What to make of India’s surgical strike?

India’s punitive strike across the Line of Control could set a new norm

Whatever might be the consequences, it is clear that the Indian Army’s operation across the Line of Control in retaliation to a militant attack on its Uri camp is a landmark development. Now, it is common knowledge that both the Indian and Pakistani armies cross the LoC for tactical operations, and have been doing so for a long time.

Such operations, usually, have three characteristics: limitations in the depth of incursion, the extent of damage they cause and the level at which they are officially admitted. While we do not have all the details as of now, last night’s operation appears to have been deeper and more damaging. What distinguishes it from other tactical incursions along the LoC is the level at which they have been admitted: perhaps for the first time, New Delhi has officially announced that Indian troops carried out an attack authorised by the highest political authority.

This is significant because it changes the norm to one where India will use military force across its frontiers to respond to aggression by Pakistan’s proxies. Depending on the Pakistani reaction, the act might vindicate the arguments made by some strategists that India does have space for such punitive operations, within the escalation framework. If so, an important Pakistani bluff — that nuclear weapons will shield its terrorist proxies — will be called. [Related: See this detailed analysis of the India-Pakistan conflict escalation framework]

This, however, is only the story so far. The ball now is in Pakistan’s court. If the Pakistani military establishment continues to hold the position that there was no ‘surgical strike’ at all, and just the usual cross-border firing, then New Delhi would have succeeded in setting a new norm. However, if the Pakistani army decides that it cannot let this insult go unpunished, and responds tit-for-tat — operationally and in public posturing — then it will be up to the Modi government whether it wants to up the ante. There are good reasons for either course of action.

The Pakistani army’s initial reaction is what it is, an initial reaction. It could be used to obfuscate matters to cover a retaliatory attack. Or it could be a signal of not wanting to escalate the situation. At this time, therefore, it would be prudent for the Indian government and media to hold off excessive triumphalism.

Shoot the invaders

Pakistani troops fire at US helicopters

Bruce Loudon might have gotten it right. Because wire services are reporting that Pakistani troops fired at a heliborne US raiding party near Angoor Adda, South Waziristan (or, if you prefer the ISPR spin, the Pakistani soldiers sounded their bugles to alert the tribesmen who then fired at the Americans). (linkthanks Swami Iyer)

What should you make of this? Well, since no one actually got hurt, it is hard to completely dismiss the possibility that this is the action sequence in a drama, the kind the local audience love. But then again, other audiences might not love it all that much.

But if it is for real—and the bugle and tribesman story suggests that it might be—then we are living in interesting times.

Update: The Pentagon denies that there was even such a raid, less that it was fired upon.

The stuff for military novels (2)

The flying assassin

In line with what some readers suggested, and also in line with Sharon Weiberger’s post over at Danger Room, the new secret technique that the Americans have brought to bear in counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan (possibly) involves unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with a networked “tagging, tracking and locating” system.

The new system now being deployed was first used on aircraft in Afghanistan, then was installed on Predators in Iraq starting about a year ago. Officials said introduction of the devices coincided with the 2007 U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, and was an important, but hitherto unknown, factor in the subsequent drop in violence in that country.

The technology allows suspects to be identified quickly. “All I have to do is point the sensor at him,” said a military officer familiar with the system, “and a missile can be off the rail in seconds.”

The devices are roughly the size of an automobile battery, but are heavy enough that outfitted Predators in some cases carry only one Hellfire missile instead of two. At times, the systems also have been in short supply, requiring that crews move the devices from one Predator to another as they land and take off.

The unique capabilities have prompted competition among U.S. forces for access to specially equipped Predators, military officials said. The fleet being assembled for use in Pakistan has been assigned to the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Command, meaning fewer of the aircraft are available for conventional forces. [LAT, linkthanks Vivek Hirpara]

The stuff for military novels

A revolution in counter-insurgency affairs?

Bob Woodward claims that the United States used a new “secret technique” in its counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.

But beyond all of that, Woodward reports, for the first time, that there is a secret behind the success of the surge: a sophisticated and lethal special operations program.

“This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs,” Woodward told Pelley.

“But what are we talking about here? It’s some kind of surveillance? Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you’re looking for? The leadership of the enemy?” Pelley asked.

“I’d love to go through the details, but I’m not going to,” Woodward replied.

“Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?” Pelley asked.

“Yeah,” Woodward said. “If you were an al Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in Iraq, or one of these renegade militias, and you knew about what they were able to do, you’d get your ass outta town.” [CBS News]

Mr Woodward doesn’t offer more details—not even in his new book—but adds to the suspense by saying that “it is the stuff of which military novels are written.”

Meanwhile, Dawn‘s correspondent thinks that the same technique is being used by US forces against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s FATA. Whatever the technique is, to the extent that it increases collateral damage, it is bound to have different effects in the Pashtun geography.