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J-K SOG: From tracking social media to planning ops

September 23, 2020 23:17 IST

Dubbed Cargo, the headquarters of Jammu and Kashmir's elite Special Operations Group buzzes with activity as various teams work 24X7 to track terrorist activity, suss out the ground situation in the Valley and plan operations.


IMAGE: A soldier stands guard in Srinagar. Photograph: Umar Ganie for

With each team working on a dedicated task, the SOG is moving full steam ahead with its efforts to hit out at terrorists trying to make Srinagar their base, said senior officials anxious to recast the image of the force.

The idea, said Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh, is to ensure that Cargo becomes a centre of excellence rather than a place that evokes fear.

"I wanted to ensure that Cargo, a name which sent chills down people's spines earlier, becomes a centre for excellence and I guess that dream has been realised now," Singh said on Tuesday after congratulating SOG personnel for successfully completing an operation.

The building -- which once housed Indian Airlines cargo, hence the name, and is usually out of bounds for journalists -- carries the tagline of the SOG, also known as Special Task Force (STF). The sign outside says 'CARGO: In pursuit of excellence'.

"Hum awam ke dost hain (We are people friendly)," Singh said with Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar by his side as the successful SOG squad saluted him.

The SOG commandos, dressed in black and wearing masks in view of the COVID-19 crisis, have adapted the slogan 'How's the Josh' from the Bollywood film Uri: The Surgical Strike.

This year, the SOG conducted seven special operations within Srinagar city limits and eliminated 16 terrorists of various outfits, significantly higher than previous years.

Singh brushes off questions about controversies, including the alleged intimidation of journalists, saying it is not possible in this day and age with so many CCTVs present.

"Every one summoned here is shown charges and after hearing their side of the story they are escorted out with full respect. We are doing our job and that's all. I think the SOG is doing a good job," Singh told PTI.

A Cargo unit, headed by Superintendent of Police Tahir Ashraf, is using scientific methods during interrogation and has deployed dedicated teams for specified anti-terror activities, officials said.

Among the recent additions is a 'command vehicle', providing a 360-degree view of the area where an operation is taking place so it can provide complete backup to its men on the ground.

"The vehicle has been designed by the SOG taking into consideration the need of its men involved in the operations. Today, every person involved in an operation carries a body camera so we can monitor his activity and pass necessary instructions on a special wireless headset," said Ashraf.

A tour of the SOG headquarters gives a sense of how the force works. In one part of the building, designated teams are working on the terror group 'assigned' to them.

"If a youth disappears from any locality in Kashmir Valley, we immediately start monitoring his previous activity and his associations so we can pinpoint his possible recruiter. We have gained success in many cases. Many boys have been returned safely to their family members," Ashraf said without divulging details on grounds of security.

Another section closely monitors social media platforms, which have been used by terror recruiters to identify vulnerable youths.

"This section has been doing exemplary work. Here, too, we have had many successes when a young boy is continuously visiting any site propagating radicalisation and it comes to our notice, we inform the parents. The boy is also counselled," Ashraf said.

Sometimes, their efforts fail.

The DGP cited the example of an encounter in the last week of August in which the SOG lost Assistant Sub-Inspector Babu Ram.

"My boys traced the parents of the holed up militant to make an appeal to him to surrender despite the fact that he had killed one of their own.

"We brought the parents from Pampore in south Kashmir to the encounter site on the outskirts of Srinagar city to appeal to their son to surrender.

"However it failed and we had to go for a final assault," he said.

The 'Cargo' building was taken over by Jammu and Kashmir Police in the initial days of militancy in 1994.

Subsequently, it became the headquarters of the STF.

Sumir Kaul
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