Indian Para Commando units were returning back from a bitter, tough but enlightening experience of fighting the LTTE, an unconventional enemy in it’s own backyard, Norther Sri Lanka. There was valuable experience gained in fighting an elusive enemy in dense jungle…with limited intelligence and local support. The three Para Commando battalions had acquired skills and developed standard operating procedures which shall prove valuable in the coming years in J&K.
Indian intelligence agencies had been keenly watching the birth and growth of the Mujahedin army under the aegis of the CIA and ISI in Afghanistan. After the Russians had pulled out, Afghanistan was replete with these well trained and armed fighters, looking for another cause to fight for and the Pakistani Army leadership had one very beautiful destination in mind, to send them to. A botched up state election in Kashmir and the public unrest that followed provided the golden opportunity for these terrorists to start infiltrating and causing trouble.
In the early 90s the situation was dire in the valley. The Army was finding it difficult to quell the insurgency. Many areas like Sopore in northern Kashmir were declared as ‘Liberated’ and in this area, the terrorist would indulge in indiscriminate firing on a passing army convoy, then melt into the crowd making it difficult for the Army to respond. The challenge to catch the culprits was taken up by Two of the legendary officers who wore the maroon beret, Capt. Alok Jha and Lt. Arun Singh Jasrotia, led the covert team which planned to be present in the main chowk area in civilian clothes. While another volunteer officer Maj. Sangha would keep driving around an army truck as bait for the terrorists to shoot at. As they had expected, the local JKLF tanzeem, fired at the truck. Jha and Jasrotia marked out the assailants and chased after them. The terrorists ran into an isolated hut and hid in a false ceiling. As Jha entered the hut with Jasrotia giving him cover from the door, the terrorist threw a grenade at him which bounced off Jha’s chest and dropped between him and Jasrotia. Both men threw themselves on the floor but as luck would have it, the grenade failed to explode. The Special Forces team captured all the six terrorists alive, a rare feat in those times.
Lt. Jasrotia was promoted to Captain and would make the supreme sacrifice a few years later while fighting another bunch of militants. His troops came under heavy fire and he was severly injured. Inspite of that he shall kill one militant with his commando knife in hand-to-hand combat and kill another by lobbing grenades. Capt. Jasrotia was awarded the highest peace time gallantry award- Ashok Chakra.
Special Forces started using captured/surrendered militants against each other by exploiting any rivalry between the two tanzeems. Special Forces operators also started to live along with these militants…dress like them in pathan suits…grow a beard…learn their language and behavior. These learnings and skill allowed the special forces to create small teams of operators who would infiltrate a terrorist group…gather valuable intelligence and then finally either force the militants to surrender or send them to fulfill the 72 virgin challenge.
The special forces team would also use subterfuge by dressing and behaving like a small band of militants while hunting for the real ones. They would learn the customs of foreign fighters to make it look real. Young special forces operatives like Capt. K C Singh would excel at this dangerous role-play and would return with the scalps of their prey, on a regular basis.
During J&K operations the Para Commandos truly transformed into Special Forces by using above mentioned tactics and strategies. This allowed them to produce fantastic results in combating terrorism in the valley.
Next time, Special Forces in the Kargil operations and beyond.
– Ref. India’s special Forces by Lt. Gen. P C Katoch and Saikat Datta