As India and Pakistan continue to grapple with the facts surrounding India’s claimed “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control in Kashmir in late September, new details have emerged regarding a similar episode in 2011, underlining some of India’s cross-LoC covert capabilities.
Indian daily the Hindu managed to get its hands on official documents, including “video and photographic evidence,” surrounding a particularly gruesome episode of cross-LoC violence between India and Pakistan. In July 2011, Pakistani Army personnel attacked an Indian outpost, killing six and, notably, beheading two Indian soldiers.
That story wasn’t suppressed or secret at the time. It was picked up and widely reported in India, where it was taken as evidence of a need for India to bolster its security presence along the LoC.
The Hindu‘s revelations over the weekend, however, detail how the Indian Army went about retaliating to the provocation in what was dubbed “Operation Ginger.”
Based on evidence gathered over multiple reconnaissance missions across the LoC, “different teams for ambush, demolition, surgical strike and surveillance were constituted,” targeting specific sites across the LoC.
The operation began on August 30. A source involved in the operation told the Hindu that the date was chosen because it fell before Eid: “It was the time when Pakistanis least expected a retaliation.”
Based on the uncovered documents, the Hindu offers a play-by-play of the Indian assault:
For the strike, about 25 soldiers, mainly Para Commandos, reached their launch-pad at 3 a.m. on August 29 and hid there until 10 p.m. They then crossed over the Line of Control to reach close to Police Chowki. By 4 a.m. on August 30, the planned day of the attack, the ambush team was deep within the enemy territory waiting to strike.
Over the next hour, claymore mines were placed around the area and the commandos took positions for the ambush, waiting for clearance through secure communication route. At 7 a.m. on August 30, the troops saw four Pakistani soldiers, led by a Junior Commissioned Officer, walking towards the ambush site. They waited till the Pakistanis reached the site then detonated the mines. In the explosions all four were grieviously injured. Then the raiding commandoes lobbed grenades and fired at them.
Ultimately, in a tit-for-tat retaliation, the story notes that “Indian soldiers rushed to chop off the heads” of three dead Pakistani soldiers.
That details of the cross-LoC strike are emerging now should be unsurprising. The Indian government has come under pressure in the press to offer proof of the late-September strike, which was a similar act of retaliation. If not equally brutal in its methods, the September 18 fidayeen (suicide squad) attack on an Indian Army base in Uri was the single highest casualty attack endured by the Indian Army in more than a decade.
With the leak of the details of Operation Ginger in 2011, the Indian government, without releasing details about the latest “surgical strikes” can demonstrate that Indian armed forces both possess the capability and the will to retaliate. The 2011 strike was additionally preceded by other similar cross-border retaliations during the early 2000s that were coordinated by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government. (Here, a recent blog post by Shashank Joshi cataloguing Indian and other reports of cross-LoC strikes is a useful point of reference.)
The details surrounding Operation Ginger also help dispel one of the common explanatory variables for why India chose to retaliate for Uri. Some commentators have noted that the decision to retaliate was borne of innate differences in how India’s current Bharatiya Janata Party-led government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval chose to interpret Delhi’s policy of “strategic restraint.”
In 2011, of course, India was still led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress government. That the Indian Army still managed to pull off a cross-border retaliatory strike suggests that the relevant path dependencies for determining when and how India chooses to retaliate for specific Pakistani provocations rests, at least partially, outside the prime minister’s office.
Finally, while the newly leaked details surrounding the 2011 cross-LoC strike might make for thrilling reading, they also underline the continuing epistemic uncertainty surrounding the September 2016 strikes, which, despite numerous reports citing anonymous sources in the Indian press, were modestly outlined in a lone official statement by the Indian Director General of Military Operations.