The upcoming book published by Penguin Random House, titled Operation Khukri: The True Story Behind the Indian Army’s Most Successful Mission as Part of the United Nations, narrates the first-hand account of the historical event which took place on July 13-16, 2000.
Maj. Gen. Rajpal Punia who led the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, West Africa, from the front, cowrote it with his daughter Damini. Punia, Chief of Staff HQ Delhi, was then the CO of the 58th Gorkha Rifles, sent to Sierra Leone to help the local government disarm the notorious rebels who had captured 223 UN peacekeepers. The book brings to fore the historical rescue operation.
In 2002, he was awarded the prestigious Yudh Seva Medal by the President of India. For Gurveen Chadha, Senior Commissioning Editor, Penguin Random House, Operation Khukri is the true account of one of the most daring missions of the Indian Army on foreign soil, yet most people are unaware of it even though it transpired months after the Kargil War.
“That is what attracted me to the story first and foremost. And as the man spearheading the operations, there could be no one better to put the story together than Maj. Gen. Punia. The courage and tenacity displayed by him and his soldiers is testimony to why the Indian Armed Forces are regarded as one of the best in the world.” We hear more from the man himself:
Take us through your struggles encapsulated in the book during the rescue operation.
Operation Khukri was a headon battle between the Indian Peacekeepers in Kailahun and the Revolutionary United Front rebels. A battle where the Indian forces crushed the deadliest rebel force in the world. This book venerates the sacrifice of every Indian soldier who fought till his last breath for the honour of our country, as well as every innocent soul who died as a result of the war. Today, I live with the hope of visiting Kailahun to personally meet the children of the generation that died as a result of the war. I wish I was less of a soldier and more of a human!
Tell us about the impact of the mission in your life.
My boys, my soldiers were my family and I had to ensure that each one of them reached home to their loved ones. Operation Khukri made me believe in the power of destiny. It’s a miracle how all 233 of us are still standing tall after living in the jaws of death for three months. It was destiny that guided us through the opaque wilderness of Africa. The virtuous deeds of the soldiers are the sole reason we could walk on the Indian soil yet again and I am glad that through this book the world would learn what the Indian soldiers are made of !
At one time when you were taken hostage during the mission, what were the challenges you had to endure?
I was taken hostage without offence which in itself was a lot to process. Moreover, as a Company Commander, the biggest challenge I faced was the separation from my soldiers. I was constantly worried about their safety as they were in the camp area while I was held up in the ruins outside the town with barely any knowledge of what they were going through in Kailahun. I felt helpless and every sunrise was a blessing as we were counting days being in the belly of the beast. Also, it was difficult to keep the spirit high, as the thoughts of my wife and children back home would make me heartsick.
Could you tell us how army personnel stay positive in the toughest of circumstances?
The Indian Army teaches us that ‘when the going gets tough, the tough gets going’. Once we don the uniform, we derive positivity from the camouflage fabric on our body and the tricolor, which is pinned on our shoulder being part of the United Nations. During the training, our body is toughened like steel and our mind like the rock! Tougher the circumstances, greater is our spirit. Lastly, it is the izzat of the Indian Army which flows like adrenaline in our nerves and irrespective of the situation around us, we give our all to uphold the ‘dignity of our paltan’ and the ‘honour of our country’.