A livid Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne on Thursday dubbed as “non-sense” reports of his men abandoning an injured policeman in the Maoist-infested Chattisgarh forests on January 18 after their helicopter was hit by gunfire from the extremists.
The IAF chief also expressed “surprise” over Home Secretary R K Singh’s letter to Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, seeking a report into the incident, finding its way into the media on the same day it was written.
“The impression which is being given out is that they ( the IAF pilots) abandoned, left behind (a policeman) and ran away…this is all nonsense,” Browne told a press conference here.
He also sent out a strong message that the IAF was “fully committed” to perform its role in the Maoist strongholds, as mandated by the Centre following a request from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
The IAF chief also noted that all the agencies and forces involved should “work as a team” while carrying out anti-Maoist operations.
“The lesson that all the agencies should draw is we should work together as a team and pull in the same direction instead of finding faults with one small incident and coming out with statements,” he added.
“If we are not careful in the Maoist region, the same thing is going to happen and they (Maoists) would be very happy to have divisions within the security agencies. I do not think this is the way to function in a situation like this,” he added.
Recalling Union Defence Minister A K Antony’s statement that a mountain was being made out of a molehill in the chopper incident, the IAF chief noted that in the past three years, his helicopters and pilots had carried out nearly 6,000-odd sorties to provide air cover to the Central forces fighting the Maoists on the ground, of which 172 were rescue missions.
“Not once have you read about these missions in the media as we believe in doing our job and doing it right,” he said. Defending the crew of the grounded chopper, the IAF chief said they did “an extremely professional job” by landing the damaged helicopter one km away from the spot where it had been fired upon by the Maoists.
“I must make it clear, the Captain and the crew decided at that time that if they were to split up into groups, a hostage crisis may be on hand for the next few days and decided to stick as a team and get quick medical aid to the injured policeman and to get a rescue team to secure the helicopter lying on the ground there. That was the intent and that is what they exactly did,” he said. The IAF had taken a number of “corrective steps” to avoid a similar situation in the future.
Browne said the wounded policeman was rescued and evacuated the same day to Raipur where he is recuperating. The helicopter too had been secured, repaired and flown out. Also, the crew was back in action in the same Maoist-infested zone.