Ever since India and Pakistan parted ways at the onset of their respective journeys, the neighbours have remained warring entities. The issue of Kashmir, the main bone of contention between the two, has led to an exacerbation of violence, unrest and turmoil along the North Western border. We have fought three major wars with Pakistan and continue to fight terror in the Valley every single day. But sometimes, this terror shakes the conscience of an entire nation and it forces you to wake up and act. What happened at the Uri Base Camp on September 18, 2016, did something similar to India.
Uri base camp
On September 18, 2016, four heavily armed and well-trained terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and attacked a military camp in the 12 Brigade HQ located in Uri. A temporary depot containing several litres of petrol, kerosene and diesel was targeted and a grenade attack was launched in the adjacent area. Within seconds, there was fire all around engulfing the sleeping soldiers in the tents. The attack was strategically planned and executed at a significant time; when the ‘handing-over’ of troops was being undertaken- 6 Bihar were replacing troops from 10 Dogra. This possibly explains why the soldiers were sleeping in tents close to the depot and not the usual barracks. The Indian Forces managed to gun down the terrorists but the damage was done - 18 soldiers were killed and more than 30 were injured. An unprecedented attack of this sort sparked massive outrage throughout the country- both in the Military and amongst the civilians. A befitting response was on the way but the country didn’t know it just yet.
Uri camp under attack
Less than a fortnight after the Uri attack that claimed the lives of 18 Indian soldiers, India carried out surgical strikes in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in response to the Uri attack. Apart from inflicting heavy casualties on the terrorists, the strikes also indicated a change of stand on the rules of engagement on the disputed Line of Control (LoC). The Indian Army carried out surgical strikes across the Line of Control dismantling at least seven camps in PoK. A team of army commandos carried out the operation on the 28th of September after highly classified planning and operations among the very high echelons of the Indian Government.
The Uri Surgical Strikes were distinct, both in their execution and timing. This was an Operation conducted across the LoC based on highly classified, specific intelligence. It was also the first time either of the two sides had engaged in retaliation during peacetime. In a significant first, we inducted the Swathi Weapon Locating Radar, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) with the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to locate firing units of the Pakistani Army, three months before the system was inducted officially. The actual operation was carried out by teams of 4 and 9 Para SF (Special Forces), who operate under the Headquarters of Northern Command. The operation was conducted in both 15 and 16 Core Zones, across a frontage of about 200 km at six different locations. The Ghatak platoon of 6 Bihar and 10 Dogra units were also a part of these surgical operations as not only were they familiar with the terrain, it was also their chance to avenge these very units that lost their soldiers in the Uri terror attack.
The exact ground planning for the operation was carried out by the Army's Northern Command in Udhampur after a decision to carry out the strikes was taken by India's top Military brass in New Delhi in close coordination with the country's political leadership. It was, now, the 28th of September and our Army was ready for the strikes. The mission was led by an Army Major who went by the code name of Maj. Mike Tango.
The Operation began around midnight, and the entire operation took approximately 4 hours. It commenced as the Army's Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters with 25 commandos from 4-para and 9-para crossed the LoC into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The helicopters dropped the commandos at earmarked spots which were at the Line of Control and after dropping them immediately returned to the Indian Air Space. The commandos then crossed over to the Pakistani side on foot. The Army commandos crawled through mud, rocks and landmines, and penetrated three kilometres across the Line of Control to conduct the strike. The Special Forces devised unique combat strategies to conceal their identity and avoid being tracked by the terrorists.To suppress body odour, their skin was covered with mud, and their faces colored by camouflage paint. Their weapons were blackened, as their combat fatigues too blended into the surrounding forest. These were some of the ways that 100 specially trained soldiers blended themselves into the rugged topography. They had lain in ambush for over 48 hours. Commandos were equipped with Tavor and M-4 guns, grenades and smoke grenades. They also carried under barrel grenade launchers (UBGL) and night-vision devices. They wore camera-mounted helmets.
The surgical strike team had six targets in mind, three of which were completely destroyed during the operation. The targets also included seven launch pads where a large number of terrorists had reportedly found positioned. The strikes were carried out in Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel & Lipa sectors, on Pak's side of LoC. After reaching the location, the commandos used the element of surprise to mount rapid and deadly attacks on the enemy. With the terrorists taken by surprise, the crack troops added to the chaos by firing a flurry of smoke grenades into the terror camps. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and other intelligence and surveillance means were employed which gave specific inputs about the presence of terrorists at the launch pads and were kept under constant surveillance for a few days prior to the actual operation. The Para SF teams were directed to commence the move.
According to the Director General of Military Operations, Lieutenant General Ranbir Singh, 38 terrorists were reportedly eliminated. Those killed included terrorists, their guides and handlers. The entire mission, according to reports, ended at 4.30 am. The real challenge for our soldiers was the escape from enemy territory. The return was an uphill trek to the LoC. With their backs facing a blaze of fire from rather dominantly positioned Pakistan Army posts our soldiers still managed to return to Indian soil without any casualties. One of our operators stepped across a mine while returning, and sustained foot injuries.
Pakistan was informed of the surgical strikes and though India conveyed that she had no intention of continuing the Operation, the message about her ability, if interfered with, had been conveyed to Islamabad. The Uri strikes took place at the time when terrorists had begun gathering in large numbers along the LoC with the objective of crossing the border and targeting locations in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as other metros. In such a scenario surgical strikes become the most sought-after option to deal with the threat. These strikes were targeted to result in damage to the intended enemy target only with the aim of minimum collateral damage induced in the nearby areas and civilians. The neutralization of only the specific targets in this case also prevents the escalation of the military tensions to the scale of a full-blown war.
The September 2016 Surgical Strikes by the Indian Army was one such successful and extremely swift mission that made multiple terror camps defunct for further training or for carrying out other extremist activities. Undertaking an Operation of such stealth with laudable precision is something that only India’s Special Forces can do. They function with an unimaginable level of discipline, unparalleled courage and supreme love for their country. As Shiv Aroor writes in his book, ‘India’s Most Fearless’, Major Mike Tango is quoted saying,
“By now they probably know who I am and where I am. But in the Special Forces, we don’t really know fear.”