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Indian Army chief says forces are unfit to fight a war

NEW DELHI - India’s battle tanks do not have enough shells to fire, its air defenses are obsolete, and its ill-equipped infantry cannot fight at night, the chief of the Indian Army told the prime minister in a letter that was leaked Wednesday.

Excerpts from the letter, which General V.K. Singh sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this month, were published in the newspaper Daily News & Analysis, based in Mumbai.

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That prompted condemnation of both the government and the army by lawmakers, who demanded Singh’s immediate dismissal over the leak and other incidents and accused the government of neglecting national security.

An embarrassed A.K. Antony, India’s defense minister, confirmed to Parliament Wednesday that Singh had sent the letter and pledged to “protect every inch of our motherland’’ by speeding up steps to modernize the country’s million-man army.

Antony did not criticize Singh for sending the letter to the prime minister, despite his frustration over the publication of its contents. “By the very nature of these issues, they cannot be a matter of public debate,’’ Antony said, urging angry opposition members to show restraint.

There was no immediate response from the prime minister’s office.

The general’s letter called the state of the army’s major fighting arms “alarming.’’

In October, India’s weekly magazine India Today ran a story titled “Not Ready for War,’’ quoting from government meetings and saying that accumulated neglect has rendered the army unfit to fight a war.

“Every army in the world faces shortages, but how did a classified letter of this kind come into the public domain is a matter of great worry and needs to be investigated,’’ said General Ved Prakash Malik. A retired army chief, Malik led the Indian Army in a limited border war with Pakistan in 1999.

He was angry about the leak, but agreed with V.K. Singh’s summary. “There is no doubt that our weapons procurement procedures in the civil and military bureaucracy are very, very slow,’’ he said. “. . . Corrective steps must be taken immediately.’’

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