Aftermath of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

Fourteen years back, on 26 November, 2008, 10 terrorists of Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out pre-planned, coordinated attacks on eight major locations in Mumbai city, including the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Taj Palace, etc. These attacks lasted three days and a total of 175 people belonging to many nations died, with 300 wounded. On 29 November, National Security Guards conducted ‘Operation Black Tornado’ to flush out the remaining attackers; it culminated in the death of all attackers. Only one attacker, Ajmal Kasab, survived the attack and was hanged in Pune in 2012. While much has been written and published about these attacks, many stories are yet to be told.

Investigations revealed that intelligence agencies of Pakistan were directly involved in planning and executing these attacks. Soon, a few selected elite units of the Indian armed forces (including Sukhoi-30 fighter squadron commanded by me) were selected and deployed at forward locations to strike back at Pakistan for sponsoring these attacks. Plans were chalked out to carry out surgical strikes at selected locations in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Pakistan; locations of terrorist camps, terrorist launch pads were considered for selecting the targets. Tactical planning was also carried out to achieve surprise, and extensive trials were carried out for successful execution of the surgical strikes.

The elite units were kept deployed at forward locations for a month plus. The national leadership must have considered the pros and cons and the international ramifications of carrying out these surgical strikes. Finally, the national leadership dithered on decision-making and could not muster national resolve to execute these surgical strikes to avenge the Mumbai terror attacks. After a month plus deployment, the units were moved back to their mother bases.

Eleven years later, on 26 February, 2019, Indian Air Force combat aircraft carried out surgical strikes on various targets in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Pakistan. Targets, including terrorist camps and terrorist launch pads, were hit with precision guided munitions. The next day, Pakistan Air Force planes attempted to hit back. The poorly planned attacks were thwarted by the Indian Air Force aircraft. In the ensuing combat, wing commander Abhinandan shot down a vastly superior F-16 aircraft and in the process was himself shot down.

While the go-ahead was not given by the national leadership in 2008, the present government executed the surgical strikes inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Pakistan on 26 February, 2019. There are many ifs and buts; however, if the surgical strikes were carried out to avenge the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 and thus teaching Pakistan a lesson, one can only imagine how many innocent Indian lives could have been saved from terror attacks.

The surgical strikes by Indian Air Force aircraft inside Pakistan in 2019 marked the transition of India from a soft nation to a strong nation capable of defending its territories and people. Finally, we have a national and military leadership strong enough to stand up and fight for its own people and principles. Jai Hind! (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)