Operation Raahat: Indian Defence and Humanitarian Relief
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Operation Raahat (“Relief”) was an operation by the Indian Armed Forces to evacuate Indian citizens and other foreign nationals from Yemen during the Yemeni Crisis in 2015. This took place from April 1 to April 11, 2015. The evacuation was done by The Indian Air Force, The Indian Navy as well as by the commercial aircraft Air India. Civilian Aircraft and passenger ships were used as well for this operation. The evacuation by sea began on April 1, 2015, from the port of Aden, while the air evacuation by the Indian Air Force and Air India commenced on April 3, 2015, from Sana'a.
In the past three decades, India has enhanced its skills remarkably on how to respond during crisis and safeguard its citizens from a fast-deteriorating conflict zone. Before Yemen, there were crises in Lebanon in 2006, Libya in 2011, Iraq in 2003, and again in Iraq in 2014. In all these situations, India evacuated its citizens from these countries safely. However, the biggest civil evacuation operation remains the one during the first Gulf War in 1990 where India evacuated 1,10,000 citizens from Iran and Kuwait. It is the world’s largest evacuation exercise of civilians by air using nearly 500 flights operated by Air India and later, even cruise ships. This operation was a resounding success, for both the diplomatic and military progress of India.
Yemen has been troubled by civil wars for decades, however, in 2015, when the Government of President Abdul Mansour Hadi was toppled by the Houthi guerrillas, the latter took over large parts of the country. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Council partners decided to intervene and launched Operation Decisive Storm with a disastrous bombing of Houthi rebels by the Saudi Air Force.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs had begun issuing advisories to the Indian Citizens living in Yemen to evacuate the country in January when the government had been toppled. Anticipating further hostilities, India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had issued advisories on January 21, 2015, to Indian expatriates in Yemen to leave the country. A second travel advisory was issued on February 20, 2015, urging Indians to avoid travel to Yemen. Further, on 25th March, just two days before the attack by the Arab coalition, the MEA issued an urgent advisory urging all Indian citizens to evacuate as soon as possible. However, more than 12,000 Indian citizens had not heard the warnings and were trapped in Yemen.
Geographically, Yemen lies at the Southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula with Saudi Arabia on its north, its Eastern neighbour Oman, and across the Gulf of Aden to the south of Yemen lies Somalia and to the west are the countries of Eritrea and Djibouti. Djibouti is situated in the horn of Africa and is a very strategic location. Many countries have their military bases in Djibouti; they try to operate from here as there is a lot of piracy and precious cargo coming from South-East Asia and nearby places going towards Europe have to be protected. Djibouti was also used by India in its evacuation operation.
India faced many immediate challenges, one of the major ones was to get Saudi Arabia to grant a window of some hours to take Indian citizens out of Yemen. India has friendly relations with Saudi Arabia which had started a bombing campaign over Yemen on 27th March 2015. To evacuate Indian citizens, India managed to get a time frame (a window) from Saudi Arabia to stop the bombing. The Indian ambassadors in the nearby countries also got in touch with Djibouti and the Government of Djibouti permitted India to use its airport for evacuating civilians. It was used as the base from which the Indian Navy and the Indian Airforce operated and the flights took off.
Overcoming some major hurdles, India launched Operation Raahat on 1st April 2015, led by General VK Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs. General Singh himself travelled to both Djibouti and Sana’a (an active war zone) to oversee the operation. Naval ships INS Mumbai, INS Sumitra, and INS Tarkash were deployed by the Indian Navy. Two passenger ships, MV Karvatti and MV Corals, (which usually work between Lakshadweep islands and Kochi) were sent from Kochi towards Yemen along with INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash which were sent from Mumbai to escort them to Djibouti, as the Gulf of Aden had been infested with piracy since 2008.
(Evacuees boarding INS Tarkash. Source: The Indian Navy)
A no-fly zone which was enforced in the Yemeni airspace by the international coalition had made it difficult to evacuate Indian citizens by air directly from Yemen. In addition, between 1st and 5th April 2015, a huge sand storm engulfed the whole city of Aden and the visibility was reduced to less than 500 meters so it became difficult for aeroplanes to take off and land. During the operation, there was also a language barrier while conducting/negotiating.
The Indian Air Force deployed C-17 Globemaster, one of the largest planes of the Indian Air Force. Air India had sent two 180-seater Airbus A320 planes to Muscat for the evacuation of Indian citizens from Sana’a to Djibouti. Later, Air India was allowed by Saudi Arabia to land rescue planes in the capital (Sana’a), which earlier were grounded in Oman due to the absence of permission. The military was on high alert- in case of any suicide attacks, they took precautionary measures by checking and screening everyone.
(Evacuees onboard IAF’s C-17 Globemaster-III. Source: IndiaSpend)
Operation Raahat which began as an evacuation of Indian citizens from Yemen on 1st April 2015 ended on 11th April 2015; evacuating 5600 people safely, out of which 4,640 were Indian citizens and 960 foreign nationals which belonged to 41 different countries. More than 2900 people were evacuated by air from 18 different flights out of Sana’a and 1670 rescued by sea from ports Aden, Al Hudaydah, and Al Mukalla.
(Amul saluted the brave Indian Navy Personnel and Indian Air Force Personnel by making a beautiful cartoon on “Yemen And Women Ko Salaam”)
Ankit Panda (April, 2015). Retrieved from
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Bureau, M. (2015, April 05). Yemen crisis: Indian Navy's Operation Raahat in crucial phase, officials hire boats to bring stranded Indians home. Retrieved from https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/yemen-crisis-indian-nationals-navy-operation-raahat-mumbai-kochi-247189-2015-02-14
Operation Rahat. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/content/operation-evacuation-operation-rahat
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