New Delhi: India launched its first initiative for the possible evacuation of its nationals from war-torn Iraq with a powerful Delhi-class destroyer being dispatched to the Persian Gulf by the navy.
The decision to launch the operation was given the go ahead at a meeting of the Crisis Management Group which was attended by the three service chiefs.
The Delhi-class destroyer will reach the coast of Iraq in the Persian Gulf today while heavy lift transport planes of the IAF have been told to be on a standby to fly out at short notice.
National Crisis Management Committee, headed by Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, met at his North Block office today.
Top functionaries of the intelligence agencies, besides officials from the ministries of home, defence and civil aviation, were present along with the three service chiefs — General Bikram Singh, Admiral Robin Dhowan and Air Chief Marshall Arup Raha.
An estimated 15,000 Indians are living in Iraq and 39 have been abducted by the ISIS. Indian nationals stuck in the strife-torn nation may be evacuated over the next one week.
A Delhi class destroyer of the Navy has been diverted and is expected to reach near the Iraq coastline tomorrow, the Navy informed the NCMC.
The Delhi class warship has an on board sea-king helicopter and is being provided live feed via the satellite of the surrounding ocean and threats, if any.
Another warship, INS Tarkash, is doing patrol duties in the piracy-hit areas some 100 miles away and can be diverted, while two other warships on deployment in the Arabian Sea can be sent there.
Each of the ships can adjust a thousand-odd persons. The Navy had performed such a task when NATO forces led an attack on Libya in 2012.
The possibility of using IAF's specialised heavy lift transport aircraft - the IL-76 and the C-17 - were discussed at the NCMC meeting, sources said, but added that would need the permission of the ruling Iraqi dispensation for landing and taking off.
Also, the transporters will need some physical security en route and also on the ground. The IL-76 has its biggest base at Chandigarh while the C-17s are based at Hindon, 20 km east of Delhi.
Another possibility was to use road route to bring the Indians to safer destinations like Kuwait or Iran for onwards transportation.
Official source said commercial flights are operating regularly out of Baghdad and Erbil and most areas of Iraq are "safe."
Indian are largely in safe areas but the way the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) is running over the country, New Delhi wants to be sure in its plans lest it is found wanting.
As of now, the advice is against mass evacuations. However, the situation is fluid, said an official.