Marking a radical departure from the past in its response to cross-border terrorism, India Thursday announced that its Army had carried out “surgical strikes” in the early hours of the day to destroy seven launch pads along the Line of Control where teams of terrorists had positioned themselves.
This is the first time New Delhi has officially acknowledged a military strike in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) — cross-LoC operations in the past have never elicited any official response.
Watch Video: India’s Surgical Strike: Beyond What The Govt Said
The public announcement by the Indian Army also signalled rapid deterioration in New Delhi’s ties with Islamabad in the wake of the September 18 Uri attack which left 18 soldiers dead, and which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi promise that it would not go unpunished.
The Army said “significant casualties” were inflicted among the “terrorists and those providing support to them” but gave no count of the dead.
In a statement, the Pakistan Army said two of its soldiers had been killed in firing “on the LoC in Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Lipa sectors. Exchange of fire which started at 0230 hrs after midnight continued till 0800 hrs”.
Lt General Ranbir Singh, Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), told reporters in New Delhi: “The operations were focused on ensuring that these terrorists do not succeed in their design to cause destruction and endanger the lives of our citizens.” The operations, he said, have since ceased and the Indian Army does not have plans for further continuation.
The announcement was made after an urgent meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by the Prime Minister, Thursday morning.
Sources said the military operation was led by the Special Forces which had been kept ready for the past one week for such an action, with extensive rehearsals of various contingency plans.
The operation, which commenced past midnight, was successfully completed by 4.30 am. But the Special Forces soldiers had been positioned into the forward bases along the LoC by helicopters around 2 pm Wednesday.
The final go-ahead for the operation, sources said, was given at a meeting Wednesday evening at the PMO between the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. The three service chiefs had briefed Parrikar before his meeting with the Prime Minister.
To confuse and distract the Pakistan Army, sources said the Indian Army started shelling at various points across the LoC around 9 pm Wednesday before the Special Forces soldiers moved on foot at two points in Kupwara and Poonch sectors to target the launch pads.
The Pakistani forces, sources said, were taken by surprise, and responded closer to dawn by shelling on Indian posts on the LoC. The operation was officially called off at 8 am, sources said.
The launch pads targeted in the operation had been kept under extensive surveillance for the past one week, sources said. The operation was launched, DGMO said, on “receiving specific and credible inputs that some terrorists had positioned themselves” at these launch pads.
“During these counter-terrorist operations, significant casualties were caused to terrorists and those providing support to them”, Lt General Singh said. He did not provide an exact count of the terrorists killed in the action.
The DGMO said he had spoken to his Pakistani counterpart and informed him of the military operation. “We cannot allow the terrorists to operate across the LoC with impunity and attack citizens of our country at will,” he said.
Army sources said forces on the LoC continue to remain at the highest alert. Commanders at all levels on the LoC had been empowered to retaliate strongly to any Pakistani shelling or firing in the coming days.
Before the ceasefire on the LoC came into force in November 2003, limited cross-LoC operations by the Army’s Border Action Teams (BAT) were a regular occurrence. Targeting launch pads over an arc of 250 km on the LoC, Thursday’s operation is much bigger in scope and extent than the earlier BAT operations.
Following the Uri attack, the government launched a diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi urged Pakistan to wage a war against poverty and the government, as part of a calibrated response, mounted pressure on Islamabad with a series of steps including a meeting to review the Indus Waters Treaty. Last Tuesday, India announced it would boycott the SAARC summit in Islamabad in November.