Saga of gallantry: Daring overseas operation of Indian Army: Operation Khukri (Part-I)

Operation Khukri is the true story of a daring mission of Indian forces at Sierra Leone. In the unknown terrain with the rebel-infested country, Indian Army, with the active help of Indian Air Force, prove their mettle in the successful mission which is very famous in the annals of UN Peacekeeping Forces. Read this two-part article to know the gallantry of Indian soldiers.

As a non-martial nation, we, the Indians, generally do not give much importance on military matters. Our interest in armed forces is confined to the time when we are attacked by external forces. But Indian Army has also proved its mettle in overseas operations where the ground condition has been totally unknown. One such daring operation was at Sierra Leone, when two companies of 5/8 Gurkha Rifles (223 in total) surrounded by approximately 5000 soldiers of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) at a place called Kailahun for two months, were taken out and they were able to join main Indian contingent stationed at Daru. The successful operation is codenamed Operation Khukri and it is one of the most remarkable operations of UN Peace-keeping Forces all over the world. Let us know the true story of gallantry of Indian soldiers.

What was going on at Sierra Leone?

From 1991 to 2002, the small country was engulfed in a brutal civil war. More than 50,000 people were killed, over 2 million people went to the neighbouring countries and the infrastructure was destroyed. UN started sending the Peacekeeping force since the fag-end of 1999. In April 2000, the Indian contingent went to Sierra Leone as a part of UN Peacekeeping force. Indian troops consisted of 5/8 Gorkha Rifles (GR), a Company of 116 Engineers Regiment, 18th Grenediers, 23rd Mechanised Infantry, elements of 14th Mechanised Infantry, 8 Para (SF), a team of 2 Para (SF), Indian Aviation Units consisting of Mi-8, Mi-35 and Chetak helicopters, QRTs, 120 mm Mortars, 105 mm Field Guns, Sector HQ, Surgical HQ and a Forward Surgical Team. 5/8 GR was stationed at Daru but two Companies were stationed at Kailahun. The Indian troops were called INDBATT and the Force Commander was Major General V.K. Jetley. The Commanding Officer of 5/8 GR was Colonel Satish Kumar. The commander of IAF party was Group Captain B.S. Siwach. Units of Ghana army, Nigerian Army, Kenyan Army and British SAS were part of the UN Peacekeeping Force, but they were posted at different locations.

Organisation of RUF forces

The RUF rebels had six brigades, each consisting of around 15000 troops. Each brigade had four main battalions and another strike battalions. These rebels were armed with AK-47s, Rocket Propelled Grenades, Armoured Personnel Carriers and Surface-to-Air Missiles. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the UN Peacekeeping Forces carry light weapons and are generally not allowed to fire except in self-defense.

How did the conflict begin?

On 1st May, 2000, the RUF rebels suddenly attacked the KENBATT forces at Makeni. Kenyan forces posted at Makeni in UN peacekeeping mission could not defend itself properly and its position was overrun by the rebels very quickly. Due to lack of communication, KENBATT forces could not intimate this attack on their position to the two companies of 5/8 Gurkha at nearby Kailahun. The rebels quickly reorganized themselves and attacked Gurkhas at Kailahun.

As the Gurkhas were in the peacekeeping mission, they weren't allowed to use their heavy caliber weapons. They were not allowed to use their traditional Khukris. They were in a numerically disadvantageous position. Even then, the Gurkhas brilliantly used their light weapons and did not allow the rebels to overrun their position. But the RUF rebels surrounded their position. 223 soldiers of 5/8 Gurkha Rifles and some UN civilians were besieged at Kailahun.

Rebels began their two months long siege. Intense negotiations also started to take out the besieged soldiers and UN civilian observers.

(…..To be continued in Part-II)

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