news post by Tejpal/Sanjeev Rana on 23 Sep 2017,Saturday
The former Commander in-charge of the surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir last year, Lt Gen DS Hooda, has said the strikes created a fair amount of panic on the Pakistan side, who feared more strikes. Adding that the Army gained confidence in their ability to carry out complex cross-border operations, Hooda said the strikes increased the morale of the soldiers.
It’s been a year since India conducted and publicly acknowledged a surgical strike against Pakistan. While several aspects of the operation are still confidential, what we know is that the Indian Army struck multiple targets on the same night in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The Indian Army offensive had, according to Lt Gen (retd) DS Hooda, who at the time was the Northern Army Commander, caused panic among Pakistani commanders.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with the officer, who at the time was in-charge of overseeing the planning and execution of this dangerous mission.
How prepared was the Indian Army to conduct the surgical strike on such short notice?
After the 2015 Myanmar strike, we had started preparing for contingencies like this. There was a contingency plan, an idea of the kind of targets, and how the strike would be executed. Some work had already been done prior to the surgical strike.
Once Uri happened and we lost soldiers, we took a decision, and by ‘we’ I mean the government and the army, to respond.
In the period between the Uri attack and the surgical strike, we updated our intelligence and set the final target list. But broadly speaking, the planning was done in advance.
Who initiated the idea of conducting a surgical strike? Did the Army first submit a recommendation or did the government seek a status report?
There was mutual acceptance that after Uri, something needed to be done. Obviously, the government gave the final go ahead, but there were discussions as to what our response should be. During this process, it was decided that multiple cross border strikes into PoK is the best option. The decision was arrived at after a lot of deliberation and discussion as opposed to just a firm order. But the final clearance was given by the government.
By now it’s known that this wasn’t the first cross LoC strike by India. But the first one publicly acknowledged at the highest level. In hindsight, was that a good move?
Yes. It wasn’t the frst one. But in some ways, it was fairly decisive because we hadn’t attempted an operation on this scale.
I think there were many good reasons to go public. The cross border attacks from Pakistan through 2015 and 2016 had seen an increase. Then there was Pathankot. A number of attacks had taken place in the Jammu region. In 2016, infiltration was up and then we had massive protests after Burhan Wani’s death in Kashmir. A lot of that support had been engineered from Pakistan. So, I think a strong public message needed to be sent.
There was also our own constituency. After all, our soldiers had to be told that they are losing their lives in attacks like Uri, and all this had to come at a cost to Pakistan. That all of this will not go unavenged.
The public of India had started asking questions. What is the Army’s level of preparedness and what will be the Army’s response to these attacks? Are we going to take it lying down? So, this message had to be taken to Indian public that here’s your Army, capable of taking decisive actions. If we had kept quiet about it, I don’t think all of it would have happened.
When you talk about scale, can you please elaborate a bit more on it. You told that at such a scale, an attack never took place?
I can’t tell you the number of the targets that we hit. But I can tell you that we conducted multiple strikes along the Pir Panjal range, the Jammu region and the Kashmir region. There were a number of strikes that went on the same night.
So when I talk about the scale of the surgical strike, I’m referring to the distances between each strike, the profile of one target being different from the other, and that they were struck at different times.
So from the planning perspective, it was a huge issue because the first strike went in a few hours before the last one. So we were worried about the implications too, as we were going to lose the element of surprise after the first strike. The scale would be different had we planned to hit one place and come back.
What were your main concerns as you were preparing for the strike?
It wasn’t me alone. We had a small planning cell in the headquarters. There were many people involved in the Army headquarters, the military operations directorate was in the loop. We were clear that we are sending our soldiers across into one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.
Our role was to empower the soldiers, give them everything they need. The big questions in our mind was – have we equipped them properly? Have we given them all the tools and the intelligence that they will need? Have we thought through all the contingencies that could take place? Have we catered for all of them? Frankly, these were our big concerns.
In hindisight, would you have done anything differently?
How do you measure success? So, we hit all the targets, we didn’t have a single casualty during the operation. Everybody came back safely. That was one key element – whatever happens, nobody is going to be left behind. So, if you ask, would I have done something differently, I don’t think so. Everything went as planned.
You were aware that this surgical strike is going to be publicly acknowledged. Did that put any additional pressure on you?
They had given us a responsibility and we were quite conscious of it. I was also aware that the next day an announcement is going to be made by the DGMO and the spokesperson of the MEA. That of course, did add some pressure.
When there is deniability and something fails, you can keep quiet about it. In this case, the government was quite clear that they wanted to announce it. Yes, that does play on your mind that tomorrow morning, the people are going to hear what the Army did.
What Has Changed and What Needs To Change
What do you reckon we have achieved with this surgical strike?
The Army were quite clear that this one surgical strike is not going to stop terrorism from Pakistan or reduce infiltration. We were quite prepared that as a response to this, Pakistan might well step up infiltration of terrorists into that area.
To hope that this is suddenly the panacea of all evils and terrorism is out of Kashmir, that wasn’t our expectation at all. But, there were some positives. We talk about moral ascendancy over the enemy.
Battles are won in the minds of commanders. We saw a lot of panic on the Pakistan side. We were seeing their intercepts, listening to them. There was fair amount of panic and fear that there could be another strike. Leave of the soldiers was cancelled. There were fears of something more. That was one positive.
Second is, the confidence in our ability to carry out complex cross-border operations. There were always doubts after the Myanmar operation that something like that cannot happen in Pakistan as the border is very heavily guarded. I think confidence of the special forces in carrying out such operations. And of course, the morale of our soldiers. These are some tangibles. But I think these are important.