Way back in 2002, during the regime of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India had conducted a surgical strike on Pakistan, the details of which were never made public.
It was around 2 am on July 31 of the year when Flight Lieutenant Rajiv Mishra, a 29-year-old fighter pilot was woken up at his quarter at Ambala Air Force Station. He was asked to immediately leave for Srinagar with laser designation equipment. His aircraft was ready and waiting at the base. He knew nothing about the call of duty, all he was told was that he was being made part of an important and sensitive mission. And that mission was never made public, till very recently.
Although Mishra used to fly the Jaguar fighter jets, that night required him to use special technology enabled laser fighter jets which could hit targets accurately once they get locked into the planes advanced radar system.
They were thereafter briefed about the mission, which was stunning to say the least. They had to “light up” Pakistan positions along the LoC. ‘Light up’ is military talk for designating a target on the laser guidance system. They grasped the implication immediately: Indian fighter jets would lock on and hit the Pakistani positions, something the IAF had rarely done during peace time.
It was a tense moment for India and Pakistan as about seven months earlier, in December 2001, Pakistani militants had stormed the Indinan Parliament, triggering a massive military mobilization and standoff on both sides of the border and along the Line of Control.
The mission was named Operation Parakram.
According to some reports, Indian defense forces suspected a Kargil-like troop build up situation near a border post in the Kel area in the Kupwara sector, from where the Pakistani soldiers were continuously raining shells. Although the initial plan of the Indian military was to attack the Pakistan directly but it was changed on the instructions of the then Army Chief, General Sundararajan Padmanabhan. George Fernandes was the then Defense Minister of India.
Describing the situation, Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Srinivasapuram Krishnaswamy said:
Typical cold start doctrine in the Air Force terminology was put in practice. The details of this should remain cold. No one should talk about it. What it was intended for was successful.
Although the IAF and Flt. Lt. Mishra refused to comment on their secret mission, numerous other soldiers associated with the mission furnished glimpses about the secret mission on conditions of anonymity.
“Light it up”
The mission was planned to take off from Srinagar and all forward airbases were put on a high attack mode for a probable Pakistan attack during retaliation.
Flt. Lt. Mishra and two of his colleagues were tasked with the responsibility of “lighting up” the target. Although nowadays lots of newer techniques have found their way into the military, back in 2002, it required someone operating from the line of sight of a target to designate it on the laser guidance system. The three-men team led by Mishra were tasked with the job.
The Prolonged Journey
At the crack of dawn of 1st August 2002, the team of three IAF personnel were air-lifted from the Srinagar Airport. Doors of the single-engine Cheetah helicopter had been removed.
As soon as the helicopter neared the LoC, they could hear the blasts from the continuous shelling going on at the border. When the chopper neared the BSF camp, the three men jumped. Their equipment was dropped from the helicopter, and was grabbed by two BSF soldiers. They immediately had to duck into a foxhole for shells started pounding their position from the Pakistan side.
The IAF fighter jets had to cross three mountain ranges before they could get close to the targets that have been designated by the team of three that had been air-dropped in the area. They move quietly and swiftly through difficult terrais as the rarefied air, at a height of 16,000 feet, was making breathing difficult.
The Relentless Effort Was Finally Fruitful
It was finally, after putting in much effort, that the team of three could get close enough to identify and designate the targets on the laser guidance system. Once the job was done, they returned to a post that was jointly manned by the BSF and the Indian Army.
On their return journey they passed some woods, all the trees of which were splattered with blood. This was a result of a successful foiling of a Pakistani infiltration bid by the Indian Army. The scene was exceptionally gory, recalls one soldier.
The Gathering Of Force
Three IAF fighters were waiting in a darkened bunker for the arrival of the Indian Army’s Special Forces to the post. Pakistani guns were in full flow. The only lantern in the bunker had been covered with black paper and put underneath a cot as even a flicker of light would attract shells. A Major of the Artillery Unit was also deployed there to calculate the Pakistani gun positions and relay it back.
The Mission Of 2.08.2002
Early in the morning, Flt. Lt. Mishra and his colleagues were in for some bad news. Due to bad weather conditions, the fighter jets weren’t being able to take-off. The final assault had to be pushed back twice. Finally, at 1:30 pm on 2 August, the code came through. The fighters had taken off and the assault had begun.
Mirage 2000 fighters were deployed to lock on the laser beams and bomb the Pakistani bunkers in the Kel area in Kupwara sector. Due to the sensitive nature of the operation, the number of aircraft deployed and the exact location of the surgical strike has still been kept a secret. Before long, the Pakistani bunkers were reduced to rubble, with the casualty number still not known.
According to one of the Indian Army soldiers, who had been a part of operation:
Shocked by the surprise air raid, the Pakistanis were quick to take counter-measures to confuse the second wave of fighter jets. Left with no option, The IAF team would break radio silence and communicate to the incoming fighters. They directed them correctly. Pakistan would open up its heavy artillery guns–this time to target the Army-BSF post on the LoC where they had taken refuge.
But the Pakistanis were left with no means to retaliate to the surgical strike. The Vajpayee-led NDA government had successfully pulled off a surgical strike without letting any civilian know about it. That the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army were deployed to destroy Pakistan’s military capabilities remained known all these years to just a handful of people in the political and civilian leadership, apart from those involved in the operation.
Flt Lt Mishra retired from the IAF as a Wing Commander. However, because it was a secret mission, sadly no one involved in the operation received a gallantry medal.