After days of speculation about what India will do after the Uri terror attack which has claimed the lives of 19 soldiers, the answer has come. In a press conference, the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) announced that India has conducted a “surgical strike” on multiple terror launchpads across the Line of Control (LC).
The strike was conducted by the special forces of Indian Army who were dropped by helicopters for the operation. 38 terrorists, with and without uniform were killed. The well planned and executed operation was preceded by nearly a week of drone and satellite surveillance of the launchpads. Reports say that there is drone and camera footage of the operation which will probably be released in due course and it should be for the psyop value it carries.
This is not the first time Indian Army has conducted operations across the LC. Covert operations have always been undertaken at various times to achieve tactical objectives. What was different this time is that India announced such an operation after it took place. It marks a significant change in policy and it’s a political decision to send a message across both to Pakistan which continues its terror campaign against India unabated and also to the people of India who have been demanding action against Pakistan.
Special forces are a vital part of militaries world wide. It allows for covert action deep inside enemy territory to achieve various objectives. One of the most famous operation is the Israeli operation in Entebbe in Uganda in 1976 when it rescued hostages after an Air France plane was hijacked. There were calls in India for such an operation after Indian Airlines IC814 was hijacked which resulted in the release of Masood Azhar along with two other terrorists. Masood Azhars group Jaish-e-Mohammed is behind the Uri attack as also many attacks in the past including Pathankot and parliament attack.
A recent “famous” successful special forces operation was the one conducted by US Navy Seals to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad in Pakistan.
Special forces operations have increasingly being used by western militaries. The US has deployed its special forces in as many as 135 countries for various operation. Special ops allow militaries to carry out operations without diplomatic ramifications. In many cases as in the case of the Abbotabad raid, it is to make sure the intended target was indeed there and neutralized and also avoid collateral damage. These operations are never announced unless there is a political message to be conveyed which is why India announced its surgical strike across the LC.
The US has extensively deployed its special forces in Syria & Iraq to fight the ISIS while not having large number of “boots on the grounds”. They are used to kill terrorist leaders and disrupt their network.
Coming back to the operation conducted by India, the announcement is a well thought out escalatory move. It puts the onus on Pakistan to respond and that response will put it on a spot. India informed Pak DGMO that such an operation took place and that 38 terrorists were killed. Pakistan cannot aggressively respond to this as it will face international criticism. If Pakistan does not react, it will face problems at home especially from the large number of terrorists organizations that it has propped.
The immediate reaction from Pakistan was interesting. The Pakistan Army media wing the ISPR denied any surgical strike took place while its Prime Minister condemned the strike as naked aggression. It is possible that Nawaz Sharif is trying to get back at the hugely popular army chief Gen Raheel Sharif who is looking for an extension of his term. Pakistan’s defence minister confirmed the killing of two Pak army soldiers in the “attack”. ISPR maintains that only cross border firing took place which resulted in the killing of the two soldiers.
Pakistan is denying the attack even as reports say India has drone and camera footage from the special forces of the operation. India should release this footage after carefully reviewing it so that it can show the people of Pakistan the lies it is fed by its army.
The denial represents that Pakistan does not want an escalation with India. After all the nuclear saber rattling Pakistan did, warning against any military operation, the overt announcement of the strike has meant India has finally called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff which it used as a cover to keep running its terror campaign with impunity.
The denial by Pakistan Army is also to save face domestically and it allows India to undertake more such operations and announce publicly and test the Pakistanis. They cannot use their much vaunted tactical nuclear weapons to deter special forces operations. At best they can resort to artillery fire across the LC.
The international reaction or the lack of it shows that the hard work done by PM Modi and his team is paying off. There is little sympathy for terrorism across the world after a spate of terror attacks across the world and more so with Pakistan which is increasingly recognized as epicenter of global terror. There is a bill in US Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.
The US response to Indian strike has been tacitly welcoming and supportive. White House spokesman Josh Earnest when asked about the strike said, “The United States is firmly committed to our partnership with India and to our joint efforts to combat terrorism.” He also said ”The United States continues to be concerned by the danger that cross border terrorism poses to the region and we fully expects Pakistan to combat and delegitimize the UN Designated terrorist groups.”
Pakistan has not received any support from what it calls higher than mountain, deeper than ocean & sweeter than honey friend, China. Or it’s benefactor, Saudi Arabia or Turkey.
It should be a norm to neutralize terrorists before they infiltrate across the LC. It will not only ensure that there will be no loss of lives, civil or military on our side but also send a message that India will come down hard on terrorism and is proactive. The danger of losing special forces during an operation will remain. India should look to enhance its special operations capability so that it can strike deeper within enemy territory. The recent op was about 3 kms behind enemy line. Capabilities such as drones, electronic warfare equipment, communication equipment, satellite reconnaissance etc has to be strengthened. India exercises with the US special forces regularly and we can learn a lot from them and also acquire their ultra modern equipments.
There was offcourse a domestic political message of the strike which is to assuage the rising feeling of the Modi government not doing anything to punish Pakistan after numerous terror attacks and a feeling of it being no different from the previous UPA government. However it will be a shame if this strike is just a one off just to address domestic audience as fighting terror is a continuous process and the enemy should know there will be costs.