Eleven days after Pakistan-backed terrorists owing allegiance to the Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked the 12 Infantry Brigade HQ at Uri, the Indian Army struck back. According to Indian Army sources, personnel of the Special Forces were para (or heli)-dropped across the Line of Control (LoC). Five terror launch pads were destroyed by the SF personnel. This was not only a surgical strike but a pre-emptive strike as well, as precise information was available that terrorists were being assembled for infiltration across the LoC for carrying out attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere. The operation was meticulously planned post-Uri and perfectly executed by the Special Forces.
The Special Forces operation on terror launch pads lasted from 12:30 am to 4:30 am, the location was between 500 meters to 2 Km across the LoC, news agency ANI reported.
The announcement of the sudden action by the army to target terrorists was made by the Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Ranveer Singh at a hurriedly called news conference during which external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup was also present.
Gen Singh said India shared with Pakistani army details of the surgical strikes which followed “very specific information” that terrorists were positioning themselves in the launch pads along the LoC.
Based on specific intelligence input of terror groups ready to infiltrate into India and carry out terror attacks, Army conducted surgical strikes on terror launch pads at the LoC on the night of 28th and early hours of 29th. The strikes were carried out in Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel & Lipa sectors, on Pakistan's side of the LoC. Indian commandos entered three kilometres across the Line of Control to conduct the 'surgical / pre-emptive strikes. 5 terror launch pads were destroyed during the surgical strike. According to media reports about 35 terrorists and 9 Pak Army personnel were killed in the operation.
The strikes seemed to have been carried out by the elite para commandos (most probably units from 4 Para and 9 Para) who were heli-dropped two to three kilometers deep into Pak-occupied territory and were backed by ground troops. The insertion and exfiltration of the commandos was executed flawlessly. The unit executing the strikes had speed, surprise, stealth and superior tactics the four ‘Ss’ required for a successful surgical strike. The raiding party also had accurate and real time intelligence through human sources to inflict casualties and damage on the enemy. It is learnt that the targets were kept under close surveillance (probably through the use of UAV or HUMINT) for nearly a week before the strikes.
The Pioneer in its web edition dated 21st September 2016 had reported that one battalion each of 4 Para and 9 Para Special Forces trained for anti-terrorist operations had been asked to stand in operational readiness till further orders, indicating that the Centre has not ruled out retaliatory action for the Pakistan-sponsored attack.
The new Indian Express too in its web edition dated 25th September 2016 had reported that besides movement of infantry brigades, multiple teams of elite Special Forces (SF) were camping at strategic locations. Sources claimed that troops from commando units like 2, 4 and 9 Para SF were gearing up on the Line of Control (LoC), as they were trained in unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance and to carry out cross-border surgical strikes. The units of 4 Para and 9 Para were probably assigned the task to take out the launch pads across the LoC on 29th September 2016.
This author has in the past urged that India was well within its right under international law to respond militarily by resorting to measures in the form of "Reprisals". The relevant extracts from two older posts are reproduced herein:
The military option that India must consider is not war but measures short of war. Reprisal, for instance, under such special and compelling circumstances could be considered legitimate and justified under international law. “A reprisal is an act of SELF-HELP… by the injured state, responding—after an unsatisfied demand—to an act contrary to international law committed by the offending state….Its object is to effect REPARATION from the offending state for the offense or a return to legality by the avoidance of further offenses." [Naulilaa Case (Portugal v. Germany), 2 UN Reports Of International Arbitral Awards 1012 (Portuguese-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal, 1928)] A reprisal is a form of self defense and can only be used as a last resort; it must be executed with the view of restoring a sense of equilibrium in international relations and ensuring future compliance with legal norms.
What are the options available to India?
India should retaliate at a time and place of its choosing. India under international law is entitled to take action in the form of reprisals. The Indian Army’s Special Forces have the means and capability to initiate an operation similar to the one carried out by Pakistan. However, more important is that the Army needs to have a contingency plan to carry out limited cross-border strikes at regular intervals to deter the enemy from engaging in such adventures. Of course, the essential pre-requisite for sanctioning a one-off military operation in retaliation or regular strikes as and by way of deterrence is the existence of a strong political will and the unqualified support of the political leadership.