What Happened In 2016 Uri Attack? Former Army General Tells All
The Quint presents an excerpt from Lt Gen (Retd) Satish Dua’s book ‘India’s Bravehearts’.
(The following has been excerpted with permission from (Retd) Lieutenant General Satish Dua’s book ‘India’s Bravehearts: Untold Stories From The Indian Army’, published by Juggernaut. The subheadings are not part of the original text and have been added by The Quint.)
Dawn was yet to break when the shrill ringing of the phone woke me up. It was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Baramulla Division.
“Our base at Uri has been attacked by terrorists, and I’m afraid, sir, that the situation is rather precarious.”
I was instantly awake. I didn’t need to be told how serious this was. If terrorists attacked a military base in person, then they were likely on a suicide mission. And when a man comes prepared to die, he will cause great damage and heavy casualties before he does. The next phone call, a few minutes later, confirmed this.
Thirty minutes later we had all the information. Four suicide terrorists had blazed their way through our base at Uri, very close to the LoC, and caused heavy casualties. During the firefight, a cookhouse also caught fire, which increased the death toll.
The Darkest Sunday: ‘18 Lives Lost – On My Watch’
In the four decades of my career, I have faced a lot of tough situations, mostly in counter-terrorism. But the scale of what happened on that Sunday, 18 September 2016, was huge. We lost eighteen soldiers.
Eighteen young lives lost. And it happened on my watch. As I got ready to go to the helipad, the cup of tea that I had started sipping suddenly seemed tasteless. I left it and went out to the lawn just to be with myself before the chopper arrived.
It was a bright, clear day, but for me it was a dark Sunday, the darkest ever.
The terrorists had chosen their target and timing well. A change of battalion had been in progress. A battalion can stay in a high-altitude area for only two winters. Heights above 9000 feet are considered high altitude, and most of our posts on the LoC ranged from 9000 to 12,000 feet. Soldiers face several medical issues if they stay for prolonged periods at that height, mostly due to lack of oxygen in the air and extreme cold during the snow season.
So the battalion was in the process of moving out, with another one replacing it. During this period of transfer, soldiers of both battalions spend a couple of weeks together to familiarise the incoming troops with the terrain and peculiarities of the LoC. They conduct joint patrolling and lay ambushes together. At this time there are double the usual number of soldiers on all posts.
At the Uri base too, there was a concentration of troops from both battalions, with some of them accommodated in tents.
Why Was Uri Conducive For A Terror Attack?
The Uri base therefore proved to be a good target for the suicide terrorists. As they cut the perimeter fence and entered the camp, it was still dark. But they were detected soon and fired upon. Even as one terrorist died, the others dispersed and started firing indiscriminately at sleeping soldiers and those stirring to wakefulness.
It was just before dawn. One of the biggest worries in such situations is coordination. We had soldiers from two different battalions who had not known each other for long. It was also unfortunate that an LPG cylinder exploded inside the cookhouse. The cookhouse went up in flames, which also engulfed a couple of tents.
The scene at Uri was grim. The firing had stopped but the fires were still raging. The casualties, both dead and wounded, had been moved to the field hospital. Sanitisation operations to check for more terrorists in the nearby forest were under way. An occasional bullet or grenade would explode because of the heat from the fire.
Meanwhile, news came in that the then defence minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar, was arriving in Uri that afternoon. “Why now, why today?” I asked Mr G Mohan Kumar, the defence secretary, when he rang me up to tell me of the minister’s visit.
‘Look For Opportunities In Every Failure’: Uri Was Beyond Such Sentiments
So many things were happening that needed my attention: the operations in Uri, planning how to fly out the mortal remains of all those who had laid down their lives, the road journey to their home towns, the homage ceremony in Srinagar before their bodies were sent back. So many calls had to be attended to – from the Army Headquarters, the police, the civil administration, the chief minister, the governor. The Army Chief had already arrived. I did not need more VIPs on my hands on a day like this.
When the defence minister arrived, I was struck by the simplicity of the man. But I had to say no to his wish to go to Uri. The operation was still in progress and it was not safe for the minister to be there.
He respected the decision. So from the airport we flew by helicopter to Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar, where my headquarters was located.
It was impossible to talk in the noisy chopper. The short flight of ten minutes was the only time I had that day to be alone with my thoughts. It was easy to preach phrases like ‘don’t despair when there are upsets’, ‘look for opportunities in every failure’, but the attack at Uri was beyond such sentiments.
What could be the hidden opportunity in an operation like this?
(The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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