WHEN 9 PARA SF COMMANDOS WON ENEMY’S RESPECT
When 120 Indian Para commandos landed inside Pakistani territory in the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir during the 1971 war, even the enemy had applauded the “excellent work by the boys” in a post-war flag meeting.
The men from 9 Para, a special-forces unit of the Army’s Parachute Regiment, had entered 15-to-20 kilometres deep into Pakistan and destroyed its artillery guns. Nearly 60 Pakistani troops were killed and those who fled their posts were court-martialled. This first raid behind the enemy lines, which the future leaders of the army read about in military academies, forced the Pakistan army to raise the second line of defence for its artillery, changing its military doctrine.
Recalling the war, Colonel K D Pathak (retd), then a captain and second-in-command (2IC) of the raiding company, said:
“During the night of December 13, 1971, my unit was assigned the task of destroying Pakistani artillery guns deployed near Mandhol village, 19 km southwest of Poonch. These six 122 milimetre Chinese guns of the Pakistani battery were creating trouble for our 93 and 120 infantry brigades. The 9 Para unit was then posted at Nangi Tekri (naked hill), 4,665 feet above the sea level, in the Poonch sector.”
Colonel Pathak, now 77, remembers how the company of six officers and 120 men led by Major C M Malhotra started around 5.30pm on “that cold night”. “We had to cross neck-deep water of the Poonch river to reach Mandhol, which we found to be deserted. After locating the guns, the party split into six groups, one to take down each target. In a fierce battle with the enemy, we blew up all its guns with 3-to-5 kg timer explosives powered by pencil cells and put inside the barrels. Many Pakistani soldiers were killed. Several fled. We lost only two men, while 20 were wounded,” said the veteran.
One of the founders of the Indian Special Forces, Colonel Pathak said the most difficult task was to return safely with 20 wounded soldiers and the body of another. They finished it at 6.30am next day. The colonel who retired in 1992 said this surprise raid had shattered the local Pakistani line of defence.
“It was precise, calculated, and successful operation inside the enemy territory,” he said. “After the war, even the military delegation from Pakistan praised the professionalism of the Indian troops who had carried out the operation.”
SIDELIGHTS OF THE OPERATION
‘Pakistanis’ who held their post | Returning from the operation, the unit saw abandoned mules of the Pakistani army but when it tried to take these along, the loyal animal refused to move an inch
Earning Pakistani commendation | The success of 9 Para was recognized only when the Pakistan Army delegation narrated after the ceasefire what damage the unit had done at Mandhol
Changed the art of war | Learning a lesson from this setback, the Pakistani army raised the second line of defence for its artillery guns, which meant changing its military doctrine
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