Military & Aerospace

Indian Raid on Terror Launch Pads in POK (September 2016)
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The whole world is aware that the Pakistan Army has not won a single war, has lost half its country (East Pakistan) during the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and surrendered 93,000 prisoners of war to India. Pakistan sheltered Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US Special Forces at Abbotabad. Besides, Mullah Mansour Akhtar too, was killed inside Pakistan, in the Balochistan province. Despite this and without adequate pressure from US and China, Pakistan has been conducting proxy wars against India and Afghanistan with impunity.1 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had gone out of his way with an extended hand of friendship to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, but the latter was hell-bent on stabbing India in the back — just like all previous Pakistani presidents and prime ministers, with their own military as the Sword of Damocles over their heads.

In the wee hours of the morning of September 18, 2016, four heavily-armed terrorists of the Pakistan-supported Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist organization entered the Indian army post at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) — surprising the post, lobbing incendiary grenades and then spraying bullets, some of the grenades setting the diesel dump on fire.2 19 soldiers were killed and over two dozen injured, mostly with burn injuries. 13 of those reportedly killed were in two tents that caught fire. The attack was well-planned, obviously by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The post is overlooked on three sides by Pakistani army posts in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), astride the Line of Control (LoC). Ironically, the post at Uri at the time of the terror attack only had a cattle fence around the post for protection and no thermal imaging devices for surveillance.3 The terrorists had accomplices on the Indian side of the LoC, which made their task easier. The four terrorists, all foreigners, were eventually gunned down. All four were carrying items with Pakistani markings, including maps, GPS, explosives (RDX and TNT), a matrix sheet of codes and notes in Pashto, besides AK-47 rifles and under-barrel grenade launchers. This is not the first time that Pakistan has used the JeM to attack India. 

Following the Uri terror attack, Nawaz Sharif addressing the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on September 21, 2016, made no reference to the Uri attack, but instead eulogized a Kashmiri terrorist saying he was “murdered” by Indian forces.4 Concurrently, the Pakistani media accused India of stage managing the terrorist attack in Uri to divert attention from Kashmir. And this was not the first time Pakistan had displayed such brazenness. Other than the horrifying scales of casualties those four terrorists managed to achieve, it was the hubris of the Uri attack that ignited unprecedented anger pan-India.5 It had also come while families still mourned those who had died defending another Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack on the Indian Air Force (IAF) airbase at Pathankot in the Punjab state of India in the first week of January 2016. Pakistan appeared confident that India’s response would be confined to public outrage and diplomatic condemnations — a standard matrix of responses that it had learnt to handle with mastery.6 But this did not mean that the Pakistani war machine was wholly complacent.7 The Pakistan Army was on high alert, not to mention the night flights by F-16s over Islamabad, and Nawaz Sharif, his Defence Minister, Khawaja Asif, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, and Army Chief Raheel Sharif, all talked of war, twitching their nuclear tails, in case India tried anything against Pakistan.


The list of some 35–40 terrorist training camps in PoK along with their locations had been available with the Indian Parliament for some time and was regularly updated. Pakistan had cleverly co-located most of these camps with regular army posts, so that attack on them can be portrayed as attacking the regular army. In some cases the two are merged. Ahead of these terror-training camps were forward launch pads, closer to the LoC. These were also located close to Pakistani posts, but in the gaps on lower ground, along the infiltration routes. Terrorists once trained, were staged forward to these launch pads awaiting command to infiltrate, mostly under covering fire from Pakistani posts.

The options considered by the army were tabulated: the first column bore the names of the location of the launch pads to be attacked; the second column provided its location in terms of distance inside PoK from the LoC; the third column provided information about the location and the number of terrorists likely to be encountered there; the fourth column provided detailed list of resources required in terms of men, equipment, logistical and back-up support, and; the fifth and final column providing estimated casualties that India could expect at each target.8 Prediction of casualties expected at some targets was zero if men and resources were adequately ramped up. Other options predicted definite casualties, in some cases double-digit casualties. Eventually, four terrorist launch pads operated by Pakistan’s ISI and protected by the Pakistan Army were selected, but these were not revealed to the attacking special operations columns till the last minute — the night of September 26.

