|Part of Sierra Leone Civil War|
|UNAMSIL||Revolutionary United Front|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Lt. General Nirmal Chand Vij (Director General Military Operations)
Major General V.K. Jetley
Colonel Satish Kumar (Commanding Officer of 5/8 Gurkha Rifles)
Group Captain Bijender Singh Siwach
|Approximately 2000-2500 troops
||Approximately 2000-5000 troops divided into 5 battalions|
|Casualties and losses|
|No deaths, several injuries:
||Several hundred foot soldiers dead or wounded.|
Operation Khukri was a unique multinational operation launched in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), involving India, Ghana, Britain and Nigeria. The aim of the operation was to break the two month long siege laid by armed cadres of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) around two companies of 5/8th Gorkha Rifles Infantry Battalion Group at Kailahun by effecting a fighting break out and redeploying them with the main battalion at Daru.
The Indian 5/8th Gorkha Rifles, 14th Mechanised Infantry and elements of the 23rd Mechanised Infantry, together designated as INDBATT-1, had been sent to Sierra Leone to aid the Government in the disarmament of the RUF rebels. Two Rifle Companies had been kept as a Quick Reaction Force. Elements of the 9th Para (SF), were also included.
By mid-April 2000, two of the companies of INDBATT-1 were deployed in Kailahun, while the rest were deployed in Daru. On May 1, some elements of the RUF attacked and overran the KENBATT forces at Makeni. Due to a communication gap, the INDBATT-1 weren't informed, and some of their commanders at Kailahun, were captured the next day at a meeting with the RUF. Within ten days of this, some of the hostages were released due to intense pressure by INDBATT-1 and civilians., however some including the 2IC who had gone to negotiate remained in 'honourable custody', being allowed to return to the base everyday.
The situation worsened and the RUF disarmed 500 Kenyan Peacekeepers, and began advancing towards Freetown. As panic broke out, British troops evacuated the civilian staff at Freetown. The INDBATT-1 QRF was launched to Magburaka, where more Kenyans had been besieged. They made a 180 kilometer advance, pushing back several ambushes, and rescuing the Kenyans. However the situation at Kailahun kept deteriorating, and the two companies of 5/8th Gorkha Rifles remained in their base surrounded by hundreds of RUF rebels of the 1st Brigade.
For 75 days the RUF rebels negotiations were on to release the 2IC and hisparty which was achieved through Charles Taylor and Liberia. In the meanwhile additional forces ex India were built up to launch operations to seize control over nearly 100 km of jungle track to break the siege at Kailahun.
Order of Battle
The RUF rebels had six Brigades, one of which was deployed in the sector. It consisted of four main battalions, and one Strike Battalion. they were armed with AK-47s, RPGs, APCs, and SAMs. Each battalion was deployed in a particular area:
- 1st Battalion - Mobai
- 2nd Battalion - Kuiva
- 3rd Battalion - Neama
- 4th Battalion - Koindu
- 5th Battalion - Segbwema
- INDBATT-1 - 5/8th Gorkha Rifles Battalion and elements of 14th Mechanised Infantry
- QRC - A Quick Reaction Force formed by elements of INDBATT-1, alongside 23 Mechanised Infantry and 9 Para (SF)
- INDMECH QRC - A Mechanised Infantry QRF
- INDENG Coy-2 - A Company of 116 Engineer Regiment
- INDSF Coy - A Company of 2nd Para (SF)
- Indian Aviation Unit - 8 Mil Mi-8s, 3 Mil Mi-35s, 2 HAL Chetaks
- INDBATT-2 - 18th Grenadiers Battalion
- Independent Composite Battery - Mortars 120 mm from 310th Light Regiment, Light Field Gun (105 mm) from 255th Field Regiment
Alongside these the Indians had set up a Sector HQ, Surgical HQ, and a Forward Surgical Team.
- GHANBATT - 2 Infantry Companies of the Ghana Army
- NIBATT - 2 Companies of the Nigerian Army
- RAF Aviation Unit: 2 Chinook Helicopters, 1 C-130
- Elements of D Squadron of the British SAS; These units guided the Aviation units during their tasks
Plan of Operations
The battle was planned to involve five phases:
- Phase I: Mobilisation of UNAMSIL forces.
- Phase II: Pre-emptive strikes by the helicopters, and breakout by the besieged forces at Kailahun. the UNAMSIL forces were to secure the area for a clear extraction.
- Phase III: Link up of the besieged Kailahun column and Special Forces units at Giehun. 5/8 Gorkha Rifles (Daru column) to secure Pendembu.
- Phase IV: Link up of Daru column and Kailahun column at Pendembu. Extraction to began by air.
- Phase V: All forces to fall back to Daru.
Phase I of the operation was the buildup of forces. Between 13th and 15th, the UNAMSIL forces were assembled at Daru and Kenewa. The IAF and RAF Aviation units were critical in the buildup, especially at Daru, since the area was cut off from the rest of the UN controlled areas. By midnight, 14 July, the buildup was complete.
