For this mission we had to choose a small, mobile yet sufficiently armed group of men. Major wanted only 10 other men to accompany him and each one of them volunteer from our unit. Every hand went up when we were called in to CO’s office and listened of the Major’s plan to go into the Paki territory for some mission. He personally chose each member based upon he soldier’s specialty and his own personal opinion while CO just sat and smoked quietly. After that, the chosen ones were given full mission briefing along with warning of severe consequences if we let one word about the mission out to anyone unless given explicit permission to do so. We had just enough time to get our equipment and weapons and leave as time was short. The men who had been left out gave us curious glances but we just helplessly shrugged our shoulders. We left at 1900 hours jut after sunset on a covered truck and were on our egress point on LoC about one hour later. The truck went back after dropping us . The egress point was chosen due to it’s lack of any enemy post nearby which could spot us. The nearest enemy post which could prove to be a nuisance was about 1 km away hidden behind numerous mountain ridges. Even though, we had butterflies in our stomach as we crossed over to PoK under the cover of darkness. After that, it was a long walk to our destination the while trying to escape being noticed by Pakis when the rain storm caught us.

I was half dozing when I realised that the noise due to rain and had stopped. I woke up with a start and checked my watch. We had stopped for only 20 minutes . Most members of my squad were already up checking and strapping up their gear. Within a few minutes we were all ready to move. Major got us all in a huddle and said, “Our UAV had to go back to the base due to bad weather. Now we’ll be able to get it back on station only after 100-110 minutes. But there is nothing to worry. We are very near our destination. As we had expected, Pakis have withdrawn most of their patrols to their forward posts in order to help with their covering fire. They’ll remain pinned there by our own fire when we give the word.” He grinned, “This is going to be one long crazy night for those basturds. Now lets move. ”

Walking on mountain was even more difficult due to snow banks, mud and wet slippery rocks. It slowed down our progress a little but we were on our checkpoint soon enough. Our first way point was a small Paki army post adjacent to a small goat trail which split in to two going towards their larger camp. According to intelligence, it was lightly guarded and used only by mules and porters as a temporary shelter on their way to LoC. From aerial photographs, it was just 2 tin sheds on a comparatively flat area on a ridge. The camp ground itself was a flat roughly circular area no more than 30 meters in diameter A diversion from the trail divided it in to two parts. One had a small hut made of wood, stone and tin sheets and the other side only had a small tent. That night the camp ground was occupied by Hussain and his bunch of trainee terrorists.

Our UAV had caught the group walking on the trail leading to this camp and they were sure to come this way unless they took to climbing full height of mountains in darkness. Through better part of it’s length it was barely wide enough for a single person to place a single foot. Only the ocassional Paki army patrols and their beloved wild goats ever put their feet on it as the terrain area wasn’t conductive for human habitation. There were dozens of boulders all over the mountains and often it just took a single push to roll them down the steep slope. There was sparse vegetation in form of various small bushes and grasses. Little else grows on such mountains at such altitudes and trees are few and far in between. There were big patches lacking any sort of vegetation mostly due to big bare rocks. Other times it was due to snow and landslides. Parts of the ground were still covered by big and small snow deposits which had not melted by then. This made detailed planning of routes and waypoints very difficult. It’s not always possible to plan a mission like this just by the maps and a lot of work and improvisation is needed for any chance of success.

After one more hour of walking, we checked our bearings on GPS a little more closely. According to maps, we were very near the camp but we had not spotted it yet. No trace of fire or light either. Our sniper team broke away to scout for the camp. Rest of us found a spot to huddle up under cover. I had butterflies in our stomach now that that we were so close. If any one else was feeling the same, he didn’t show it. After a few minutes, which seemed like hours to me, the scouting team came back. They had spotted the camp on a small bump of a hill less than 100 m from our location. It was on an elevated clearing at some height from the trail and thus not visible for most part from the path we took.

After a little talk, we split up in to 3 different teams. The sniper and Carl Gustav guys took a circuitous path around the ridge and took positions at some height from the camp to provide cover and warning of any enemy approah. Rest of us sneaked upwards slowly without making a sound. A strong breeze was blowing which helped cover the sound of our footsteps. Through my nigh vision device, I spied 2 Paki soldiers sitting in front of a sheltered fire-place leaning against wall of hut on left, apparently in deep sleep. The fire itself was long extinguished, most likely due to rain. It takes more than just exhaustion to sleep in that kind of weather and position. Probably army issue liquor or high quality gaanja. They died more or less peacefully in their sleep. We had expected at least 1-2 more soldiers, but a careful reconnaissance showed none outside. By this time, most of the clouds had dissipated and moon was throwing some light on ground every now and then.

