Mission Impossible : BATS Team From 9

Mission Impossible : BATS Team From 9

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Mission Impossible : BATS Team From 9

By

Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Veteran Special Forces

War Zone Jaffna

(Palali Airbase, Southern End, Jaffna 26 Oct 1987) ……Tension was mounting every minute and so was the pressure. Forget failure, now even a few minutes delay in securing the objective would result in a solid embarrassment for everyone. Stink would rise, all the way from Jaffna to Udhampur. This simply was unacceptable.

The BATS TEAM from 9 had landed in Palaly all the way from UDHAMPUR just the previous night and in less than 14 hours had forced itself into this first mission. Due to the peculiarity of the mission, the squad comprised officers only. John Britto, Awadhesh Kumar,Sanjay Thapa and Joydeep Sengupta or simply the BATS. The rest of the Team, that is 100 odd JCOs and men were not to be involved in this Operation.

Palaly Airbase……. Also HQ Northern Command Sri Lanka

(Siachen)……..In Jun ‘87, Major Virender’s Company, 8 JAK LI, had succeeded in capturing QAID Post and renaming it BANA. Since then Pakis were furious and Brigadier Pervez Musharraf (future President), SSGian, had been tasked to lead OP QAIDAT with two SSG battalions and additional forces to recapture BANA. Satellite / aerial photos showed hectic activities around KHAPALU, the Pak Garrison down the Saltoro Ridge on the other side. In early August ’87, the Indian Army in response, initiated OP VAJRA SHAKTI to ensure safety of Siachen.

9 too moved out of Its base for an Operation planned to be executed incase OP VAJRA SHAKTI faltered.
(somewhere in Kashmir Valley Aug 1987)…When Col Tej Pathak finished his briefing, there was Pin Drop Silence. Finally the tension was broken by Britto saying ” Sir can we have one last Evening Out “.

We did go for an outing with Shikara rides etc, topping it up with a few rounds of Cocktails (whisky/ rum were passé) and a lavish LAST MEAL in a Five Star Hotel. Next few days flashed at a frenetic pace, checking, re checking and re – rechecking weapons, equipment, rucksacks, drills etc.

Then at 0330h, one fine morning, S K Varni woke up all of us (what the heck was he doing at this hour…..Jagdish Shonti kept asking for several days) Troop Commanders and citing BBC news of the hour, announced that BANA Post was safe, OP QAIDAT was a failure. There was loud cheer all around….quite prematurely !!!

After officially receiving the Stand Down in next 72 hours, for the next few days we had real fun and few liberties were indeed taken. So then it was the turn of our Tiger to morph into a PHANTOM COLONEL. The training regimen which followed ensured an unanimous view among all of us that we should seriously plan to cross over and place ourselves at the disposal of the KHAPALU Garrison Commander !!! Jokes apart, it was such realistic periodic training activities that enabled 9 to prevail upon the LTTE. The Nick name given to IPKF by the LTTE was…. BIDI MAMAs. However 9, 10, and 1 PARA SF were referred as AK MAMAs.

War Zone Jaffna

(Palali Airbase Southern End, 26 Oct 1987)……..BATS went over the outline Plan once again but lack of a Map of the area and absence of a Sketch of the actual Objective was a serious hindrance in planning this special mission of utmost importance. The clock was ticking and the pressure building up by the minute. Earlier while talking to officers of 10, we had casually gathered some useful information about the objective area, though they had remained unaware of our mission, after all it was matter of prestige/Izzat. Finally we moved, in a light vehicle borrowed from 10, in broad day light at 1100h, fully armed with round in the chamber, straight towards the target area. We knew that only audacity, speed and surprise would finally matter.

Denkali – Udhampur

(Udhampur Oct 1987)……Phantom was finally happy with the JUNGLE PATROL and so the orders came for move back to ‘Denkali ‘. On 12 Oct ‘87, around 1500h, I entered my quarters at Udhampur and turned on the TV, first the Door Darshan and then Pak channel (those days there were only two channels). The news reader on Pak TV was saying ” Indian Para Commandos have been totally surrounded and outnumbered. Heavy fighting is going on. Further details are awaited”, and then suddenly the electricity tripped.

It was a totally stunning news…here we were back to base, then who all went into the enemy territory ? My mind was full of our units recently aborted mission. There was pride too that now Indian Military was capable of planning and taking DIVERSION and DECEIT to such levels!!!. At the same time there was feeling of anxiety and despair for the trapped Para Commandos of 1 or 10.

It was not before 2100h when the DoorDarshan News clarified the Issue by talking about Jaffna University Heliborne action. Over next three days we received more details courtesy the SF cell at Army HQ. It was certainly a disaster for 13 SIKH LI and even our 10 PARA had lost six troopers. The Link up mission led by Lt Col Dalvir, the Commanding Officer and subsequent extraction action by Major Rajiv Nair’s TEAM together with Colonel Dalvir was classic. Of course the Officiating 2 IC, Major Sheonan Singh or Shastriji (his code name in Lanka) too was there (he used to be everywhere) as he had tagged along with the Team.