Breakout at Kailahun
The units at Kailahun were informed of the plan, and constantly kept in touch with the HQ through Satellite Phones. The operational plans were conveyed in Malayalam to overcome RUF and Brit monitorin.Since the operation required insertion by helicopters, the two companies at Kailahun were required to fall back 500 metres from the town itself, and secure two helipads.
By 600 hours, 15 July, the Kailahun column had secured the helipads. Despite adverse weather conditions, two RAF Chinooks took off, and under guidance by SAS units dropped off the company from 2nd Para, two kilometres south of Kailahun, then landed at the helipads at 620 hours, and extracted 33 personnel suffering from illness, as well as 11 Military Observers, and flew them back to Freetown. The plan involved the Indian MI-8s to extract more warlike stores, but they couldn't take-off due to adverse weather conditions.
Prior to the assault on the town, a fire assault was delivered for ten minutes using rockets, APCs, grenade launchers, mortars, and MMGs. The two INDBATT-1 companies at Kailahun began their assault to and broke out of the town. The troops of Mechanised Company-1 (Mech 1 Company) of the besieged forces, were tasked to attack and capture the Kailahun Town Square. Motorised Rifle Company-1 (Mot-1), was tasked to capture the RUF checkpoint on the Daru-Kailahun Road. Mot-1 Company's advance was led by one platoon of the Ghataks of 5/8GR, assisted by three BRDMs. Though the advance drew fire from nearby positions, the opposition was quickly neutralised by the RLs and BRDMs.
Mech-1 Company assaulted and captured the Town Square. Then using it as a Forming Up Place (FUP), Mech-1 and Mot-1 Companies assaulted the checkpost on the road. The barrier at the checkpost was heavily defended, but after a fierce assault, the troops of Mot-1 Company captured the checkpost and secured the area. At 730 hours, B-Vehicle column moved out with units from the 5/8th Gorkha Rifle Companies from Daru, and the NIBATT forces took their place at Daru. At the same time QRC was airlifted by MI-8s and dropped off at Area 3 to secure the bridges.
At 0738 2 Para linked up with Mot-1 Company at the barrier, and began to advance to Giehun. The fire base at the Town Square remained in place until all the units had disengaged by fire and move. Mot-1 Company advanced quickly, while 2nd Para served as a rearguard, and took care of snipers along the way to Giehun. Meanwhile the weather had improved and the attack helicopters reached overhead to provide close air support and keep an over watch over the breaking out troops. At 0815 the attack helicopter neutralized three vehicle that were forming up at Kailahun Town Square.
The RUF Forces reorganised and taking advantage of dense jungle and knowledge of jungle tracks were constantly sniping down the rearguard, making the advance difficult and slow. The Indian MI-35 attack helicopter on the scene provided fire support to the advancing columns, making their advance much swifter. At 945 hours, the attack helicopters were tasked to provide covering fire to the Mi-8 helicopters and one company of 18th Grenadiers, part the INDBATT-2, were airlifted and dropped off north-east of Giehun, where they awaited the arrival of the Kailahun column. By 1030 hours, the Kailahun column arrived at Giehun, where the Force Commander had been landed earlier. 60 of these troops were helilifted to Daru.
After the airlift, the column reorganised and advanced towards Pendembu. They were faced with two major roadblocks along the road, the first was an 8 feet deep ditch, and the second, a 4 feet deep one, each covered by troops with small arms and RPGs. Continuous sniping, and slushy roads hampered the progress, but the column secured the area, and using bridging stores carried in the column and dropped by the MI-8s, the units crossed the bridges, and continued on their way.
At 620 hours, after the extraction of personnel at Kailahun, the INDBATT-2, INDMECH QRC (Mech-2 Company), and the rest of the 5/8th Gorkha Rifles (Mot-2 Company) at Daru, commenced their operations. The 18th Grenadiers, alongside Infantry Fighting Vehicles from the Mech-2, and aided by artillery bombardment, secured a firm base along the road.
Immediately after securing the base, the Daru Column advanced along the road, with Mech-2 Company's IFVs leading the advance. At 830 hours, the column came under heavy fire from the north of the road, 500 metres short of Tikono. The IFVs neutralised the enemy and continued. The unit faced heavy resistance at both Bewobu, and Kuiva, but broke through with ease. Though the plan originally called for a physical capture and search of Kuiva, the speed of the advance of the Kailahun column, indicated a possibility of a link-up and evacuation on the same day. So the Daru Column continued to advance quickly to Pendembu. Though the rebels had dug-in positions in the town, they fled in the face of small arms fire by the column, and supporting fire from nearby mortars.
The column continued to move towards Area-3 bridges, suppressing enemy fire with their IFVs, while 9th Para, part of the battalion's QRC, was airlifted from Daru in 3 MI-8s, and secured the bridges in Area 3. Maintaining momentum, the column met up with the QRC forces near the bridges at 1230 hours, and continued onwards to Pendembu.