Two of our guys slowly crawled forward to take a look inside the hut. There was a small glass window on the side opposite to door on each. Ordinarily it was impossible to see inside a dark room from outside by naked eye, but there are ways. One guy switched on his infra-red light and pointed it through the glass. Figures of 10 men sleeping in 2 rows on the floor were clearly visible in night vision goggles. One wall of the hut was lined with Klashnikov rifles, some heavy looking bags and rucksacks, Presumably the weapons and supplies carried by the group.

There was only one pair of boots outside the only tent in the ground. Our best guess was that it was occupied by our most wanted man Zahid. He was a short, squat man, with a long scar running down his left cheek which parted his long bushy beard. We had seen his ugly mugshot on our units board a hundred times and knew it well. So there was almost nil chance of any mistaken identity.

Our squad divided in two. 2 men took positions on each one of the exits of the camp. 2 men were assigned to cover the tent while rest were assigned to clear the hut. In order to maintain stealth, we had to do everything with as little noise as possible. Contrary to what’s shown in movies, firearms with silencers are not silent. Even the best military grade silencers can’t lower the noise to anything less than 120 decibels. A sound like this in uninhabited mountains echoes and travels a long distance. Our whole plan hinged to being quiet and stealthy. So use of a firearm was a matter of last resort. That left us with knives; silent, efficient and brutal.
But there was one small problem of storming the hut without waking up everyone. Any noise could’ve woken up the terrorists inside and made our job a lot more difficult and probably endanger the mission and our lives. After a few minutes of brainstorming, we eventually agreed on opening the door as quietly as possible and pounce on sleeping terrorists before they knew what hit them.
But we had a stroke of luck when one of the terrorists woke up to take a leak and opened the door for us. He was quickly grabbed, debriefed and dispatched. Inspite of his love for hoors in jannat he blabbered on and begged for mercy before he was silenced. That left 9 sleeping targets for 7 of us. We assigned ourselves our targets and checked our weapons one last time

My team lined up besides the door with knives in hand and pistols within quick reach before entering the hut.

I was second in line to enter the hut and was moving towards my assigned target on the extreme end of hut when he turned and opened his eyes. He probably registered imminent threat to his life quite soon and sat up bolt upright and shouted as I lunged towards him. He jumped up and moved towards where their luggage was instead of the guns which I had expected making me miss him by just centimeters. His shout was enough to awaken some of the sleeping terrorists inside the hut, but not enough to help them survive the murderous assault by my team. All of them were in process of being killed by a broken neck or severed arteries while he was trying to find something in a bunch of heavy looking rucksacks. A lot of us were chosen due to our proficiency for unarmed combat and it paid off. Apart from some muffled thuds and screams, no one outside the huts heard anything.

His decision of not going for guns proved fatal to him and he was killed just a few moments later.

Major had chosen himself and 1 other soldier as the team storming the tent and they went to work at the same time as my team. When we came outside , our hands and uniforms covered with the blood of Paki terrorists, we found Zahid with sitting on his knees in the mud with his hands tied and mouth gagged, staring in absolute disbelief at the Major. There was a hint of recognition in his eyes, or so I thought.

He was kept at gunpoint while we searched the site. We had no real need of carrying any of the terrorists’ weapons back with us. So we just made them unusable by breaking them as quietly as possible. We’d have rolled rest of the supplies down the slope from where most of them would end up in the stream but actions of that terrorist made us search each individual bag. more carefully. There were 2 satellite and 4 mobile phones which sometime prove to be a great source of intelligence and leads. This was entirely what we expected but the thing which captured our interest was a big plastic box inside one of the rucksacks where the last terrorist died.

My best guess was that it was a bomb which he was trying to explode in order to take us all down with him. It was the size of a thick carry on suitcase but heavy. It must have weighed atleast 25- 30 kgs. It had a simple latch system for locking it close.
At that time, we had no way of knowing if it was a bomb or we could safely open it. But last actions of that terrorist made it a very mysterious and potentially vital object which we could not leave without investigating. Carrying the whole thing back with us with all our gear was out of question without making sure and neither one of us felt comfortable enough to try opening the box without any required equipment.