The Phantom Colonel

Denkali—- Udhampur

( Jul 1987)……Things had started limping back to normal at Udhampur. I too started looking for packing material etc as I had to move to Devlali on posting which had been issued two months back. I had been informed regarding this posting by Major Ashok Tasker, at the entrance of South Block, New Delhi (I was on a longish temporary duty in connection with the creation of Commando Cell). To top it, I had just stepped out of the office of Military Secretary 2 (MS2).

Request from our Tiger for posting in of volunteering officers for probation and few other things had been conveyed to MS Branch. The MS2 probably seeing the security card dangling around my coller offered tea and jokingly asked me if I too needed any posting !!!!!

While Major Tasker was taking his first steps towards becoming the future Judge Advocate General of the Indian Army as for me this news of first posting out of unit after having spent 9 years since commissioning was rather ” terrifying ”

War Zone Jaffna

(Palali Airbase Northern End, 26 Oct 1987)………..As the Jonga came to a halt, out stepped the BATS. We were now in general area of the objective. There was no time for a detailed reconnaissance, we had to take chances with a quick short one. Britto and Sengupta moved towards the far side while Self and Thapa proceeded towards the Near end. Five minutes later the squad was back at the jonga. After quick exchange of notes Britto again decided to go for a confirmatory reconnaissance. Therefore Britto and Self moved and dashed virtually right thru the middle of the target area and the two were back at the jonga in less than two minutes.

Denkali-Udhampur

(Udhampur 24 Oct 1987)……. Annual Regimental and Sports events due for period July- October was now being completed with vigour.

24 th Oct was my last working day with the unit. At 1600h, I reached the football field as I was to be the Referee for one of the inter team football match. To my surprise not a soul was there. Wondering, I proceeded towards Bravo Team Lines. I was relieved to see Sanjay Thapa coming towards me. He seemed to be quite excited and blurted out….sir we are off to Jaffna tomorrow morning…..
I casually enquired ” who all” ….. B TEAM less a Troop with one Troop of Charlie led by Joe Sengupta and you too sir. He did not notice my surprised reaction.

” So now I was once again the 6 Troop Commander and also the Officiating Team 2 IC, since Britto was now the TEAM COMMANDER. Major Ranjit Singh the Team Commander had just been Struck of Strength two days back on his posting to a high altitude area.

The next 12 hours were spent checking everything of my 6 TROOP and then the BATS TEAM including the 9 TROOP from C TEAM. Zeroing of all the weapons was done at night and we also attended the Officers Mess Party to dine out Major Ranjit and celebrate promotion of S K Varni to Acting Rank of Major.

During the Mess function Britto too was promoted to Major…..probably the first BREVET promotion in the Indian Army after the British Era …a prerogative of the Commander – In- Chief only, now duly taken over by OUR TIGER with reference to none. Britto kept wearing the epaulettes and became a Substantive Major in December 88. The Self Styled C-In -C also Thumbed his Nose at the Military Secretary’s Branch. After issuing several threatening signals to the Unit/ CO for my forth with move to Devlali and added was Anil Singhals forthwith move to NSG, the MS in the end just gave up.

(Udhampur 25 Oct 1987)……….Next day very early in the morning there was a unit Mandir function and by 0530 h we were inside the Udhampur airbase. It was there at the airbase when the Tiger Growled saying ” Indian Army has dialled 9 for assistance, now go and rescue them “. ……since then 9 has remained perpetually in this mode.

Everyone was quite excited to visit a foreign country and that too without a passport or even a visa and imagine the excitement had we known about the VCRs and all modern electronics awaiting us !! The 10 PARA set back was at the back of our mind but we all were hoping that IPKF would at least leave some last mopping operations to be done by us also.
Then four dots appeared on the horizon and soon four AN 32s were lined up on the Tarmac. In less than an hour, one by one the aircrafts took of and BATS were on their way to Jaffna.

War Zone Jaffna

(Palali Airbase Southern End 25 Oct 1987)……..There had been a refueling halt at Nagpur and then  later at Tambaram.

At Tambaram we had de planed and sprawled on the green grass next to the tarmac. When signal was given to board, I picked up a pebble …mother India …just in case there was no return. When the aircraft took off, I saw Britto too with fist closed. I looked at him pointing to his closed fist. He just opened it …a pebble was there. Then we noticed many of the men also with closed fists.

At around last light, the four AN 32s had finally taken off from Tambram with the bearings set for Palely…….the Sri Lankan Air Force base in The Jaffna Peninsula and also housing their HQ Northern Command.

As we neared the island after a 45 minutes flight, the aircraft went for its final descent, and we could see flashes and flares going up in the distant sky….the last of the battles for capture of Jaffna was going on.

