As I Saw It
Operation Geronimo Pak & India
May 1 & 2 2011 became the day of global celebration for the US. They succeeded in eliminating world’s most dreaded terrorist “Osama Bin Laden”. This operation fully demonstrated the application of the strength of the economic power, strongest of military power, supported by extra ordinary advanced technology, and the most important decisive, discreet and unwavering Political will.
All that took even the unipolar power ten years to achieve their first objective of the war against terror, US has been attacked only twice, first time during 2nd world war the attack on “Pearl Habour” and then 9/11-where hijacked commercial air liners flew into the twin towers.
There has been large scale jubilation especially in the US and NATO countries. And there are anti US and anti NATO demonstrations from and within the Muslim world. India has demonstrated a modest support, not being very vocal about it. Undoubtedly Pak has been a perpetrator of global terrorism and its biggest recipient has been India.
Indian “Electronic Media” as well as print media have shown their aggressive behavior as they have shown for such events. There have been many debates on the electronic media “why India has not launched such a surgical operation (like operation “Geronimo” ½ May 2011). “Some chair borne security analyst” have claimed that we should have carried out such a surgical operation after the tragic event of 26/11 2008 in Mumbai. COAS during his visit to Lucknow on 2/3 May did mention that “we do have the capability”.
I am reminded of two such events of my career, where I was directly involved, in spite of all the inputs we failed within our own country.
Hostages Rescue Operation-1995
Six foreigners were taken hostages on 7 July 1995 on the upper ridges of Pahalgam (in J & K). The group which had claimed this act was “Al-Faran” consisting of fourteen members. One US national out of the six escaped. He was picked up by an army helicopter (He drew the attention of the flying chopper by waving his shirt). One Norwegian was beheaded and his body was thrown on the streets of Anantnag to spread terror (1st week of Aug 1995).
As a followup a task force was created end Aug 1995. I was posted as SASO Hq AOC J & K located at Udhampur. (In the state of J & K) I was asked on 30 Aug 1995 “to move to Srinagar and report at Hq 15 Corps. The details with Operation order from Hq WAC would follow”.
The task force assembled on 31 Aug 1995 under the overall command of GOC 15 Corps to rescue the four foreign hostages from the terrorist group “Alfaran”. 2 Army Bn for ground rescue and cordoning operation. 150 NSG Commandoes 12 Mi -17 Helicopter & 6 attack helicopter (Mi 35) formed the overall force.
Maj Gen Sihota ( victor force Cdr) was the ground force cdr; Col BS Daulta was heading the NSG group and I was designated the “Air Borne Force” cdr.
After detailed briefings from IB, RAW state int, local Army intelligence the task force got going. Briefing by various int agencies was the daily routine to have an update. Air force and NSG started their integrated training on a daily and regular basis at “Toshe Maidan” range located near AF base in Srinagar valley.
GOC 15 corps, Maj Gen Sihota and I started flying close to the reported location of the Alfaran group. We used to land in small grounds and interact with the locals to ascertain and reestablish the inputs from intelligence agencies and ground reports. By 8/9 Sep 1995 exact location of the Alfaran group in the village, the house location were established. On 11/12 Sep mid night the complete operation group carried out full fledged mock drill over Gulmarg. Highly motivated and well trained commandoes were escorted by attack helicopters. Carried out slithering operation from a height of 30 meter from ground. Even I had slithered down with the commandoes during the mock drill and the full fledged rehearsal.
On 14 Sep 1995 then COAS Gen Shanker Roy Chaudhary had flown to Awantipur (Air base in the Srinagar Valley). A presentation was made to the COAS, how int reports and ground interaction substantiated by humint had assured the task force of striking the terrorist group. The task force was fully charged, ready and confident of the success of the operation COAS departed with the words “you will get the suitable instructions”. On 18 Sep a message was received from the CMG, “can the task force guarantee the safety of the hostages”. (Crisis management group-chaired by Cab Sec. Members Foreign/Home/Defence Securities and ambassadors/high commissioners of the countries whose nationals were the hostages) Which fool could guarantee the safety of even one person in such an operation. The answer “NO” was communicated to the CMG. On 21 Sep 1995 a message was received task force can disperse, further instructions would follow. No instruction followed till 2003 end (when I retired) and even till now. I often met Lt Gen Sihota (Retd as Army Cdr southern Command), Maj Gen BS Daulta. We just lamented in not giving a successful culmination to our well thought out, planned and ready to execute plan.
Hijacking of IC-814-(24 Dec-31 Dec 1999)
IC 814 was hijacked on a flight from Kathmandu to Palam on 24 Dec 1999. I was on deputation to ARC aviation wing of the RAW. I was the operation head of the ARC. At 5 PM (24 Dec 1999) I was informed of the hijacking. ARC’s one of the assigned roles is anti hijacking operation. Hijacked aircraft had landed at – Amritsar around 6:15 PM. The IL-76 air craft was ready by5:30 PM, NSG troupes had arrived by 6 PM. The IL-76
aircraft with the NSG commandoes was ready to depart at 6:45 PM. I was constantly in touch with Billy Bedi. (Director ARC at that time) who was operating from CMG outfit. As the IL-76 aircraft was on the take off point a message was received that the hijacked aircraft is all set to take off from Amritsar A decision was taken to let the IL-76 aircraft go with the NSG anti hijacking force.
The hijacked flight (IC-814) took off from Amritsar after being on ground for about 40-45 min. What a shame, there were about half a dozen ways to incapacitate the hijacked aircraft at Amritsar.
(a) During the landing itself crew could have operated the max rate unit. (in the wheel braking system) this could have deflated the wheels on the runway itself .
(b) Emergency retraction of the u/c at lower speeds of the landing run would have u/c system collapse on the r/w itself.
(c) Aircraft could have been swerved off the runway and stopped in the Kaccha.
(d) 40 commandoes of the PAP (Punjab Armed Police) had surrounded the aircraft immediately on landing. These commandoes were fully trained and professionally competent to storm the aircraft.
(e) The commandoes could have fired few bullets to deflate the aircraft tyres.
(f) A fuel bowser Could have been placed just in front of the aircraft, not to roll ahead.
But all the actions could have lead some violent action by the hijacker & , so what.
Biggest shameful act for a nation that a hijacked air craft departs from its soil. Finally the IC814 departed from Amritsar and landed at Lahore-refueled, flew to Dubai and reached Kandhar on 25 Dec 1999, under the full control of Taliban. The GOI succumbed to the demands of the hijackers. We acceeded to their demands and released three hard core terrorist (Azahar Massod, Omer Shaikh, Lakhavi) who were languishing in our jails (Jammu & Srinagar) for last 5 years. We handed them over to the Taliban force on 31 Dec 1999 and returned home with the released IC-814.
In both the cases we have shown utter lack of of foresight indecisiveness and lack of courage on the part of our political leaders.
If the CAOS says we have the capability to launch surgical operation like Geronimo-yes we do have, but we don’t have the will. The only time when we had such an opportunity was during Kargil ops.
Pakistan has felt humiliated only twice.
First time- on 16 Dec 1971 when 93000 Pak army troops surrended to Indian Armed force and their eastern wing was clipped
Second time- On ½ May 2011 when US SEAL commandoes entered Pak and annihilated “Osama Bin Laden” the most wanted Global Terrorist.
On both the occasion the strong willed political heads displayed, decisive, definite decision making. Indira Gandhi in 1971 and Barak Obama now.
Environment was favorable during the Kargil war to initiate hot pursuit or a surgical operation. We have failed to meet the terrorist threats within our own territory, snooping into a neighboring country has its inherent dangers.