Last year, when the Indian Special Forces (SF) had raided a camp of insurgents in Myanmar, there was a chorus of Cassandras in New Delhi who proclaimed that India should dare not think of attempting such a strike against Pakistan. The Pakistani forces were well equipped and highly professional. They had a sophisticated air defence network. Any such provocation by India would lead to a major escalation that could result in nuclear war and the destruction of New Delhi. China would intervene militarily. Besides, Indian SFs were not as good as those of the USA or Israel to pull off such an arduous strike. All these naysayers have egg on their faces today. It is now clear that they had paralysed India into complete impotence for virtually 30 years against the asymmetric war that Pakistan has been waging in Punjab first and then in J&K and the rest of India.
On the night of September 28, the SFs launched a highly sophisticated and well-synchronised operation across a 250 km frontage of the LoC in J&K stretching from Poonch to Neelam Valley and Gurez/Kupwara sectors. Eight teams of over 200 commandoes slipped past the Pakistani defences. The Pakistani Army was on full scale alert. Their radars and the Swedish Saab-200 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft were fully activated. Despite this, our para commandoes penetrated up to three kms inside PoK and stealthily got into position behind eight launch pads. Some reports indicate that to defeat the AEW surveillance aircraft, some commando groups were inducted using High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) Ram-air manoeuvrable parachutes. These leave no radar signature and are absolutely silent. The launch pads had been kept under surveillance for the past seven days, by the NTRO’s spy satellites and the Heron, and Searcher drones and humint sources. When these pads filled up, our commandoes struck around 0230-0330 hours of September 29. They opened a withering barrage of small arms fire (Tavor-21 and AK-47 assault rifles with under-barrel grenade launchers), Carl Gustav and Russian Thermo baric rockets. Initial reports indicated that some 38 terrorists (including Pak soldiers) had been killed. Damage assessments are still pouring in. The actual casualties inflicted on the terrorists may well be as high as 70-80 or even more. Indian artillery now began to pound the Pak posts that could interfere with the raiders. This forced them to hunker down and enabled our commandoes to get away without a scratch. Only one commando blew his foot on a mine but was safely evacuated. By 0900 hours, all were safely back on Indian soil. The Army Chief and DGMO briefed the Cabinet Committee on Security about the operation. Then as part of the escalation control process, our DGMO spoke to his Pak counterpart and told him about the raids. Pakistan was stunned. Gen. Rahil Sharif had been virtually daring India to attempt a raid on their soil. The Indian SFs had now done just that. Pakistan was on the horns of a painful dilemma. If they conceded the truth, they would be disgraced. Gen. Sharif did not want to face the wrath of his officer corps. So, GHQ Islamabad went into flat denial mode. This obviated any justification for a retaliatory strike on India. Pakistan, it seemed, was not keen on escalating the situation and hence was seeking a way out by denial. The only operational options left to it were terrorist attacks on Indian Army camps and cross LoC fire using small arms and mortars. It tried both. The terror attacks on Baramula and Handwara military camps proved to be damp squibs in as much as they were just shoot and scoot strikes. In Handwara, the alert Indian troops chased the terrorists and killed three of them.
In the annals of SF operations, these raids will go down as a textbook model. These were tactical operations with a huge strategic impact. These had been conducted against a fully alerted enemy who was technologically on par. An unfortunate political controversy was generated that such cross-border raids had been conducted earlier, thrice during the UPA regime, but had not been publicised. The fact is that the raids conducted in 2011, 2013 and 2014 were highly localised and isolated sub-tactical actions, launched at the formation level. These had inflicted some 3-10 casualties on Pakistan.
The latest surgical strike was a class apart in scope and scale. It was orchestrated with the NSA and all three service chiefs participating. The NTRO’s spy satellite resources and the service drones were deployed to monitor the targets 24x7 for a whole week before the strike. Artillery was used to provide covering fire to help the raiders make a clean break and exfiltrate. The main feature was that Pakistan was informed of these raids in a clear move to call their nuclear bluff and test if China would intervene. Pakistan blinked and China refused to let the tail wag the dog. All the Cassandras were proved to be hopelessly wrong. The message that must be put across clearly is that this was not a one-off operation. Should Pakistan provoke, India would retaliate across the border. This message should not be drowned out by the political cacophony.
The writer is a war veteran and strategic analyst