At last the tail door opened and we stepped out. What a sight….. It was quite dark outside and there were aircrafts and helicopters parked all around, scores of them, various types, both military and civil. We started unloading quickly with every one talking in whispers…..till we heard our names being called out loudly. Then the silhouette of SHASTRI JI was visible and we ran to him, enquiring if everything was ok with him…..he replied in vernacular that he was not a ghost and very much alive and kicking!! We were also told that we could talk loudly or even shout in case required ….LTTE was far off. However a bigger foe ie Jaffna October Rain could descend on us any minute with devastating effect.

Britto (extreme Left),Awadhesh (next to Britto) and Sengupta (cig dangling) of BATS

As advised, our men unloaded all four aircrafts in quick time, loaded the vehicles provided by thoughtful 10 and Major Sheonan drove us, parallel to the runway to 10 PARA location at southern end of the airbase.

Tents came up quickly and everything got tucked in. Then our boys were taken to company langars by men of 10 and BATS were similarly given a warm welcome by Lt Col Dalvir Singh and all the officers in the Officers Mess. After a drink or two we also witnessed the famous debate of 10 ….. which is better for the Rajasthani warriors, Cow’s milk or the buffalos milk…… There was vertical divide with each side boasting equal numbers, rank didn’t matter.

Later on when 9 moved to Vavunia and I got left behind with 10 as part of AD HOC HQ SF, I remember even our Commander, R K Nanavatty too at times listening to the debate. Much much later on meeting General Sheonan Singh, I did enquire about the final verdict of the debate and he said it was still inconclusive. I have yet to ask General Dalvir Singh.

General Dalvir Singh

(Palali Airbase Southern End 26 Oct 1987)……..It was only towards midnight that we were able to get back to our tent. Early morning around 0500h, Thapa went out of the tent and we heard his relieved voice ” oh, there are the DTLs ”.
Hardly two minutes must have passed when suddenly there was heavy firing all around …..actually it was outside the perimeter of the base. Next minute Kanchha came rushing inside, cursing LTTE …” you can’t even go for a crap”.

By the time we all decided to rise and shine, it was broad daylight. On coming out, we realized that it was next to impossible for us green horns, fresh from the Mainland, to quickly adapt to the war zone and utilize the facilities of the DTLs, even when those reserved for Officers were neatly sign posted !! For the benefit of those, unaware of things military, DTLs are Deep Trench Latrines.

 Can You spot shastri ji in the gang above

Maj Gen Sheonan Singh, Nephew of Shaeed Bhagat Singh……..  Shastri ji

By the time we sited our TEAM’s tents, readied the ammunition storage area etc, Col Arjun Katoch and officers of 1 PARA came to welcome us and also updated us on the latest situation. Heavy breakfast followed which was a big mistake and further exacerbated the Op situation. Now pressure had started building up, it was then when the idea flashed that Divisional HQ certainly must be having better facilities. That’s how BATS landed up planning this first mission.

Ashwini Cheema, Britto and Thapa of BATS mission

War Zone Jaffna

(Palali Airbase Northern End 26 Oct 1987)…….The longish building where BATS were standing housed the Operations Branch. As you entered from the door on the northern side, there was a big hall taken up by the General Staff of Operations and Intelligence up to Grade 1 level including the sitting area for Brigade Liaison officers.

Then was a biggish conference room, followed by a room for Colonel General Staff, the Deputy GOC and in the end the General Officer Commanding. Next was a very small hall and finally the exit door on the Southern end. There was a covered path to another building quite small in size……this was the actual target…..the bathroom with all the facilities but exclusively for the General and may be the Deputy too. This facility was in fact an extension of a bigger building where lived the GOC.

Without wasting any time Thapa and self-took position at the southern exit while Sengupta took up post at the door of GOCs residence. Now no one was going to be allowed to come out of the two guarded doors, no matter what happened.

Then as with everything in the Army, as per seniority Britto had the first privilege. Being a SF mission, with clock wise precision, in less than 15 minutes, the squad commenced extraction.

Soon we were standing in the office of the Colonel General Staff, Col Hoshiar Singh (later Major General and Col of Parachute Regiment), a paratrooper who had also served in 9. Required report along with the news of Udhampur given, we started back for own location.

This is how the BATS completed their first mission. By evening the first of the War Dispatches was on it’s way to Udhampur. On reading our exploits Tiger must have become jittery because in less than a month he too descended on the Island with rest of the unit 9. This resulted in S of BATS moving to CHARLIE TEAM and Ashwini Cheema joining us. However as BATA sounded too gross, we again became the BRAVO TEAM.

While in Sri Lanka, at times we used to discuss among us …what would have happened in case had simultaneously Major General Harkirat Singh also decided to use the Southern exit ?

War Zone Vavuniya

(Vavuniya Airbase Jun 1988)……The business accounting principle FIFO (first in first out) got applied to me and I moved out of the unit sometime in mid-1988. Col Tej Pathak after three and half years of command moved out for higher command course as a first step in becoming a Lt General later. Col H S Lidder, the future Chief of Integrated Defence Staff took over as the next tiger. The unit remained on the island till the final withdrawal and came out only in march 1990 leaving behind 13 of our comrades forever mingled with the soil of Sri Lanka.