|Part of Sierra Leone Civil War|
|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 2,000-2,500 troops
|Approximately 2000-5000 troops divided into 5 battalions|
|Casualties and losses|
One death, Havildar Krishan Kumar of 14 Mechanised Infantry Several injuries 
|Several hundred foot soldiers dead or wounded.|
Operation Khukri was a 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 breakout 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 seventy-five days the RUF rebels negotiations were on to release the 2IC and his party 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 were deployed in the sector. It[who?] 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 Team 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 begin 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.
The role of 2 Para (SF)
The mission was conducted in a classical VUCA environment, in the absence of geographical information, using tourist maps and borrowing equipment from friendly nations. 2 Para (SF) collected valuable intelligence by conducting recce and inserting its commandos for 7 days at a stretch into the camp in disguise, prior to the launch of the operation, to map the area, carryout liaison and collect Intelligence which enabled the planning and execution of what would become one of the most daring commando operation conducted by the Indian Army on foreign soil.
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 monitoring of communications. 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.
On 15 Jul 0600h, before first light, 80 commandos from 2 Para (SF) were inserted into the enemy territory by two British Chinook helicopters. The air assault was carried out under adverse conditions, with heavy rain and poor visibility, and without air and artillery support which had to be withdrawn at the last minute due to the inclement weather. The flight time of 25 minutes was extended to 50 minutes and the team commander of 2 Para (SF) stuck to his commitment despite the danger of getting day lighted having to fight without external support. 40 Commandos were inserted close to village Jimila (2514), and 34 Commandos were inserted at the Bandajuma track junction (2512), and the balance six commandos were inserted inside the hostage camp to enable the extrication of Military Observers and others. Last minute changes in plan and cancellation of MI-8 helicopters, meant that the young lieutenant of the Special Forces had to personally inform the change in plan and lead the break out column till the centre of the town.
The use of SAS supplied phosphorus grenades by 2 Para (SF) quickly lay waste the camp and denied any UN stores and supplies that would be left behind while the INDBATT companies conducted the breakout from falling into the RUF hands.
In the meanwhile, the 40 Commandos encountering heavy resistance, from the RUF who were mobilised once the surprise was lost, cleared the road axis and successfully secured the town till the town centre of Kailahun. At the same time, the second team, dropped at Bandajuma, split into two groups, while the first secured the track junction, the second, went ahead to clear the axis till Kenewa. With the Chinooks safely taking off with the 11 Mil observers along with their equipment, the 6 commandos, led the break out of IND BATT with their BRDMs in close support behind them and affected a link with the 40 commandos at the town centre amidst fire from all directions.
The move of the IND BATT break out column was secured by the Special Force Commandos both at the Van and the Rear. This ensured that the tired hostages were kept safe from any possible assault from the now active enemy. The IND BATT column thus secured at both ends was now under hot pursuit from the RUF rebels and caught up with the rear of the foot column approximately 5 km south of Kailahun, 2 Para (SF), under the leadership of its second in command, started laying booby traps along the road in the rear to start slowing down the rebel advance. The ensuing fire fight resulted in major losses to the RUF post which they abandoned the chase.
The weather cleared at 9:30 am, and the UN helicopters were now available for providing a much required air support to the advancing column. 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.
At approximately 10:20, nearly four hours ahead of schedule, 2 para (SF) affected a linkage with the 18th Grenadiers at Giehun (1807), which had landed there at around 10:00. The force commander landed at Geihun to congratulate the SF team commander for an excellent operation.
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-foot-deep ditch, and the second, a 4-foot-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 06:20, 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 08:30, 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, Mil Mi-8 helicopters began arriving to extract the units. In 12 sorties, Mech-1 Company, Mot-1 Company, SF Company, D Company of the 18th 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 off the remaining troops, consisting of Daru Column of 5/8th Gorkha Rifles, D-Company of the 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 18th 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.
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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