In an exclusive interview to India TV, former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Indian Army's Northern Command Retd Lt. Gen. D. S. Hooda has revealed that last year's surgical strike was being "livestreamed" from terror launch pads inside Pak Occupied Kashmir to army headquarters in Udhampur and Delhi.
Lt. Gen. (retd) Hooda retired after 40 years of service on November 30 last year.
He told India TV anchor Saurav Sharma in a long interview how the army carried out detailed planning on last year's Sept 28 surgical strike, after the political leadership decided to carry out strikes at terror launch pads inside Pak Occupied Kashmir.
"Yes, we were getting the images live. I was sitting in the Operations Room in our command HQ in Udhampur. I saw the entire operation live, how our teams attacked the targets, and the entire live feed was being sent to Delhi Army HQ."
Asked who in Delhi were watching the feed live at Army HQ, the former army commander said, "I don't know who were watching in Delhi. But in Udhampur we were seeing." Asked whether these were images or videos, he replied: "videos".
Asked whether they got the videos via satellite or other methods, he said: "I cannot disclose what technology we used, but Indian Army has the capability where you can see live streaming of operation that was going on. We have the capability."
Asked whether the Prime Minister or National Security Adviser watched the livestreaming sitting in Delhi, he replied: "I do not know, but the feed was going to Delhi that day."
Lt. Gen. (retd) Hooda revealed that the last team of Special Forces returned after the surgical strikes at around 6.30 or 7 am. "Some teams arrived earlier. They had left earlier and had struck at targets soon after midnight, while some other teams went in later, and returned late."
"There was panic in the ranks of Pakistani forces. In some places, they were firing randomly. We had also planned a backup. If any team failed to return, we had teams ready to go in, retrieve and rescue and bring them back."
The former army commander also revealed that the government had made up its mind to make an announcement soon after the surgical strike was over.
"It was decided in advance. The government had decided that we will announce the surgical strike having taken place, own it up. Had we done this silently, and if it didn't go as planned, you can always say, nothing happened, that we did not carry out any strike. You have deniability.
"But this time, the government had decided that if it was a successful surgical strike, then we will take credit. Had it not been successful, then they would have had to take criticism also. So, the pressure on Indian Army (to make it successful) was big."
The former army commander said, the Special Forces teams that went in for surgical strike had "close combat". "In night time operations like this, you have to go nearer to your targets, and have close combat. There was firing from their side too. This time they were totally surprised. They knew only when our forces reached there and attacked."
Lt. Gen. (retd) Hooda said, "there were heavy casualties at the four or five terror launching pad targets. It could be 70-80-or 90, but the figure is not important, because all our soldiers returned back safe."
He admitted that there was a day's delay in carrying out the strikes. "The initial planning was, the forces would go in on Sept 27, but the final execution took place on Sept 28."
Asked whether the Special Forces stayed inside PoK for a day, he replied: "Before attacking a target, observation is necessary. We had satellite imagery and other info, but before you take final action, you need to see the target yourself. Maybe the number of terrorists could be more or less. Observation is always part of Special Forces' planning."
Lt. Gen. (retd) Hooda refused to disclose how many teams were sent in, but said, terror launch pads on both sides of Pir Panjal were targeted, both in Jammu and Kashmir regions.
Asked about the distance covered inside the Line Of Control, he said, "there were different distances. From the main defensive line of Pakistan army, that is the LoC." Asked whether it was more than 500 metres or upto a kilomentre, he replied: "More than that. There are some details which the government does not want to reveal, for good reasons."
He recalled how the government decided to go in for a surgical strike after the big terror strike at Uri army camp on September 18, in which 18 armymen were martyred.
"It was a shock for us. It was one of the biggest strikes by terrorists in recent years. We then decided to retaliate. Both the Army HQ and the government decided that a retaliation was necessary, and the quantum should not be small, but on a large scale. Both decided something big should be done, so that Pakistan gets the message. The government wanted a forceful response."
The former commander said: 'There was clear "hukm" (order) from the government to strike at multiple targets. We had already gathered much info about the terror launch pads, and the forces had already undergone training. I got the order from Chief of Army Staff Gen. Dalbir Singh, and then specified targets were decided. It was only then that the Special Forces were told which targets to strike."
"In our command HQ in Udhampur, I had a small planning staff, known as Operations Branch. Some officers in the Directorate of Military Operations in Delhi knew about this. They were the ones who interacted with Ministry of Defence and National Security Adviser. Once the detailed planning was done, both the 15 and 16 Corps commanders were informed."