The Force

Northern Command responsible for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) had two integral Parachute (Special Forces) battalions — 4 PARA (SF) and 9 PARA (SF). Raised in July 1966, 9 PARA (SF) was the very first Parachute (Commando) unit of the Indian Army and was later renamed from 9 PARA (Cdo) to 9 PARA (SF). 4 PARA (SF) raised in 1961 converted to SF role from a parachute unit in 2002. Both units had extensive counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist experience in J&K and it goes without saying that both units continuously trained for cross-border operations, for executing them as and when required. They were and are war-ready at all times. At that time, 4 PARA (SF) and 9 PARA (SF) were being commanded by Colonel HS Sandhu and Colonel Kapil Yadav, respectively. Both these officers were already decorated for gallantry. Both these units had been earning gallantry awards year after year, being constantly involved in operations.

Of the four terrorist launch pads selected as targets, two were in close proximity to each other, while the other two were widely dispersed. Accordingly, four columns were worked out with the two columns (19 men in all) for the two targets in close proximity to each other (in the Uri area), led by a fire-brand major (name withheld for security reasons) who was second-in- command of 4 PARA (SF).

By midnight on September 20, the four columns were staged forward to own posts close to the LoC, all movement being on foot because any move by helicopters would have raised enemy suspicions. Like the two columns in the Uri area, two more PARA (SF) were deployed — one in area of Poonch, north of Jammu, and the other at a post in Kupwara in north Kashmir. The columns were armed with a mix of Israeli Tavor TAR-21 assault rifles, M4AI 5.56mm carbines, Instalaza C90 grenade launchers and Galil sniper rifles. The columns remained doggo awaiting further orders.


By midnight of September 26, orders were received for remaining on standby and given precise targets — two across the LoC in Uri and one each opposite Poonch and Kupwara. The next few hours involved in surveying and monitoring the LoC and the route beyond, Uri was overlooked by eight Pakistani army posts — albeit the sentries appeared loosened up because a week had passed after the Uri attack and political and diplomatic signals from India did not indicate any physical response by India. The SF team leaders got busy contacting ‘assets’ operating in the area, including inside PoK, who individually confirmed the target information, final preparations, briefing and checking of weapons.9 Both launch pads opposite Uri were some 500 metres apart, but close to Pakistani army posts for logistical and administrative support. Shortly before noon on September 27, the green signal arrived for the Special Forces columns to attack the four terrorist launch pads in PoK. Having arrived in respective locations, the columns had been awaiting orders to strike the enemy past week.

The two columns in Uri area moved out from the Indian post at 2030 hours on September 27. Crossing the LoC 25 minutes later, they began the four-hour trek downhill towards their targets. The columns in Poonch and Kupwara too, were launched at the same time, with the army coordinating the simultaneous entry into PoK at the same time, so as not to alert the enemy. As the Uri column continued advancing closer to the target, Pakistan Army posts began firing illuminating ammunition to light up the area. This was possibly speculative action, but even as it ceased the columns remained frozen for some 20 minutes. About a kilometer from the target, the Major split his team into two columns of nine men each, leading one column himself. 200 meters from the target they encountered speculative fire from the launch pad.

The Major, therefore, decided to stay doggo for the day to study the target in detail and confirmed no major change in enemy activity through coded transmission through satellite updated intelligence, also receiving photographs of the area taken by the IAF.10 They remained motionless during the day. At midnight on September 28, enemy launch pads again resorted to some speculative firing. The column was spread out in two squads. 50 metres from the launch pad, the Major saw two terrorist sentries at the launch pad, opened fire, dropping them instantly. Two commandos opened heavy fire at the launch pad, enabling the assault squad to come out of the forest and attack the launch pad through the open area. Almost all firing by the assault squad found targets. Two terrorists running into the forest in a bid to get behind the attackers were intercepted by the Major and shot dead. The firefight at the two launch pads lasted about an hour, after which the two columns united for the difficult part of exfiltration. A very rough estimate of the number of terrorists they had killed indicated the figure of 20. Overall, a total of 38–40 terrorists and 2–4 Pakistan army personnel were killed at the four launch pads. The advance, assault and exit was conducted in total radio silence. The return home was most difficult as the enemy was now fully alerted. So it had to be quick with one squad providing intermittent covering fire and the other moving. The enemy posts opened up with everything they had — medium machine guns to rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition of every kind, short of heavy artillery. Following a circuitous return route, under continuous fire, the columns managed to cross the LoC back by 0430 hours on September 29. There were no casualties to any of the Special Forces columns.


