The Facts : 3 Nov 1988 (Op Cactus from the Force commander of the operation)
I have been reading a lot on opcactus from time to time. But the last few e-mails on the subject have provoked me to put the records straight.
It was on 3 Nov 88,(I was JD ops T & H now re-designated Director) then VCAS (AM NC Suri) called me to his office at 0830 hrs) and asked “what is the availability of Tpt fleet”, I promptly replied 5 IL-76 and 16 An-32’s at Agra and another 14 An-32 could be at Agra by 1300 hrs from Jorhat. He directed to alert the fleet and be ready to launch the ops to Madives. The Indian high commissioner to Maldiev was in the office of the VCAS. VCAS directed me “ to proceed to Army Hq opr room (along with the HC). “I would follow”. By about 0915 hrs VCAS top brass of the Army, MEA officials had arrived. The Op plan was chalked out at Air Hq and Army Hq. A para drop was planned initially. It is not widely known that 3 An-12 aircraft of ARC were already airborne with NSG troopers and stayed put at Nagpur.
A final decision was to be taken by the CCPA (say PM)-Shri Rajeev Gandhi) whether we go in for a police action or Mil intervention. By 1130 hrs all members of the CCPA had assembled in the Army Hq ops room. The wait was for the PM. Who was away to Calcutta and was on his way to Patna. He was informed of the emergency. PM walked into the Army Hq Ops room at 12 PM. He gave go ahead for mil Ops.
I and Brig VP Malik (later on COAS) were briefed by the respective vice chiefs for the ops. I was designated the AB force commander by the VCAS and directed to proceed to Agra and brief the AOC/Sqn Cdr, operating crews on the air borne operations. Indian HC to maldive also accompanied to Agra.
We landed at Agra at 1330 hrs and I immediately briefed all operating crews of 44 Sqn on the overall ops which had been conceived and planned at Air and Army Hq.
Between 2 PM and 5 PM VCAS was calling me up, every 30 mts what is the delay? Delay took place as 6 para troops (the first load) arrived only around 3:30 PM. And the 2 IL-76 aircraft were readied by 5 PM.
AOC (Late Air Cmde NPS Sahota) was away to command Hq. When he arrived, he had serious reservation of the CO 44 Sqn even flying in the 1st aircraft. It was on my insistence that AOC allowed the CO to fly. I had flown the whole mission as the Air borne Cdr from LHS.
The first aircraft had barely 150 troops and 2nd aircraft followed after 10 mts interval. And 3rd aircraft after nearly 5 hrs.
A code word was to be received OH TVM. Which was received. Yes the 1st aircraft landed with lights indicating the R/W and then blinking from time to time, landing was a challenge.
Brig Bulbul Balsara, then Para Bde Cdr (unfortunately he is no more), was the ground forces cdr. Fortunately the ground forces did not face any resistance and fight. The mercenaries had run away on hearing the sound of the landing IL-76 aircraft. As narrated by late Brig Bulbal Balsara. Safety of the President Gayoom was ensured.
In any case the Ops cactus was well conceived and professionally executed.
Spl Note: No information could be available on Male airfield either at army or Air Hq. It was one COL at Army Hq who had visited Maldives as a tourist and made a tourist map available, which was the only information on Male (Hulela)air field.
PS: If any queries on further development and success or failures could be elaborated, contact details are listed.