IAF chief defends crew: 'They faced hostage situation in Chhattisgarh'

N A K Browne
Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief N A K Browne on Thursday dismissed allegations that an IAF crew had abandoned an injured Chhattisgarh policeman in the Naxal-affected area last month, claiming that they had tried to avoid a "hostage situation".

Addressing a press conference at the Aero India show here, Browne said: "The impression that has been created — they backed out, they abandoned, they ran away, I think it is all nonsense."

Referring to the January 18 incident, when an IAF crew left behind an injured Chhattisgarh policeman after their chopper crash-landed in Sukma district of the state following a Naxal attack, Browne said: "It was a combat zone and the bullets were flying for half-an-hour or so. By that time, it was dark. See, there is an issue: the captain and crew decided that if they were to split up, there could have been a hostage situation because that area was full of such people."

He added: "If anyone of them had been taken hostage, there would have been another crisis unfolding in the next few weeks. They decided to stick together as a team, for getting medical help as well as to secure the helicopter. That was the intent and that is exactly how it is."

Browne claimed that the injured policeman "was evacuated in the night itself, in an armoured car... He was taken to Raipur in our aircraft early morning. And he is recovering well. In fact, one of our officials met him last week, he was sitting on a sofa having a cup of tea."

He also dismissed reports that the IAF crew had left behind weapons on the chopper. "One of the machine guns was jammed," he said.

Browne expressed surprise that the letter, in which Home Secretary R K Singh had asked Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma to take action against the IAF personnel, had been leaked to the media.

"This is not the way to function in situations like this," he said, warning that "if we keep sniping like this", the Maoist-hit areas may see a Kashmir-like situation, where "they want to create division between security forces and security agencies".

"In operations like these, we have to work as a team," he said. Asked if his comments were directed at the Home Secretary, Browne said it was for "all the agencies".

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