‘2016 surgical strike was the 1st’: Army commander contradicts Manmohan Singh

The army’s northern command chief, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, on Monday said the September 2016 surgical strike on terrorist launchpads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) was the first such operation to be carried out. He said this while citing a recent reply of the Directorate General of Military Operations (DGMO) under the Right to Information (RTI) Act .

“A few days ago, DGMO said in a reply to an RTI query that the first surgical strike happened in September 2016. I do not want to go into what political parties say. They will be given an answer to by the government. What I have told you is a statement of fact,” Lt Gen Singh told reporters in Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur. He was referring to the DGMO’s reply in which it said on May 8 that the army had no data to suggest that surgical strikes were conducted across the de-facto India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir — the Line of Control (LoC) — before September 2016.

He was responding to Congress’s claims that six surgical strikes were conducted when it led the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre until 2014.

This is for the first time that a senior officer has spoken on the record about whether the September 2016 strike was the army’s first such targeted operation. It comes a day after the conclusion of the final phase of Lok Sabha polls during which the controversy over targeted operations in PoK peaked.

Lt Gen Singh’s statement came days after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told HT on May 2 that his government conducted “multiple surgical strikes” when it was in power but did not believe in using them for “vote garnering”.

Singh’s statement triggered a war of words between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the middle of the Lok Sabha elections. Finance minister, Arun Jaitley, reacted to his comments saying those strikes were “invisible and unknown”.

Lt Gen Singh headed the Directorate of Military Operations when the September 2016 strikes were carried out in response to an attack on an army camp in Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri in which 19 soldiers were killed.

HT spoke to several serving and retired army officers following Manmohan Singh’s comments about the strikes. They confirmed that there had indeed been several cross-border operations before 2014. “However, the difference is that the previous regime did not talk about the targeted operations. This government took ownership of the strikes and announced to the world that India would pursue terrorists beyond its boundaries,” one of them said on condition of anonymity.

The officers said the UPA-era strikes were ordered at the tactical level and were not cleared by the top leadership of the day.

Lt Gen Singh also lauded the February 26 air strike in Pakistan’s Balakot and described it as a major achievement as Indian fighter jets went deep into enemy territory and struck a terror camp.

Congress leader, Abhishek Singhvi, reacted to Lt Gen Singh’s statement saying this is why they have condemned Prime Minister Narendra Modi for drawing the armed forces into controversy and debate with political classes.

“Frankly I would not like to reply to the army commander and would not like to draw him into a political debate,” he said, pointing out that even former PM Manmohan Singh has mentioned that several surgical strikes were carried out in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule.

First Published:
May 20, 2019 23:50 IST

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