Antony says no decision yet on Air Force's request to fire on Naxals

     Defence Minister AK Antony said on Thursday that the Government has taken no decision so far on the Indian Air Force's request to fire at Naxals in self-defence while operating in Maoist-infested areas. The Indian Air Force is awaiting a nod from the Government to deploy Garuda commando units to defend its helicopters and men in Naxal-infested areas. "The defence ministry is studying the proposal and we will take the decision (soon)," Antony told reporters in New Delhi. Earlier in the day, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal P V Naik, said the IAF is all set to deploy its special Garuda forces against Naxals in self-defence while operating in Maoist-infested areas, but ruled out any "Rambo-style" operation against the rebels. "It is not a free for all like 'Rambo' that we will go and fire in the countryside. In helicopters, we will be mounting guns which will be manned by IAF's special force Garuda and they are the people who will be taking the fire if required," said Air Chief Marshal P V Naik on the sidelines of the 77th Air Force Day celebrations here. Replying to a question on the government's nod about the IAF request to allow the opening of fire in self-defence, ACM Naik said the Cabinet Committee on Security would decide on the matter. He further said: "I want to reiterate that I am totally against armed forces - Army, Navy and Air Force - being used in internal situations. We are meant to defend threats from across the border." "If the states require any help, we are always there to give it in terms of casualty evacuation and insertion (of security forces)," ACM Naik added. Referring to the killing of IAF personnel in a Naxal attack on November 14, 2008, last year while facilitating state assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, ACM Naik said this incident resulted in the IAF requesting the Defence Ministry to permit it to open fire on Maoists in self defence. "There will be very stringent stipulations to help identify where the fire is coming from, and where to use minimum force to ensure minimum collateral damage and fire is to be permitted by the captain of the helicopter," ACM Naik said while stating that permission of the copter's commander is necessary to open fire if the CCS gives nod to IAF's request. The Air Force Chief, however, ruled out the deployment of armed helicopters or aircraft to bomb any area in Naxal-affected regions. "We are not indulging in any armed aggression against any citizen of India. We would only like to undertake operations to protect our helicopters and men and women who fly these," he said.

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