporting of the situation across the Pass, and messing up a counter attack in that sector.

Since there were no plans to use 33 Infantry Brigade in 25 Division it could have been sent south to help in the battle of Chhamb or back to 39 Division for the battle in Shakargarh. But

the Brigade was just wasted near Poonch, due to a cautious general, but one who put such pressure on his subordinates that one brigade commander committed suicide after the War. Such matters are not recorded in histories.

The scuttling of a Division offensive due to the unforeseen action at Laungewala shows poor generalship in the Jaisalmer Sector.

OP PAWAN

Our misadventures in Srilanka were totally due to bungling by the top Generals. I have not heard any officer talk good of any General during OP PAWAN. Yet no introspection has taken place, nor is it likely in future.

OP VIJAY 1999

Let us have a look at the Kargil Operations in 1999. I wonder if there is anyone who feels the Army Commander deserved a Sarvottam Yudh Seva Medal for the Kargil War. In fact the performance of senior generals needs critical study?

The Chief was primarily covering his rear when he announced “we will fight with what we have”. Wonder if he ever heard of the saying “when the bugle makes an uncertain call, imagine the outcome of battle” and why didn’t we have what the Army required? Are the formations expected to procure weapons and equipment directly, themselves? In 1959 Gen Thimayya had resigned since he could not ensure security of the borders due to the negative attitude of the Defence Minister. In May 1999 instead of doing something about our deficiencies our Chief went to Poland?

If the Chief didn’t know of the intrusions, as he claims, the question is why didn’t he know? Did he sack the people who failed to inform him? By 14 May even the PM knew, that too through the Defence Minister, who had been to Kargil. When did our Chief first visit Kargil? It is well known our casualties were high due to delayed action by the Air Force and Artillery failing to interfere with the enemy build up, in May. Even though the intrusions were first detected on 03 May 99, the first aircraft to attack the enemy flew on 26 May. While volumes may be written explaining why, the fact is it was failure of higher command.

Why was 6 Mountain Division not used? If General Officer Commanding was not found fit, why was he not removed and another one appointed as was done in 13 JAKRIF? Why was the General assessed incapable only when given an operational task? He must have been a high flyer during peacetime. Has the system been rectified since? When troops were moved from the Kashmir Valley to Dras, why were the Corps reserves not the first to move and counter attack? Why 56 Brigade which was employed for Counter Terrorist operations?  Was it not the task of the Corps Commander to ensure surveillance of the Line of Control throughout his Corps Zone and to keep reserves ready to counter intrusions? When 8 Mountain Division was moved out, the complete Intelligence Grid in the Valley was disrupted which Pakistan utilized well to raise the level of terrorism over the next few years. Many precious lives were lost in the Valley from 2000 to 2004, due to the directions of the Corps Commander.

In Kargil, since all offensives were launched in Dras and Batalik Sectors only, what was the great hurry to remove the brigade commander from Kargil? Was he removed for professional reasons or since he was hell bent on exposing the seniors? Even the Commander who conducted operations in Batalik Sector so well, was sacked by the Corps Commander for reasons that remain ‘confidential’.

I am not supporting the actions of the Commander Kargil Brigade in any way and he was very much to blame for what happened, but so were many others who not only escaped punishment but were felicitated after the War; because they were seniors, or professionally dishonest, or both? One exception who stood out was the division commander at Dras, who behaved like a General, throughout.

There are many grey areas, still. The inquisitive media which was highly appreciated in the early stages of the War was later shunned when they commenced asking uncomfortable questions.

 Counter Insurgency Operations

Counter Insurgency Operations have exposed our senior leadership over many decades. Yet we refuse to learn and continue to re-invent the wheel as Generals change at Corps and Command HQ.

What is astonishing is that many mediocre generals, who believed in body and weapon counts, have prospered; each coming out with his own theory on how to conduct Counter Insurgency Operations. No wonder, except for Mizoram all other disturbed areas remain disturbed over decades and new ones are added every now and then.

Conclusion

Our Generals blame the Government and bureaucrats for all shortcomings in the Army. Without disputing that, we need to first eradicate our own weaknesses. The seniors must develop courage of conviction to stand for what is right, and learn to place Service before Self. In fact they know what to do. All they have to do is to simply practice what they peach.

I do not favour resignations. I recommend firm conviction and determination to fight for what is our right without bothering about post retirement employment. Even if the Government does not employ the Chiefs, they would earn much more respect from the million plus Army, than they do now.

Having attended all the ‘career courses’ considered essential for higher command, it is clear to me the present system of education, selection, training for higher ranks throws up mediocre generals and the standard is declining rapidly. The complete system needs overhaul urgently in the interest of our great Army.

3 comments

  1. Adfar Shah /

    I am of a firm belief that things can be set right in Army provided there are efficient Generals and the fact is there are…..However issues need attention not only administrative ones but field based as well.Generals who are in the field especially in conflict zones need to be like fieldworkers as proved by some of them,they have to be scholarly rather than tough soldiers to understand the mass psyche and in case something is going wrong under their command,a fair action must be taken and let truth prevail at all costs. Jawan and Awam,both must be a General’s Priority and focus.Today i believe, apart from administrative issues,army needs to look into the field carefully and understanding the sentiments and sensitivity of the people is a must.As aptly put by Gen Khanna Sir:
    “Our Generals blame the Government and bureaucrats for all shortcomings in the Army. Without disputing that, we need to first eradicate our own weaknesses.”Addressing the weaknesses within the system needs able Generals who have had controlled their own weaknesses first.I also maintain that deficiency of officers needs to be filled immediately and some stalwart Generals need to spread their charisma in the holistic cadre of officers to set the institution right and achieve success in the field without hurting the plethora of ethnicities of multicultural India.
    Your article is simply an eye opener and i hope it will definitely have a positive impact….

  2. the training of an army officer starts with three words…….”beg, borrow, steal”. turning a blind eye to morally wrong but seemingly fulfilling the task at hand starts from day one. so when the Gen writes about the courage of conviction, i really wonder what he is talking about. the moral fiber is weakened right from the beginning. those who show their propensity to survive in such environment are actually called “Smart”. as they grow in service everyone around them come to know about their capabilities, integrity and limitations. but they have no say – why? do these Gen come up in the hierarchy overnight? then where does the fault lies?????????

  3. Alok Asthana /

    Poor generalship will remain in Indian army since Indian people are simply not interested in anything that does not them more money and other personal benefits. Discussions on war does not give them that. Also, the country has not seen war in the sense that Europe, UK, has. That being so, they treat the armed forces as a holy cow – and use that as a excuse not to discuss it. Since no one questions the army or the generals, there is really no cause for things to get better. Fortunately, our traditional adversary is equally incompetent.

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