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Mission Overseas: Daring Operations by the Indian Military

Review By :- Monica Arora

Date :- -------

Publisher :- Juggernaut

Price :- Rs 299

Pages :- 191

Former Indian Army officer turned journalist, a military observer with the United Nations, and now author, Sushant Singh’s latest book with Juggernaut Publishing is entitled Mission Overseas: Daring Operations by the Indian Military. The author describes how India’s foreign policy has not been very conducive with deputing its armed forces abroad and owing to that Indian troops have mostly participated in UN peacekeeping missions abroad. But a recollection of three critical overseas missions conducted by the Indian soldiers, namely Operation Cactus in the Maldives; Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka and Operation Khukri in Sierra Leone, perhaps could be a very important reminder of Indian armed forces’ foreign forays, albeit few. Moreover, considering that the official histories of these three operations has not yet been made public, it is pertinent that young Indian men and women and in fact, people from all age groups should be made aware of these operations.
The first account is that of Operation Cactus: Mission Impossible in the Maldives, when on 3 November 1988, a deadly coup was mounted against then President Gayoom by a few disgruntled expatriate Maldivians led by a businessman Abdullah Luthufi and his associate. President Gayoom sought Indian aid in the wee hours of the morning and how then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi swiftly dispatched his soldiers. Curiously, the Indian planners were largely unaware of geographical location and literally relied on coffee-table books to identify Male, the capital, some 2,700 kilometres away. In fact, Brigadier FC "Bull” Bulsara, commander of the 50th Independent Parachute Brigade actually sent his officers in Agra to grab any maps or tourist brochures they could find, so as to plan the finer nuances of the operation. Where Singh clearly succeeds is in bringing together the personal memories of some key participants. AK Banerjee, who was the then Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, was in India when the coup attempt unfolded. His inputs would prove crucial to the success of the mission. The author also discusses the important roles of other state actors namely Ronen Sen, at the Prime Minister's Office, Brigadier VP Malik (later army chief), and Group Captain Ashok Goel (later Air Marshal), who ensured the timely success of Operation Cactus.
The prime hurdle was Male’s small size and the lack of space for paradropping. Attempts to capture the national airport at Hulhule through a paradrop could prove to be hazardous with the possibility of parachutists drifting out to sea. And yet, Indian forces took up the challenge and IAF Il-76 aircraft landed at the airport with paratroopers tackling the mercenaries in Male and also secured Gayoom.
The second operation is Operation Pawan: Massacre at Jaffna which drew much flak from mediapersons and policymakers alike.  It all started when LTTE commanders committed suicide to avoid being handed over to the Sri Lankan government by the IPKF and they lost all faith on the Indian Peacekeeping Force. This happened in 1987 and after a thirty month long, bloodied battle, wherein IPKF was thrown onto the battlefield without enough preparation. In the absence of any maps or artillery, the LTTE guerillas got the better of Indian troops when they were heli-dropped in Jaffna, the LTTE headquarters and some 1200 Indian soldiers lost their life in the long-drawn conflict. 
India’s elite para commando battalion 10 Para was tasked with the mission but only 32 men of the infantry battalion actually landed but could not survive the LTTE’s assault. Narrating the heart-wrenching tale of how over 37 hours the senior officers leading the rescue teams were systematically eliminated by LTTE snipers from the rooftops of the University building in Jaffna, along with their men, this disastrous operation continued to haunt India until the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by LTTE in May 1991.
The final operation in the book is Operation Khukri: Hostage Rescue in Sierra Leone, which took place in 2000, some 10,000 km away in Sierra Leone in Africa. Under the aegis of the UN peacekeeping mission when 223 Indian soldiers were kept under siege by rebels for 75 days, what during their rescue ensued as described by the author ‘ was a complete lesson in politics, intrigue and diplomatic maneuvering.’ Major General VK Jetley was commander of the UN force in Sierra Leone and he had to make sure that the rescue mission was wrapped in secrecy for fear of any plans being leaked as India had been practically isolated by the Americans and the British, as well as the Nigerians. Eventually, Jetley took matters in his own hands and after procuring a sanction from the Indian government, managed to free the Indian soldiers from the ‘dangerously trigger-happy rebels’.
Written in an extremely simple and engaging style, Sushant Singh’s book unfolds like a racy thriller that not just brings forth the valour of Indian soldiers but also the myriad military strategies that were deployed through impeccable planning and deft execution, thereby making all of these overseas military operations extremely relevant and important even in contemporary times.
Book: Mission Overseas: Daring Operations by the Indian Military 
Author: Sushant Singh
Publisher: Juggernaut 
Price: Rs 299