Five years ago, on 29 September 2016, India conducted a surgical strike across the Line of Control, striking seven terror launch pads and inflicting "significant casualties" on terrorists preparing to infiltrate from Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
The attack was carried out in the wake of the 18 September attack on an Indian Army base in Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir earlier that month by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed.
As we recount the army’s heroics in what has been termed as India’s first surgical strike, let’s also understand why the Uri Brigade under the Baramulla Division of the Indian Army has been on the terror radar.
The surgical strike
On the intervening night of 28 September and 29, in a nearly five-hour-long operation, heliborne and ground forces struck seven terror launch pads across the Line of Control (LoC).
According to defence sources, the launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir were in the range of two to three km from the LoC and were under surveillance for over one week.
Indian media reported the casualty figures variously from 35 to 70.
Pakistan, however, rejected India's claim and instead claimed that Indian troops did not cross the Line of Control and had only skirmished with Pakistani troops at the border, resulting in the deaths of two Pakistani soldiers and nine wounded.
"There has been no surgical strike by India, instead there had been cross border fire initiated and conducted by India which is existential phenomenon," Pakistan Army said in a statement in Islamabad a day after the strike.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that while talking to the army, he realised that they wanted justice for their martyred soldiers and the government gave them the "free hand" to plan and execute the surgical strikes.
The surgical strike was hailed by the people of the country as well as the armed forces, with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh saying that it gave a clear message to the world that "we can kill terrorists on this side as well as by crossing the border if the need arises".
The strike gained even more popularity when it was turned into a documentary Special Operations: India 'Surgical Strikes'on History TV18 Channel in 2018.
The strike was also the inspiration for the Vicky Kaushal-starrer Uri: The Surgical Strike, which released in 2019.
The attack on the Indian Army camp in Uri
The surgical strikes was retaliation for the 2016 Uri attacks.
In one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent times, terrorists in the wee hours of 18 September struck the Indian Army’s administrative base in Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri area, killing 17 soldiers.
As per reports, the terrorists belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed lobbed 17 grenades in three minutes. Many soldiers from the Dogra Regiment were stationed there and the attack led to tents catching fire. The fire spread to other barracks and this is being seen as the main reason for so many soldiers being martyred.
A gun battle ensued lasting six hours, during which all four terrorists were killed.
Most of the soldiers killed were from the 10th battalion, Dogra Regiment (10 Dogra) and 6th battalion, Bihar Regiment (6 Bihar). One of the injured soldiers succumbed to his injuries on 19 September at RR Hospital in New Delhi, followed by another soldier on 24 September, bringing the death toll to 19.
We strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Uri. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 18, 2016
The brigade headquarters in Uri is situated near the Line of Control. Uri, on the southern bank of the Jhelum River, is roughly 12 kilometres from the Line of Control. And while infiltration across the LoC has grown more difficult with time, the line is far from watertight.
In fact, the administrative complex and stores that were targeted are ahead of the main complex of the 12 Infantry Brigade headquarters. The site is 70 to 80 metres from the office of the brigade’s commander and barely 1 km from the nearest civilian settlement. Moreover, the site of the attack is 14 km from the main Uri-Kaman post that is used by the Peace Bus (Caravan-e-Aman).
The Diplomat's Shawn Snow highlighted that the time and place of the Uri attack had special significance.
The strike came as the Indian Army came under sharp Pakistani criticism for its heavy-handed tactics in suppressing protesters in Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist.
As Snow pointed out that with more than 80 civilian deaths in the Kashmir valley and hundreds of injuries, an attack on a hard Indian Army target inside Kashmir not only gave Pakistan the advantage of potentially internationalising the issue of Kashmiri self-determination on the eve of the open of the 71st UN General Assembly’s debate, but also conferred a degree of plausible deniability.
After the strike, Rajnath Singh, the then home minister, accused Pakistan of orchestrating the attack. "Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such," the senior minister had said as per PTI reports. He also said the terrorists were "highly trained" and "heavily armed".
Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such.
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) September 18, 2016
Not the first time
The 2016 Uri attack was not the first time that an Indian Army base had been struck. In fact, the Indian Army camp at Mohura in Uri had been attacked in December 2014, killing nine Indian Army personnel.
As per the reports, six terrorists entered the army camp and begun shooting at the security forces.
The strike had come as the state was holding staggered polls for Jammu-Kashmir. The attack came just three days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to hold an election rally ahead of the third phase of the elections.
The 2016 attack on the Uri camp was also a reminder of the 2016 attack on the Pathankot Air Force base in Punjab, in which a heavily armed group of Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists killed one civilian and seven other security personnel.
With inputs from agencies