Easily the most defining nat-sec story in 2016, the Indian Army’s cross-border raid into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (termed ‘surgical strikes’ by the Army and press) has a caul of lore around it already. The Army, which broke tradition by formally announcing the operation, has refrained from releasing video footage or any other details about the raid by a special forces unit from the formidable Parachute Regiment. On Army Day yesterday, the Army put out its traditional annual film that showcases the year gone by. The contents of the film, broadcast at the Army Chief’s residence before the President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister and other government leaders, is vetted at the highest levels. The film is replete with the usual stuff — honour rolls and descriptions of humanitarian relief, memories of our martyrs, etc.
But about half-way into the film, there’s a tantalising 30-second clip of video recreation of the September 2016 ‘surgical strike’ — stock recreation footage from an earlier Discovery Channel show on the Indian Army’s special forces units. At no stage has the Army indicated that the use of this specific dramatisation is in any way indicative of how the cross-border raid was actually conducted, but considering this is an official Indian Army film — and given there’s not a single second of official footage or photography to work with — it’s interesting to look at how the Army has chosen to borrow this particular stock footage to depict what is easily its biggest officially acknowledged non-war operation.
Shot in dying light, the Discovery Channel clip begins with Special Forces soldiers leaping from a Cheetah helicopter. This in itself appears to address a sharp component of the debate that broke out soon after the raid took place — over whether air assets were indeed used to infiltrate Indian commandos across the Line of Control. One has to wonder why the Army chose that particular clip, otherwise. In the video, the soldiers then make their way stealthily towards their ‘target’ — a terror launch-pad. Two kinds of tactics then ensue: a series of sudden sniper attacks by Special Forces soldiers using night vision devices (the video depicts ‘terrorists’ falling to the rounds fired), followed by an Neptune Spear-style storming operation at the terror launch pad end ending with mysterious ‘kill’ shots fired in the dark. The video recreation is close to what most people probably imagined the raid looked like.
The video was broadcast on the same day that the Army also held a live mock drill depicting the surgical strike at the Army Day parade, a necessarily cruder version of borrowed video footage in the film, but with some pointers of its own — notably the use of a Cheetah to infiltrate the commandos, and a HAL Dhruv chopper to extract them post-operation. Here it is in full:
Again, nothing suggests that the specifics of the drill or video are indicative of what really happened on September 29. Certainly does add to the lore, though.