The strikes were immaculately planned and meticulously executed. The commandos were highly trained and extremely focused. Utmost secrecy was maintained with only those absolutely necessary down the chain in the know. Even the team leaders were given the precise targets only on September 26. Reliable human assets and electronic and photographic intelligence helped streamline attack plans, human intelligence being the most important factor in these types of operations. Precisely coordinated movement of the four special operations columns and attack in the widely dispersed locations paid off in keeping the enemy off guard. But perhaps, the most important factor was the political and diplomatic deception in making Pakistan believe India would not strike back.

On September 24, Prime Minister Modi stated at a public rally in Kerala, “A leader (Nawaz Sharif) is reading the speech of a terrorist (referring to Sharif’s speech at UNGA).11 I wish to speak to Pakistani citizens. Before 1947, your forefathers loved this entire land. India is ready to fight a war. A war against poverty. Let India and Pakistan fight a war to end social evils, illiteracy and unemployment. Let us see who wins.” Further, addressing the UNGA on September 21, 2016, India’s External Affairs Minister expressed hurt and betrayal at the Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack in Uri, but was careful not to express indignation and anger.12 After the Uri terror attack, there was tremendous pressure on the Indian Government to retaliate.13 In between there were also fake reports of our Special Forces having gone across the LoC, struck terrorist locations, killed 20 and injured some 200. This was perhaps a deliberate ruse to lull the enemy and it obviously worked. All this convinced the Pakistani establishment and Pakistani military that India would refrain from taking any physical action against terrorists inside PoK.

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The manner in which the surgical strikes were conducted at four widely-dispersed locations astride the LoC so successfully by elements of two Special Forces units of Northern Command speaks highly of their professionalism.14 The success of these actions should also be seen in the backdrop of the fact that the Pakistan Army was on high alert post the Uri strike. The fact that the Pakistan Army was taken by surprise, tried to intervene and lost four regular Pakistani soldiers (two, as admitted by Nawaz) adds to the success. The clinical strikes inflicted heavy casualties on the terrorists, their supporters and the Pakistan Army — without any loss to the Indian Special Forces.

The capture and interrogation of the Pakistani-origin guides who helped the Pakistani terrorists during the Uri attack had once again confirmed the Pakistan Army’s involvement — which was not only denied by Nawaz, but countered in the most absurd terms by saying that the Uri attack was engineered from within India.15

These raids, termed surgical strikes, were a signal to Pakistan that India can strike astride the LoC when needed. It is not that such actions have not been taken earlier, but this action was at multiple targets. Unfortunately, these strikes were politically blown out of proportions, even revealing certain details that can jeopardize similar operations in same area again. Over politicization and propaganda of the raids has left a bad taste in the special forces fraternity with respect to covert special operations.


  1. Katoch, Prakash, ‘Indian Army’s surgical strikes across LoC: Pakistan plays brave, but shock palpable, First Post, September 29, 2016,
  2. Katoch, PC, ‘Post-Uri attack: Coordination between India, Iran and Afghanistan needed to cut Pakistan to size’, South Asia Monitor, September 20, 2016,
  3. Ibid.
  4. Full text of Nawaz Sharif’s speech at UN general assembly, Hindustan Times, September 21, 2016,
  5. Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh, ‘India’s Most Fearless – True Stories of Modern Military Heroes’, Penguin Random House, India, ISBN 9780143440444, pp 4.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Katoch, Prakash, ‘Indian Army’s surgical strikes across LoC: Pakistan plays brave, but shock palpable, First Post, September 29, 2016,
  8. Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh, ‘India’s Most Fearless – True Stories of Modern Military Heroes’, Penguin Random House, India, ISBN 9780143440444, pp 8.
  9. Ibid, pp 16.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh, ‘India’s Most Fearless – True Stories of Modern Military Heroes’, Penguin Random House, India, ISBN 9780143440444, pp 13
  12. Sushma Swaraj at UNGA: Full text of the speech, India Today, September 26, 2016,
  13. Katoch, Prakash, ‘Indian Army’s surgical strikes across LoC: Pakistan plays brave, but shock palpable, First Post, September 29, 2016,
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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