My first posting was in some remote corner of Assam, not far from Guwahati. Till a few years back, the area was hotbed of numerous insurgent groups due to it’s proximity with Bangladesh border. But by the time I was posted there, the terrorist movement had lost most of it’s steam. There were still a few irritants mainly funded by China and Islamists but our good intelligence network and improved relations with Bangladesh ensued that the area was enjoying a period of peace. But we never let our guard down.

Life in an army cantonment where I knew no one except my colleagues wasn’t easy for me at first. I had thought that the time of those soul crushing drills, long marches etc was over with the completion of training. But I was wrong. Drills, albeit of a different variety were still a part and parcel of our daily routine. What was known as long march during our training period was replaced by even longer patrols. We had to wake up early at the crack of dawn and get ready to leave for patrol. Almost every other day the route changed . Maybe it was an attempt by our higher ups to prevent monotony, but I never knew. We were told to keep an eye open for suspicious characters, anything out of ordinary and all that. Nothing ever came up. It was always just a long walk carrying our rifles and a small bag of supplies.

Locals were not exactly hostile but they were not very friendly either. The insurgency which had lasted for decades had left them wary of both the militants as well as security forces. But I thought that confidence building measures initiated by army like the free medical camps and schools had a good effect. At least the kids loved us. Older generation was a little hostile to change but they were gradually coming over their mistrust of the uniform. In any case, army provided them with free medical care, education, relief operations and sometimes even transport without asking for anything in return. It was a better deal for them than militants who had scant regard for the same people for whom they claimed to be fighting for.

Due to peace and lack of any violence we had a fair amount of free time, but the remote place had little to offer in terms of entertainment. We had to endure a 90 minute long bumpy ride in an army truck if we wanted to watch a movie in the nearest town. Even the food was strange and mostly tasteless to my taste buds. Enduring such long ride for these meager rewards wasn’t exactly an appealing idea. I could drink my free time away on the cheap army liquor but I never liked alcohol that much. Only saving grace was the comparatively well stocked library. It wasn’t much but certainly was better than nothing. During my 6 months long stay there I read more books than I had read during my entire student life . I don’t know if it was my performance on field or in library which helped getting my name in list of a few men from my unit shortlisted for special counter insurgency training in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJW) in Vairengte, Mizoram.

The six week long training that I got there was unlike anything that I had ever experienced. It was much harder, very unconventional and there were many occasions when I thought that I’d flunk it. We were taught to survive on just what jungle had to offer. We ate things and animals which we never even thought could be eaten. Instructors taught us to think, act and attack like guerrilla.

After successfully completing the grueling course, I came back to my unit. A few weeks later, I was posted to J&K as my first posting in an actual active combat zone . The place is a sensitive area due to it’s proximity with Line of Control and Pakistani attempts to push in terrorists. I volunteered and was accepted in to Ghatak Platoon which is tasked with some of the most difficult missions. I had my first taste of combat there and on 3rd week of my posting there. My platoon was credited with killing 4 Paki terrorists in two different operations. It”s usually during summers when the Pakis are most active due to favourable weather and lack of snow blocking their routes. During summer months when snow melts, usually in May till September, the LoC is a virtual war zone due to Pakistani firing in order to provide cover to their terrorists. Most of their attempts are thwarted due to the fence and our vigilance. A small fraction which manage to sneak in are usually hunted down like mad dogs within a few days. But this never stopped Pakis from….well, being Pakis. Over the last few years, number of infiltration attempts had came down as terrorists lost their support even amongst the most rabidly Islamist people in J&K, but apparently Pakis refused to learn. They still manage to get a steady supply of delusional, horny fools who think killing non-muslims or dying in process will get them 72 whores for eternity after death. At first it was surprising to see such people and hear of their ideology but then I realised that it’s the only expected behaviour from a country founded on principles of hatred and exclusivity.

Over the last few years, Pakis have grown more brazen and they think nothing of firing on our posts even when they aren’t providing cover fire to anyone. Their terrorists too have become more desperate as they try sneaking in through more difficult paths as we keep on closing the gaps. It’s an ongoing cat and mouse game with no end in sight till that scourge of violent Islamism is rooted out. Fat chance of that happening though.

