Authors: Vivek Ahuja
parrow-two-two, this is pathfinder. Target
lit. You have the ball.”
Pathanya turned to see Vikram talking on the radio as he operated the laser-designator pod. The sounds of jets above was now nothing more than background noise over Lahore. Along with the brutal artillery detonations to the east and the tank fire now easily heard from the city, the place was a blistering cacophony of military noises. Pathanya rubbed his eyes with his gloved hand to remove the sweat and then watched as columns of smoke rose from what had been the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore. Now it was nothing more than smoldering wreckage following the Indian air and missile strikes. He could see the black and brown pillars of smoke on the horizon.
The battle for Lahore was in full swing. Indian army units were pushing gradually towards the city. Although he couldn’t see any of that action from where he was, Pathanya and his men could swear that they could see the battle between armored vehicles raging on the horizon. He was out southwest of the city and west of the important N5 highway that ran to Lahore from the south. The Jhok forestry reserve was an obvious vantage for the pathfinders. It was west of what the Pakistanis were focused on, had large vegetation and relatively less urbanization. All of which meant lesser chances of discovery. Additionally, it allowed Pathfinder to stay in sight of the N5 and also to be in a vantage point to whack any high-value targets that came this way.
“Pathfinder, this is sparrow-two-two,” the radio crackled in his ears. “I have your marker. Stand by.”
Pathanya brought up his binoculars and focused on the N5. The highway was a mass of clogged cars heading southwest, away from the city, as civilians were leaving in droves. But the other side of the road was cleared and was a highway filled with incoming convoys of military vehicles: trucks, jeeps, tanks and artillery. The Pakistani army was throwing everything at the Indian army in this sector. Striking
of these military targets
kill civilians in their hundreds on the other lanes of the highway. But that couldn’t be helped. There was a war on. And right now Pathanya’s sights were fixed on the convoy of twelve T-80 tanks rolling up the highway…
away. Steady on the marker. Sparrow-two-three has the ball.”
Pathanya tightened his grip on the binoculars. He had seen
show before. Kamidalla shifted in his concealed position within the trees and looked up through the scattered shadows of the leaves.
Three seconds later he caught the faint glimmer of the fins of a laser-guided-bomb as it slammed into the lead T-80 tank on the road. The explosion was catastrophic and the T-80 was shredded underneath an inverted cone of flames and smoke. Chunks of concrete flew off in all directions along with inverted civilian cars by their dozens as the shockwave expanded out. The second bomb slammed into the fourth T-80 from the lead and similarly disappeared inside another massive detonation…
The twin shockwaves dissipated as they expanded out whipping past the pathfinders. The trees ruffled with the pressure wave and swayed. The smell of burning metal and petroleum came with it. Vikram spat out the dirt that made it into his mouth.
“Goddamn it!” He said and spat out some more.
Pathanya ignored the others and focused on the mission as he keyed his comms: “sparrow-two-two, this is pathfinder.
damage to convoy. Seven T-80s destroyed. Multiple secondaries. Additional ancillary damage to convoy. Pleasure doing business with you!”
The radio crackled: “Likewise, pathfinder. Have a nice day. Sparrow-two-two is bugging out.”
Pathanya continued to look through his binoculars and surveyed the damage. It was extensive. He could see the bright flames furiously churning their way through what was left of the first six T-80s in the convoy. The seventh one was intact but spewing smoke. He could see other Pakistani soldiers from the trucks rushing up to get survivors out. Civilians were running about in chaos from the site of dozens of burning cars. Bodies and body parts were strewn all over.
” Kamidalla added as he saw the carnage.
“Didn’t you say to me at Vairengte that you wanted to see combat?” Pathanya slowly crawled back from his position into the small depression behind them and towed away his binoculars. “Well, here’s your fucking combat!”
Kamidalla didn’t respond. Neither did Vikram, who was quietly stowing away the laser-designator between himself and another soldier. Kamidalla finally swallowed.
Pathanya noted it: “you have something to add, Captain?” He asked brutally.
“Have our rules of engagement changed? We just ended up killing a lot of civilians out there.” Kamidalla asked hesitantly. Pathanya hefted his rifle closer to this chest: “the enemy didn’t ask the citizens of Mumbai what they wanted. They just nuked them. So spare me your sensibilities about the enemy’s civilians. I find that I just don’t give a damn.”
rewal walked into the underground pilot’s ready-room and instantly the idle chatter ended, replaced by the noise of chairs grinding on the floor. The seven other pilots in green overalls stood at attention and saluted, which Grewal returned: “at ease, gentlemen.”
As the pilots took their seats, he walked over to the projector and powered it on. The screen came alive with a true-color, daylight satellite image of a complex of whitish-brown buildings. The center of the image was dominated by the near-vertical image of a large cylindrical structure. The bottom-right corner of the image was indented:
CHUSHMA NUCLEAR REACTOR COMPLEX, PAKISTAN
Grewal looked at the screen and then the pilots to let that image sink in. He saw the slight shifting on the seats and the exchanged glances amongst the senior pilots. The body language amongst his pilots was aggressive.
“As you are aware, the
strategic objective for us has
been to punish Pakistan for the attack on Mumbai. That has translated to surgical strikes against terrorist encampments, infrastructure and support elements within the Pakistani military establishment. But Rawalpindi has retaliated with full-scale mobilization for war. We have preempted them and the chain reaction has brought us here today. The air-force has been directed to take apart the enemy air and missile capabilities. This we are aggressively prosecuting. The Pakistani air-force has been pushed back from the border and is being stretched to breaking point. Soon it will snap, not with a bang, but with a whimper and disappear into the background noise. We realize this. And as such, certain elements are now
transitioning to phase-two to include strikes against specific Pakistani national infrastructure.
are one of these elements.”
