Surgical strike

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A surgical strike is a military attack which is intended to damage only a legitimate military target, with no or minimal collateral damage to surrounding structures, vehicles, buildings, or the general public infrastructure and utilities.[1]


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 invasion of Iraq 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.



On October 14, 2020, Azerbaijan carried out surgical strikes against Armenian forces and destroyed three R-17 Elbrus tactical ballistic missile launchers in Kalbajar District, de jure part of Azerbaijan, but under de facto independent Artsakh's control.[2] According to Azerbaijan, the missile launchers had been targeting Ganja and Mingachevir, and the strike was in retaliation of the 11 October Ganja ballistic missile attack, which resulted in ten civilians getting killed[3] and 40 more getting injured, with women and children being among the victims.[4] Armenia confirmed that sites within Armenia had been struck while continuing to deny it had attacked Azerbaijan.[5]


On 29 September 2016, India announced that it conducted surgical strikes against militant launch pads across the Line of Control in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and inflicted "significant casualties" killing 35-40. These strikes were led by Para commandos.[6] Pakistan denied the claims, giving journalists a tour of the sites India claimed to have struck.[7]


Israel's 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor Osirak is considered a prime example of a surgical strike.[8] 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'.[9]

United States[edit]

The 1986 bombing of targets in the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi were carried out using surgical strike tactics, with both ground-based and carrier-based attack aircraft striking airports, barracks, and military training centers.[10][11] The stated goals of the attack were to cripple Libya's ability to train and support terrorists, but it has been rumored that the attack was also an assassination attempt on Muammar Gaddafi.[citation needed]

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.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shultz, Jr., Richard H.; Pfaltzgraff, Robert L., eds. (1992). The Future of Air Power: In the Aftermath of the Gulf War. DIANE Publishing. ISBN 1-58566-046-9.
  2. ^ "Legitimate military targets that have taken the civilian population of Azerbaijan under the gunpoint were neutralized". Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence. 14 October 2020. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  3. ^ Dettmer, Jamie (12 October 2020). "Why is Azerbaijan Fighting?". Voice of America. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  4. ^ Melimopoulos, Elizabeth; Alsaafin, Linah (11 October 2020). "Nagorno-Karabakh truce frays as both sides allege attacks: Live". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  5. ^ Sultanova, Aida (11 October 2020). "Azerbaijan, Armenia report shelling of cities despite truce". Associated Press. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  6. ^ "Surgical strike day: Here's how the 2016 operation was carried out". Hindustan Times. 29 September 2021. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
  7. ^ "Delhi CM 'questions' authenticity of India's 'surgical strikes' in Pakistan". The Express Tribune. 3 October 2016.
  8. ^ Weeks, Albert L. (25 November 2009), The Choice of War: The Iraq War and the Just War Tradition: The Iraq War and the Just War Tradition, ABC-CLIO, pp. 54–, ISBN 978-0-313-08184-2
  9. ^ Sandler, Stanley (2002), Ground Warfare: An International Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, pp. 264–265, ISBN 978-1-57607-344-5
  10. ^ Ball, Gregory (March 1999). "1986 - Operation El Dorado Canyon". Air Force Historical Support Division. United States Air Force. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  11. ^ "Operation El Dorado Canyon". Global Security. 7 May 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  12. ^ Cilluffo, Frank J.; Cardash, Sharon L.; Lederman, Gordon Nathaniel (2001), Combating Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Terrorism: A Comprehensive Strategy : a Report of the CSIS Homeland Defense Project, CSIS, pp. 13–, ISBN 978-0-89206-389-5