Two weeks back, we got reports that Pakis were trying to push in a large group of terrorists numbering up to 10 from infiltration points near our area of operations. We had some intelligence about where they were staying before their infiltration attempt and support by Paki army being extended to them. They even had a SSG major deputed to command and get them safely across LOC. This Major Butt was involved in training as well as helping terrorists sneak in to Indian territory for a number of years. But the terrorist we were most interested in was Zahid Hussain, a highly wanted commander of Pakistani terrorist group, Lashkar-E-Taiba. Earlier he operated as self proclaimed ‘Area Commander’ recruiting young men as terrorists in terrorism affected areas of J&K. He did this by brain washing and often kidnapping vulnerable youth to force them in to joining LeT. He was infamous for his brutality, even for his own cadre who ever crossed his path. He was forced to flee after Indian Army tightened the noose and support for terrorism amongst local population waned. He resumed his ‘work’ in Pak Occupied J&K and Pakistani Punjab and had quickly risen in hierarchy of LeT . He was believed to be one of the strong contenders for the title of chief of the terrorist group once the current one died or removed. He had also made a lot of contacts in Paki polity, Islamic clergy as well as ISI over the last few years. Quite a few of the terrorists in the group were recruited by him during the last 2-3 years. In Pakistan, he operated openly under the patronage of Paki authorities, safely out of our reach.

If we managed to catch or kill Zahid, it’d have been a big victory for us and a major setback to LeT and Pakistan. But it was easier said than done. According to our intelligence, he was part of group only for the ‘moral support’. He himself was supposed to come up only till the LoC to ensure that as many as possible of his trainees could cross the border while he’d go back to indoctrinate some more fools back in his camps. We had no idea about their likely route of infiltration. With most of snow melting away during the last 2-3 weeks, they had a lot of places to sneak in as our fence had been damaged in heavy snowfall and landslides. Repair work was under progress but it was clear that Pakis will try pushing them in to our territory before we could plug all gaps. They had already stepped up their artillery as well as small arms fire to hamper the repair work as well as to create even more gaps in the fence. Our response was limited due to political pressure.
Even if their attempt to cross over didn’t succeed, it was quite likely that the terrorists might retreat and try to sneak in some other day. We had the chance to eliminate the bugger after such a long time and we were not going to let it slip away so easily.

Everything we had on our disposal was dedicated to this task. Frequency and duration of patrols were extended, work on repair of fence was stepped up and all of our intelligence sources put on overdrive. We had access to imagery by a few Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) but the numbers we had were not enough for kind of surveillance we wanted. Tracking a small group of men in heavily forested mountains is no easy task. But we had a stroke of luck in morning when one of our UAVs noticed a group of 5 men walking on a narrow trail leading from a small settlement towards LoC. Just a few hours later another group of 7 Paki terrorists was observed on an adjacent route 3 kms away from first one. According to reports sent in by our HUMINT (Human Intelligence) sources, Zahid was with the second group. Going by our guess, considering the terrain and their speed, they were less than a days walk away from the border.

The likely area for infiltration attempt by both groups happened to be under the grid of our battalion, so it was up to us to prevent it and to eliminate or capture Zahid if possible. One easy option was to wait for them to reach the LoC and then capture or kill them in as they tried to cross over. The problem with this approach was that they could have chosen any of the numerous breaches to cross over and we didn’t have enough manpower to set up ambushes on every breach. But the most important flaw was that we had no way to eliminate or ca[ture Zahid. The closest he’d come was some Paki post out of our sight, perhaps give a small pep talk and then slink away after sending his recruits in to jaws of death. Even if all of them died, it was no skin off his back. There are always more where they come from, each one thirsting to get in to that imaginary whorehouse they call jannat by killing non-muslims.

Second option was suggested by The Major who I suspected had a death wish. His plan was to take some men across the LoC on foot and setup an ambush on a location the terrorist group led by Zahid was sure to cross on their way. That meant we had to watch out for Paki army manning the border as well as their rear echelons which could come to aid of the terrorists. His solution was to keep them pinned down by fire from our side if necessary, as we ambushed the terrorist group. Our CO had to make a choice between the comparatively safer (for us) 1st option and riskier but more rewarding 2nd. He chose 2nd and this is how we found ourselves on a god forsaken mountain in middle of a very rainy night a few km inside enemy territory.

A few months after I finished writing Flames and Arrows (blog, BRforum, Smashwords), I started writing another military fiction. I wrote for some time but didn’t really like it that much. The story was weak, dragged on in a number of places and I could’t really enjoy it. Then there was work to do, personal commitments, other projects and I hardly had enough time to write. So this story lay as a rough draft for a long long time. A few weeks back, while I came across it and decided to spend a few hours every week and try to finish it. I rewrote major portion of it, added a few new aspects and made the scope a bit wider than I originally intended. As of now, I think I have finished writing about 60% of it and it’s coming along not too badly. This post is meant as index and may be general comments about the different chapters that I’ll be posting here.

Available in Ebook format on Smashwords and Amazon