Express News Service
Bangalore: Major Ajit Zala is 32 years old and he landed in Bangalore only a month back. The newly-married, soft-spoken soldier was wearing a black T-shirt with his unit’s insignia etched on the front. In the Army since 2003, Zala, hailing from Gujarat, is the only second officer of 2 PARA SF to have won the Kirti Chakra for his brave deed while undertaking a CI (Counter Insurgency) mission in Jammu and Kashmir. On the eve Republic Day, Zala was among the six bravehearts cleared by the 2 PARA SF (Special Forces), one of the elite units of Indian Army, for an exclusive interaction with Express.
All the six, currently posted in Bangalore, are the recipients of Gallantry Awards and they recall the tales that fetched them all the glory.
DARING MISSION: “April 2008. I was posted at Lolab Valley in North Kashmir. We came to know that militants belonging to LeT and Al Badar groups beheaded two J&K policemen on April 2. The security apparatus got activated and our first mission was to locate the bodies, which we did after two days and on April 6, two squads were formed to capture the militants. We extensively used thermal images to scan the area, which was nothing but thick forest,” Zala says of his valiant deed, sans any expression on his face.
Heavy downpour did make the team’s job tougher, but Zala says nothing could ever stop a Special Forces man to take his eye out of the mission. “We soon spotted some movements and there were around five to six people. We had to first confirm that they were not civilians and decided to divert the squads in two directions. I was part of the squad that waited below the forest track. I could see a sense of emergency being shown by the suspect group. While they came closer, I spotted their hidden weapons. Three militants were killed on the spot and another body was recovered the next day morning. Since we were lying down and firing, one militant jumped over us and escaped,” says Zala.
Zala says it was the fearlessness factor that made him join the SF. “Later I fell in love with the discipline and patience aspects of SF. What makes the journey in SF different is that everything gets down to micro level detailing. Killing the enemy is just the miniscule part of our mission,” Zala adds. He was awarded the Kirti Charkra in 2009.
16 HOUR OPS: Naib Subedar Hari A R is 39 years old and has completed 20 years with 2PARA SF now. Hailing from Thiruvananthapuram, Hari was awarded the Sena Medal in 2008. “I was posted in Kashmir’s Tharal village in 2007 and there were 5 teams from 2PARA SF. We had information from the police that three terrorists were hiding in a house in a nearby village, which was 25 minutes from our location. The police had already cordoned off the house. All of a sudden one man came out of the house and we thought he was surrendering. Soon he threw a grenade and we shot him down,” says Hari. He states that they resisted from using further fire as the area was densely populated.
With the night setting in, Hari and his team decided to detonate the house using IEDs. “I was tasked to clear the house with my buddy. I executed the mission and killed one militant in the process. There were 2 LeT militants and one local Kashmiri terrorist. It was a 16-hour long operation and there were no causalities from our side,” says Hari, who treats being in SF a very lucky assignment.
WEDDED TO SF: Subedar B B Thapa is 49 years old and he is all set to complete three decades serving the Army and says he has the energy and will to serve for another 10 more years. “I can’t imagine that I will have to retire soon. I am with the SF right from day one and it has become a way of life for me,” says Thapa, hailing from Dehradun and a Sena Medal recipient in 2002. He undertook the valiant act in January 2002 at Cheri village of Anantnag district.
“We were two squads undertaking an ADP (Area Dominating Patrol). Our informants confirmed the presence of two militants in the area. It was around 2 pm. After spotting us, we asked them to lift their pheran, under which the terrorists usually hide their weapons. They started running. When I was about 100 metres closer to them, I confirmed that they were carrying weapons and fired killing one on the spot. The second terrorist took out the arms and started firing at us. He was hiding behind a tree,” Thapa says with his eyes all lit up.
Thapa’s team had some difficulty in spotting the hidden terrorist since the colour of his dress matched that of the tree skin. “To and fro firing went on for some time and finally we got him as well,” says Thapa, who terms the job with 2PARA SF as inspiring. “The causality rate is very minimal with us,” he adds.
FIGHTING SNOW: A recipient of Sena Medal in 2003, 47-year-old Subedar N K Thakur from Rampatti village of Madhubani district in Bihar, joined the Army in 1988. He was on duty in Gadole in Anantnag district when his team got a tip-off that some militants were moving freely in the village. His team of five started their operation in the night which was experiencing heavy snowfall. “We took the riverbed route and took shelter at the first floor of a shop. We had constant inputs coming in from an informer. As the day broke, we kept a close watch on the road beneath. First a woman came to buy some items from the shop and we knew that she was doing a recce. Later, another man came out and he too was doing some kind of surveillance,” says Thakur, with a serious look on his face.
As the SF team waited patiently, they spotted a five member team walking on the road. “They were calm and composed. At a distance of about 100 metres, we had a doubt that they were terrorists and it was confirmed when they came closer and we could make out that they were carrying weapons. The rest is history and we killed four of them on the spot and one managed to escape. I killed two of them - one at 10 metre distance and another at 15 metre,” says Thakur. He is all praise for the SF’s philosophy of executing difficult missions with the help of small teams.
OUTSMARTING THE TERRORISTS: Thirty-six-year-old Hawaldar Meghraj Kolhe is a native of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra and has been with the Indian Army for the last 17 years. He picked up a Sena Medal in 2003 and feels that SAF’s silent nature work makes it an absolutely inspiring unit.
Meghraj was on his daily rounds in Kokernag area of Anantnag district with their camp being set up at a nearby village. “We got firm information that two terrorists might step into the area. We put a plan in place. Two squads with one carrying the light machine guns and another rocket launchers were formed and we cordoned off the suspected area. The terrorists got a wind of our move and they came out with a ‘smart plan’ that eventually flopped. We saw a ‘couple’ walking on the road and we asked them to stop. They acted as if they didn’t hear us and started walking ahead. One had the face completely covered and we wanted to ensure that they were not civilians. We watched patiently and kept on asking them to stop. They refused to heed to our orders and started running. I could see a weapon hidden under the pheran of one guy while the other fired at us. We threw grenades at them but they didn’t explode due to ice. Finally, I got on to a position and fired from the RL and killed both of them. One was disguised as a woman. It was another execution of team work,” says Meghraj. He says the SF guys don’t make much noise and all the work is often done very silently.
MOONLIGHT MISSION: Naik Dinesh Kumar Yadav is 33 years old and he is a native of Sikar in Rajasthan. Fourteen years in Army, Dinesh’s daredevil act came in May 2007 at Tharal village of J&K. The same year he was awarded the Sena Medal too. Acting on information late in the night, Dinesh and his team was woken up from their sleep for the mission. Dinesh had already packed his bags to proceed on leave the next day. “We were told that some militants were holed up in a house next to the Dal Lake. When we approached the house, they started firing from all sides. I was hiding behind a tree and started crawling towards the house. It was around 4 am in the morning and the moon was shining bright. I waited patiently and suddenly saw a man jumping out of the house firing indiscriminately in all directions. I fired at him and he was down immediately,” says Dinesh. The buddy pair concept is something that Dinesh likes most about SF. “The bonding is outstanding. In SF, we script new definition for team spirit,” he adds.
As we wound up the interview, the six-member team assembled at the rock point inside 2PARA SF base in Hebbal for a photo shoot. A huge insignia of 2PARA SF is painted at the centre of the rock, with the unit motto Balidan (Sacrifice). The rock stars of 2PARA SF were shining as usual in their smart casuals.
Copyright@The New Indian Express