A surgical strike is a military attack which results in, was intended to result in, or is claimed to have resulted in only damage to the intended legitimate military target, and no or minimal collateral damage to surrounding structures, vehicles, buildings, or the general public infrastructure and utilities.
A swift and targeted attack with the aim of minimum collateral damage to the nearby areas and civilians is a surgical strike. Neutralization of targets with surgical strikes also prevents escalation to a full blown war. Surgical strike attacks can be carried out via air strike, airdropping special ops teams or a swift ground operation or by sending special troops.
Precision bombing is another example of a surgical strike carried out by aircraft – it can be contrasted against carpet bombing, the latter which results in high collateral damage and a wide range of destruction over an affected area which may or may not include high civilian casualties. The bombing of Baghdad during the initial stages of the 2003 Iraq War by US forces, known as Shock and Awe is an example of a coordinated surgical strike, where government buildings and military targets were systematically attacked by US aircraft in an attempt to cripple the Ba'athist controlled Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein.
Israel's 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak is considered a prime example of a surgical strike. Its 1976 commando operation at Entebbe in Uganda, through which Israeli passengers were freed from a hijacked plane, is also mentioned as a successful surgical strike. Even though it did not involve taking out targets, striking deep inside foreign territory, covering 5,000 miles from start to finish without engagement with any other forces, qualified it to be 'surgical'.
The United States carried out numerous surgical strikes against Al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan using cruise missiles. It also used the same technology against a purported chemical weapons facility in Sudan.
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