The dictionary describes a “surgical strike” as an attack (usually without prior warning) intended to deal only with a specific target.
The dictionary describes a “surgical strike” as an attack (usually without prior warning) intended to deal only with a specific target. In other words, it’s an attack intended to seize or inflict serious damage on or destroy an objective. It’s a swift and targeted attack with the aim of minimum collateral damage to nearby areas and civilians. The neutralisation of targets with surgical strikes also prevents escalation to a full-blown war. Surgical attacks can be carried out via airstrikes, airdropping special operations teams or by swift ground operations with commandos or even regular troops.
The great strategist, Sir Basil Liddell Hart. described a surgical strike as being akin to a single arrow shot by Paris (who seduced Helen, causing a war) at Achilles’ heel, which was the only vulnerable spot.
In modern times, a surgical strike is a single action that decapitates or significantly reduces enemy capabilities. The 1967 Israeli surprise air attack that destroyed most of Egypt’s Air Force on the ground was a surgical strike.
Another example is the killing of Osama bin Laden by US Seals in a helicopter-borne attack. The June 2006 US attack that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was by a single F-16C dropping two 500-pound guided bombs on a safe house at Hibhib village near Baqubah in Iraq’s Diyala province on very specific information; and the single Hellfire missile launched by a Central Intelligence Agency drone that killed Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the 5,000-strong Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in August 2009, were classic surgical strikes to decapitate enemy leadership to demoralise its forces.
Surgical strikes are also undertaken on a larger scale. The bombing of Baghdad in the initial stages of the first Gulf War, Operation Shock and Awe, was a well-coordinated set of surgical strikes on government offices and military and communication installations to cripple the Ba’athist regime in Iraq. It clearly had a very specific objective, and succeeded. The carpet-bombing of Dresden that set that historic city on fire was clearly not a surgical strike.
A successful surgical strike has a devastating effect. By these measures, what happened post-Uri doesn’t qualify. Instead, Pakistan-backed terrorists struck back three days later at Baramulla. The Pakistan Army too began firing at several places. Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi of Pakistan Punjab and Syed Salahuddin (Mohammed Yusuf Shah of Sohibug in Kashmir) still sleep soundly and safely at night with their many wives. They still hold press conferences. To pin them to a place and time is not very difficult.
I have always advocated raising the ante with Pakistan by undertaking deep strikes at terrorist leadership centres to make their activity costly. It is not always necessary that we send men across to do this job. The Indian Air Force and even the Indian Navy have missiles of great precision. The fear always cited by military men is that Pakistan will react with strikes of their own. For starters, we have no terrorist targets in India. We have plenty of military targets for them to pick to strike back if they wish to. But any such counter-attack would be a disproportionate response, and then we would have to decide about how much and where to respond. This has been “gamed” many times. Escalation would only lead to Pakistan’s military annihilation. Nuclear war will result in their complete wasting. However irrational they may appear, rationality always prevails.
I have no doubt the Indian Army sent forces across the Line of Control and hit several places where terrorist foot soldiers had gathered. They have done this several times in the past without any accompanying fanfare. As a matter of fact, the decision to do this was delegated to the corps level. It was the government’s policy. I have no doubt that this time too they drew blood and took no prisoners as has happened several years now. By misusing a nomenclature to describe the action to be something bigger and major is sheer political charlatanism. Maybe it was Ajit Doval’s vivid imagination formed after years as an undercover agent in Pakistan, as his many hagiographers claim If they had gone in and took out Salahuddin or brought him back, it would have qualified as a “surgical strike”.
If Ram Madhav then said that it was a surgical strike and an achievement of the Narendra Modi government, we would have all loudly applauded it. But why the DGMO described it as that when it isn’t is something I am unable to fathom I have known several DGMOs and they were all distinguished soldiers with great integrity and precise in their speech. Any DGMO has got to be that. The job demands that they are clinically accurate in making an assessment and surgically precise in determining an action. I have no doubt this DGMO too is of that lineage. But sometimes they have to act out a script. Describing what happened as a surgical strike is clearly a political move. How a bunch of cross-border raids became “surgical strikes” is a story still waiting to be told.
That the action was political is now quite apparent. Banners put up by RSS volunteers across election-bound Uttar Pradesh with quotes from the Army Chief and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture in the foreground gives the game away. Having not been able to bring about nationwide development and an economic miracle as allegedly took place in Gujarat, the BJP-RSS have their backs to the wall. Their claims of economic growth are now seen by most people as hollow. It’s not rocket science to figure that economic growth cannot take place without investment. The tax-investment ratio is dwindling. Power demand is falling. And, most important, no jobs are being created. The Prime Minister is clearly bluffing when he claims that three crore Mudra loans created three crore new jobs. If that is so, let us give a hundred crore Mudra loans and the nation can be deemed to have turned the corner. To compound his misery, food inflation is still high, at 7.5 per cent yoy (year-over-year) this month.
Consequently, their 31 per cent is also dwindling, and so they need a new Modi miracle. So a false image is being created. Like some sort of an avatar of Indira Gandhi or Salahuddin the Great, who can enthuse the masses Let’s see. As Faiz wrote in another context: “Hum dekhenge, lazim hain ki hum bhi dekhenge!”
The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry. He also specialises in the Chinese economy.