The Daru column and the QRC reached Pendembu, and prepared to assault the town. It was the HQ of the RUF 1st Brigade, and heavily defended. At 1300 hours, an attack helicopter made five passes over the town strafing the defenders, and performed pinpoint engaging of the defenders in their entrenched positions. Meanwhile, the mortars relocated to a location north of the Area 3 bridges. Mot-2 Company was to attack and secure the nearly 300 houses of the town, as well as an air head to the south-west. Mech-2 moved in from the north, and neutralised all the targets, and occupied the northern side of the town. Mot-2 moved up and silenced the enemy positions in the south-west corner, using the IFVs, and then cleared the houses systematically with its riflemen. 4th Platoon of Mot-2, killed several rebels in the south-west pocket, and several more were killed in the armoury, cleared by 6th Platoon. A suitable airhead was established along the Daru-Pendembu road. All units linked up in the south-west corner, and reorganised into defensive positions for the evening.
At about 1630 hours, the Daru Column personally led by the Commanding Officer of 5/8 Gurkha Rifles advanced through the jungle to link up with Kailahun column. A link up was established at 1730 hours, and the entire force was gathered back at Pendembu by 1900 hours. The units took up defensive positions around and inside Pendembu. Any attempts by the RUF to counter-attack were thwarted with accurate fire from the troops. The routes used by the RUF for reinforcements were constantly kept under surveillance by the scout helicopter. On two occasions regrouping militia were observed approaching Pendembu by the scout helicopter which directed the Mi-35 to carry out dissuading attacks on them using rockets and guns. Approach paths to the town were shelled by mortars and a 105 mm Light Field Gun throughout the night.
The next day, 16 July, at 700 hours, Mot-2 secured an airhead and also prepared a helipad as well as readjusted the defences to prepare for the forthcoming helilift extraction. At 815 hours, MI-8s began arriving to extract the units. In 12 sorties, Mech-1 Company, Mot-1 Company, SF Company, D Company of 18 Grenadiers, and 2 Platoons of QRC Company were extracted. At 930 hours, 50-60 enemies were spotted to the north of the town and effectively neutralised by the attack helicopters directed by Adjutant-GLO of 5/8GR and MFC grouped with Mech 2 ICVs which also brought down heavy fire. The last MI-8s took off at 1030 hours. the Gurkha battalion pioneers demolished the selected RUF Bunkers, and the RUF ammunition store.
Move to Daru
After the last helicopter took of the remaining troops, consisting of Daru Column of 5/8th Gorkha Rifles, D-Company of 18th Grenadiers, remaining QRC Companies, and the vehicles of the Kailahun Companies, began to make their way back to Daru, with Mot-2 in the lead. Mech-2 was to hold on to the northern edge of town, and then bring up the rear of the column, after a tactical disengagement. The column was constantly supported by one MI-35 helicopter at all times. After neutralising enemies at the bridges, the column reached Kuiva without incident. At Kuiva, the Mi-35 helicopter and the IFVs blind fired on any suspected enemy positions repeatedly to ensure the safety of the column.
Despite the firm base being secured by 18 Grenadiers, the columns were ambushed near Kuiva. At 1400 hours, scout helicopters reported that the road between Kuiva and Bewabu had been dug up. The 18th Grenadiers secured the roadblock position, but the column had to be halted as they had stretched over too long a distance. At this time, one of the vehicles was attacked by an RPG. The Mi-35 operating overhead was immediately called upon to engage the ambushing militia. The riflemen and IFVs cleared any remainder ambushing forces. Under the cover of helicopter the column continued to advance towards Daru.
At 1430 hours, near Bewabu, the leading IFVs came across a ditch, covered by heavy small arms fire from higher ground on both sides. The Commanding Officer realised that his troops were in the kill zone. He immediately sent 4 Rifle Platoon to engage the enemy targets. The firefight continued for fifteen minutes, and the MI-35 strafed enemies on both sides of the road. 6 Platoon and INDENG units bridged the gap, and the column immediately set off.
While the 5/8th Gorkha Rifles engaged the enemy at Bewabu, the 18th Grenadiers about six kilometers behind, supported by 2 BMPs from Mech-2, and 2 BRDMs of Mech-1, were engaged by enemy units just short of Kuiva. The units fought the enemy for about ten minutes, and continued to advance. About 500 metres from here, a vehicle carrying ammunition was hit by an RPG. Once again the Mi-35 was called upon and it carried out a strafing run in the direction of attack. No further opposition was encountered after this. The casualty was evacuated by a Chetak.
The operation was a complete success. All the besieged forces were evacuated successfully, for no UNAMSIL deaths. The units easily dealt with all ambushes on the way back.
Operation Khukri was not a success simply in tactical terms. It was the worst defeat that the RUF has suffered in recent times, and was a tremendous boost to UNAMSIL morale. The Indian Forces were met with a rapturous welcome, as they marched triumphantly into Daru. The people of Sierra Leone helped build the Khukri War Memorial on the bank of the River Moa.
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