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Revealed: How the surgical strikes ops unfolded

September 30, 2016 16:14 IST

'A couple of hours before the H-Hour, the Kupwara division opened small arms and mortar fire on posts opposite its area of operation.'
'This was a diversionary tactic.'
'As Pakistani forces began to react to the firing, special forces teams began to slowly cross the LoC into PoK.'
Nitin Gokhale reveals how planning for the surgical strikes began hours after the Uri attack.

On Thursday morning, a long-standing taboo in the minds of India's strategic decision-makers was broken.

As news about the Indian Army's surgical strike on terrorist camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir broke around noon on Thursday, it was clear that India was no longer afraid of a possible escalation with Pakistan, its empty nuclear threat notwithstanding.

In fact, Pakistan's nuclear bluff has been called: Both armies understand nuclear escalation requires a much higher threshold.

Even the threat of first use of tactical nuclear weapons is just bluster: Both armies are professional, whatever image they may project.

After this event, at least in the public mind and thus of the politicians, the fear of nuclear escalation will recede.

The entire episode has changed the India-Pakistan dynamics on the LoC.

A decisive move by the political leadership to declare to the world the action the army took has brought in an element of unpredictability that Pakistan is not used to.

So far, Pakistan could always predict an Indian response to any terrorist attack. Condemnation, shock, presentation of dossiers would complete the Indian action.

By going beyond the rhetoric, the Narendra Modi government has injected a new element to which Pakistan is not used to.

In Islamabad, the reaction have therefore been extremely muted or confused.

While the Pakistan army has denied any surgical strike by India, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his defence minister have condemned the attack and said any such future attack will get a befitting reply!

For India, arriving at this decision was not easy.

On September 18, when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and army chief General Dalbir Singh were flying together back from Srinagar late that night after taking stock of the aftermath of the attack on an administrative camp near the army's Uri brigade that killed 18 soldiers ( two soldiers died later), the mood in the aircraft was sombre.

India had not lost so many soldiers together in one attack in the past decade. The nation was downcast.

It seemed India had no answers to Pakistan's continuing proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mid-way through the flight, Parrikar, who is about to complete two years as defence minister in November, told the army chief to give him at least three options that would involve demonstrable action against the perpetrators of the attack early the next morning.

Parrikar wanted the options in his hand before he attended the Cabinet Committee on Security meeting the next day.

The Military Operations Directorate worked through the night and presented the possibilities that existed to launch operations along and across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

Armed with the options, the defence minister went for the CCS meeting.

The CCS, taking inputs from various agencies -- the Research and Analysis Wing, the Intelligence Bureau, the National Technical Research Organisation -- and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval decided to order preparations for a retaliatory strike.

The CCS, India's highest decision making body on matters of strategic affairs, was determined to go off the usual beaten track of 'we-condemn-the heinous-attack' that has been India's standard response to any terrorist attack in the past two decades.

The prime minister had already promised that the sacrifice of the 18 soldiers would not go in vain. So preparations began in right earnest.

All of India's top decision-makers on security affairs had a series of meetings between September 18 and 25 to decide on multiple steps to hurt Pakistan.

Revisiting the Indus Waters Treaty, boycotting the SAARC summit in Islamabad, describing Pakistan as the 'Ivy League of Terrorism' in the UN, was all part of the well thought out, coordinated strategy to corner Pakistan.

Even as these steps were being initiated, preparations for a punitive strike on terrorist camps located in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, not very far from the LoC, were underway.

The NTRO and R&AW were tasked to get accurate assessment of the camps and launch pads, the strength of terrorists present there along with Pakistani army regulars.

The Indian Army's Northern Command also had local intelligence through their Humint (human intelligence) about what was happening across the LoC.


Initial reports spoke about heightened defences in these camps. Some of the 30-odd camps that the Pakistan army maintains and nurtures along the LoC were emptied immediately after the Uri attack, fearing retaliation from the Indian Army.

After 10 days had passed without any visible action or even any overt preparation for an attack across the LoC, the guard seemed to lower perceptibly in the camps.

Pakistan was lulled into thinking India's response will be on expected lines: Every other measure but a military strike.

Little did they know that targets had been selected, assessments done and a crack force assembled to hit the camps and Pakistani army posts in an arc between Poonch and Kupwara.

On Wednesday, September 28, the CCS was presented with the plan.

The basic aim was to hit the terrorist infrastructure in PoK and send a message that India would not allow the attacks to go unpunished.

It was immediately approved.

Defence Minister Parrikar and NSA Ajit Doval were tasked by the prime minister to oversee and coordinate the operation.

The MO Operations Room (mistakenly described by many as the War Room) became an intense hub of activity between Wednesday noon and early morning on Thursday.

By noon on Wednesday, the strike teams had been staged forward from three directions.

The chosen targets were across the areas under the jurisdiction of 19 Division (in Uri), 28 Division (in Kupwara) and 25 Division (in Rajouri).

The H-Hour (the specific time at which an operation commences, or is due to commence) was half past midnight on Wednesday.

A couple of hours before the H-Hour, the Kupwara division opened small arms and mortar fire on posts opposite its area of operation.

This was a diversionary tactic. As Pakistani forces began to react to the firing, special forces teams began to slowly cross the LoC into PoK.

A couple of teams slipped out between the Beloni and Nangi Tekri battalion areas in Poonch sector south of the Pir Panjal and across the Tutmari Gali in the Nowgam sector.

By 2 am, the teams were on target.

Five launch pads and two Pakistani army posts -- which were co-located with the launch pads -- were destroyed and all occupants killed.

The Indian Army has refused to put a number to the fatal casualties among the terrorists so far. As the DGMO said in a statement, the operation is over and India has no further plans at the moment.

Clearly, its advantage India for the moment.

Now the government must keep up the pressure on all fronts -- economic, political, diplomatic -- besides retaining the option to use a military response whenever it feels Pakistan needs to be punished.

The decisiveness shown by Mr Modi and his colleagues needs to continue even in the face of grave provocations that Pakistan may unleash in coming weeks although further escalation could stretch the Pakistani army even more -- they are heavily committed on the western borders, FATA, and controlling internal insurgencies/terrorism.

Nitin Gokhale