No move to deploy Army medical teams to neighbouring countries sans request: Govt.

No move to deploy Army medical teams to neighbouring countries sans request: Govt.

MoD clarifies after Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka deny asking for Indian military assistance

Clarifying that the government has no immediate plans to deploy the Army in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources said on Friday that Rapid Response medical Teams of the Indian Army would only be deployed “if requested”.

“We have responded promptly to requests for deployment of Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) comprising doctors, nurses and paramedics to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, to Maldives and Kuwait. These RRTs are ready for deployment to other friendly countries at short notice if requested by them,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, referring to reports on preparations for military-medical deployment as “misleading”.

“We have kept teams on standby, if required by them,” MEA sources said. MoD officials when contacted declined to comment on the issue.

Vehement denials

The government’s clarification comes after senior officials in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh denied any plans to bring in the Indian military for assistance.

On Friday, Afghanistan’s National Security Council spokesman, Javid Faisal was quoted by Saudi Arabia based Arab News as saying that “there has never been such a request from Kabul, nor has there been such a suggestion from Delhi. These are false reports, even false perceptions”.

Earlier, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen on Wednesday told the New Age Bangladesh newspaper in Dhaka that medical teams from abroad were not required.

“We do not need such assistance; rather we are sending teams to different countries,” Mr. Momen said, referring to Bangladesh’s supplies to Maldives, Bhutan, Kuwait and China.

In Sri Lanka, too, Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne (Retd) ruled out the need for Indian military assistance. “Our military has already shown their expertise and professionalism in handling the emergency situation created under coronavirus threat,” he told reporters in Colombo on Wednesday.

The confusion appears to have arisen over a press note issued by the MoD on April 3 that said, “Six naval ships are kept ready for assistance to neighbouring countries. Five medical teams are also on standby for deployment in Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan.”

In Kuwait

In a subsequent update on April 15, Army sources detailed India’s assistance to “Friendly Foreign Countries” like Kuwait, where Indian expatriate workers are the biggest block of coronavirus-positive patients. In the Maldives, an Indian military RRT, including five doctors and paramedics, was sent in an “advisory role to assist the Maldives govt to set up its domestic COVID protection measures”. The Army delivered medicines worth about ₹11.3 lakh to Nepal as well.

The MoD sources had repeated that their medical teams were on “standby to be deployed in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan,” which had prompted the reports. However, diplomatic and defence sources have now clarified that this was only a preparatory measure for the neighbourhood, not discussed thus far with those countries.

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