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Surgical strikes: Truth the casualty as India, Pakistan make competing claims

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Through coordinated "surgical strikes" across the Line of Control on Wednesday night, India claims to have both avenged the Uri attack and prevented the possibility of another such tragedy. While India claimed that the strikes were carried out without incurring any losses, sections of the media in Pakistan claimed eight Indian soldiers had been killed and one captured.

A report in the newspaper Dawn identified the captured soldier as Chandu Babulal Chohan, 22, who hails from Maharashtra. He was reportedly taken from the site of an India-Pakistan skirmish at Tatta Pani near the LoC.

India has reportedly admitted that a soldier of the 37 Rashtriya Rifles has been captured -- the DGMO has even raised this issue with his Pakistani counterpart -- but maintained that he wasn't involved with the strike. He had strayed across the LoC, and that is not uncommon, the defence sources said.

Interestingly, defence sources in both countries have claimed to have killed exactly the same number of soldiers from the other side.

Also Read: India's surgical strikes across LoC: 11 things you should know

There has been no official confirmation of such claim from Pakistan. The Indian establishment too, except for the statement made by the DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, remained mum about the operation.

However, sources in the Indian defence ministry provided some details about the operation, in which the DGMO had claimed "significant casualties" were inflicted on the terrorists.

The first was that the operation lasted four hours, from around midnight till just before sunrise. That 5-7 terrorist "launch pads" between Uri and Poonch were targeted simultaneously by the Indian Army's special forces. These two towns, located very close to the LoC, are about 70 kms apart.

According to the sources, the Indian para commandos inflicted some 40-50 casualties, including Pakistani soldiers, terrorists, their handlers and guides. While the number of Pakistani soldiers killed was initially said to be two, the sources claimed the actual figure was much higher. Overall also, the actual number of casualties, including of terrorists, could be much higher.

Indian military along the LoC, including the air force, were on high alert all this while, prepared for all contingencies. No casualties from the Indian side were reported.

Preparation for the attack is said to have taken place over the past one week. In this time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two meetings with the Cabinet Committee on Security and two with the three service chiefs, the most recent on Wednesday. Another meeting of the CCS is reported to be held on Friday.

While the Pakistani military's public relations department, the Inter Services Public Relations, denied that any "surgical strike" had taken place, it claimed that heavy exchange of fire had been reported from Bhimber, Hotspring, Kel and Lipa sectors on their side of the LoC.

Also Read: Surgical strikes: India calls Pakistan's strategic bluff. How will the Sharifs respond?

Pakistan's Defence Minister Khawaja Asif claimed that nine of their soldiers were injured in the firing, adding that the Pakistan Army used small firearms to respond in a "befitting manner".

Trail of blood

There were at least a couple of firsts in this operation. The first is that, if the defence sources are to be believed, that the targets were filmed as evidence of Pakistan's "infrastructural and military support" to terrorists, and to archive the ambitious mission. The second was India owning up to strikes executed by its special forces.

The strikes, though, weren't the first of their kind. India has launched several such retaliatory attacks in the past through special forces or through pro-India insurgents.

Pakistan has alleged that in 1998, after a terrorist attack in Jammu's Prankote area, an unnamed group supported by India killed 16 villagers in Pakistan's Bandala area. "How does your own blood feel?" is said to have written in a note left behind at the site of massacre.

While neither India nor Pakistan chose to publicly admit it, India is said to have exacted revenge "several times more" than what Pakistani soldiers had done to Lance Naik Hemraj Singh, whose decapitated body was handed over to India in January 2013.

The evidence to prove such instances is hard to come by but intelligence officials privately admit that such strikes have been carried out earlier as well.

However, there are a few details about the operation that are still not clear. First, how did the Indian soldiers manage to sneak across the LoC without being detected by the Pakistani Rangers, who have been on high alert since the Uri attack.

Of course, the DGMO has only talked of "surgical strikes" and not specified their nature or claimed that Indian soldiers crossed the LoC. But the defence ministry sources have talked about para commandos being air-dropped close to the LoC; some have gone as far as to suggest that they were carried to the other side in a couple of trucks.

It's hard to believe that soldiers who wanted to take the enemy by surprise would use these modes of transport.

As more details about the operation are expected to be revealed in the next few days, the picture of what exactly happened is likely to get clearer.

Also Read: LoC surgical strikes: Pakistan military calls them lies, doesn't want matter to escalate

First published: 29 September 2016, 10:20 IST
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.