New Delhi: For hours, the team of more than 20 Indian soldiers waited, in territory belonging to another country.
Their orders - to engage and destroy camps just across the border with Myanmar set up by the insurgent National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang).
The details of how a small group of highly-trained commandos from the Indian Army located and killed separatist rebels fighting for secession have been kept largely classified so far. NDTV has now accessed how the operation unfolded on June 9.
Commandos from the 21 Special Forces battalion, highly skilled in covert and jungle warfare operations in the Northeast, observed enemy movement, and picked their targets carefully. They had entered the thickly forested area by 11 pm on June 8, crossing into Myanmar on foot.
By 4:45 am on June 9, not too long before sunrise, it was time to strike.
The man in charge of this covert squad was a young Lieutenant Colonel (names cannot be revealed for security reasons). He would lead from the front. Next in line, a paratrooper he described as his "buddy", a havildar or senior jawan and another paratrooper from the havildar's team.
All four men had trained for years in fighting in the thick jungles of the northeast in oppressive heat and humidity. They were among the finest the Indian Army could have picked for such an operation - experienced, motivated and exceptionally skilled in the dark craft of killing enemies of the state, if necessary, behind enemy lines.
18 soldiers had been killed by the insurgents in the preceding week. The government was determined to prove its resolve to combat terrorism, even if that meant a stealth operation in another country.
The Lieutenant Colonel had selected two targets. The havildar and his paratrooper would engage the first sentry post, a short distance away. The senior officer would personally lead the attack on the second sentry post with his buddy.
The insurgents were active at the post of one of the training camps they run in this area. Their sentries were alert. But blending into the jungle in the darkness of the night, the havildar and his paratrooper, who were handpicked for the operation, crawled towards the sentry post. The latter scanned the area for insurgents, as the havildar sneaked under a gun position manned by a terrorist in a sentry post. The terrorist's machine gun poking out of a loophole in the post was pointed not too far away from him. Acting instantly and decisively, the havildar stuck his silenced Uzi sub-machine gun through the loophole and shot the man with the machine gun.
He then shot another insurgent in the head, killed a third at point blank range. The entire engagement lasted less than a minute.
And quickly and quietly as they came, the two blended into the foliage and radioed their Commanding Officer, the Lieutenant Colonel, of their success in neutralising three NSCN (K) terrorists.
And then they waited. And observed.
A short distance away, the Lieutenant Colonel and his paratrooper buddy made their way to the second post, employing years of high-intensity training in jungle conditions to move without making a sound.
Using his weapon, another Uzi sub-machine gun fitted with a silencer to mute the sound of the gunshots, the Lieutenant Colonel shot dead two insurgents in the second post and quickly exited the post only to spot an enemy bunker no more than 30 metres from his position. Upon hearing sounds in this bunker, the Lieutenant Colonel lobbed a grenade then moved inside. But if the Colonel thought all the terrorists had been eliminated inside with the grenade he had lobbed, he was wrong. Stunned, injured, but alive, terrorists inside the bunker tried to respond to the attack only to fall to the bullets of the Lt. Colonel's Uzi. Four insurgents were killed.
Escaping to a position a short distance away, the Colonel ordered a group of Indian para-commandos, located nearby, to launch an attack on the terrorist camps using heavy firepower. On his instruction, 21 Special Forces commandos opened up with rocket-propelled grenades and obliterated their targets over 20 minutes. Also coordinating the fire and giving locations on his radio was the Havaldar who had attacked the first insurgent post.
By now, the entire terrorist camp which the commandos had attacked was alerted to the Indian presence and opened fire from 10-12 bunkers in the area. But the overwhelming firepower of the Indian Army's rocket-propelled grenades obliterated the target as the four commandos who had personally engaged the terrorists escaped to Indian lines with the entire squad of Indian Special Forces following them into home territory.
The young Lieutenant Colonel, already a Shaurya Shakra winner, has been awarded a Kirti Chakra for valour, the second highest peacetime decoration for valour. And the Havildar leading the attack on the first enemy post has been honoured with the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime decoration for valour.