“Okay,” he said as he pointed to the screen showing the satellite image, “this right here is the Chushma nuclear complex, two-hundred kilometers inside Pakistani territory. It is
protected and is one of only
functioning reactor complexes in Pakistan. The second location is near Karachi. We won’t worry about that one. The navy is going after it with gusto tomorrow. We will focus our attention on this target right here. Other elements will strike other coal and hydropower plants across Pakistan. Questions?”
Grewal looked around and saw three raised arms. He nodded to the first pilot in front of him: “sir, are Pakistani civilian infrastructure now allowed as legitimate targets?”
across the board. Selective only. All civilian infrastructure hits
be authorized by command. Do not consider them free-for-all secondary targets!” Grewal saw the suppressed smiles within his pilots. He noted the morale, which was high despite the three pilots they had lost so far in the squadron. He nodded to the next pilot behind:
“Sir, Why are we striking these targets at all? Why not just launch missiles at them from a safe distance?”
“Good question,” Grewal noted and turned to the screen. He pressed a button that moved the image out and showed the red-circled locations around the complex like a star pattern. “These,” he gestured with his hand, “are battery locations showing the Spada-2000 medium-range
s deployed northeast and southwest of the complex. Further east, between the complex and Lahore is this one
battery. The reason these are alive and active is because we haven’t had the chance to go after them yet. But rest-assured, we will. The
is a Chinese copy of the
s and we have plenty of experience of taking those down from the China war. The
as effective: lesser range and lesser reliability. But it is
“So it will be taken down by air-launched Brahmos missile strikes. We will trail behind flights of Jaguars who will nail the Spada battery near the nuclear complex. Once the battery is down, they will initiate a strike against the nuclear complex. We,” Grewal turned to the pilots, “will provide overhead security to the Jag boys.”
“What’s the airborne threat picture there? We are going to be
inside bad-guy territory here.”
“Expect limited resistance from the
survivors at Peshawar and Multan. The Flanker boys are going to be sweeping north and south of us to keep the enemy hunkered down while we do our job. However,
enemy aircraft that slips past the Flankers is fair game. We are going in with eight birds in two flights of four. Call signs: dagger-alpha and dagger-bravo. I will lead dagger-alpha. Ramesh, you have dagger-bravo.”
“Air-to-ground?” Ramesh asked speculatively.
Grewal looked back at the screen and thought about that for several seconds. Their job was not air-to-ground on this one, but the opportunity could present itself. And it wouldn’t be good to be caught without options.
“That sounds reasonable. We may get some targets to mop up,” Grewal nodded. “Say,
bird each flight, two thousand-pounders with guidance kits and a offset-centerline designator each? Keep all other birds loaded for air-to-air and centerline tanks.”
“You read my mind, sir.”
“Okay,” Grewal sighed, “other questions?”
He looked around the room and didn’t see any other raised hands. So he walked over to the podium and sorted through his papers: “the usual suspects here for you to memorize. Call-signs, airborne radar and tanker coverage, friendly assets on the ground and in the air. Departure times and time-on-stations etcetera.” He then looked at his wristwatch and then back at his audience: “We are wheels-up at nineteen-hundred.” He waved the papers: “so get to it!”
he skyline in the eastern part of the city was already awash with black smoke. The sound of merciless artillery and tank fire was deafening. And as the sun began to set, casting long shadows over the war-torn city, the blazing fires were beginning to casting sickening hues of yellow and orange to the thick smoke clouds…
Haider stood on the rooftop of a former apartment complex near the center of the city. He could see the eastern parts of the city being torn asunder. A barrage of fireballs ripped into a section of buildings near the international airport, causing them to implode and collapse under a dark-brown dust cloud. The
reached him in a few seconds.
Haider held on to the sidewall as the shockwave dissipated past the building. Akram, lowered his binoculars.
“Well?” Haider asked curtly.
“Precision rocket-artillery fire. Looks like they struck northeastern of the airport. 10
“Likely some battalion headquarters just got levelled,” Haider noted with disgust. The war was
going well. The Indians had made it to the edge of the city despite heavy losses. There just was no stopping the Indian juggernaut east of Lahore. Now the airport was almost inside mortar-fire range. And reinforcements weren’t making their way into the city as Haider had hoped. The loss of control in the skies above had been swift and decisive. The
had been swatted away, leaving this city and its defenses at the mercy of Indian airpower. And the latter had been decimating convoys of armor that were trying to fight its way into the city. Haider knew that organized resistance by the Pak army here was no longer an option. With mass exodus of the city’s civilians clogging every possible road, the logistics were crammed…
He sighed as he unstrapped his helmet chinstrap and wiped the sweat off his brow with his arms: “if
doesn’t work, we will to lose control of this city. Where
Akram waved over his radioman standing behind them and took the speaker. Haider waited patiently for news as the smoke clouds rose silently into the darkening, pink skies. The rumble of jets overhead caused him to look up and see white circular contrails: enemy jets looking for targets. He wondered whether they could see
. Maybe not. Could they instead home-in on his communications and hit this rooftop while he stood here? Would he even
if that happened in the very next instant? Would Allah be merciful and understanding of his actions against the kaffirs? Could he not take responsibility for the death of thousands of unbelievers in Mumbai as his contribution to the jihad? Had he done his duty to Allah?
“Sir,” Akram said forcefully to get his commander out of his reverie. Haider terminated his thoughts away and stared at Akram standing next to him with his palm over the radio speaker. He nodded to him to continue. “The Ghazi group is in play. They report a force of Indian armor vehicles approaching the road past one of the outskirt villages. They are about to move.”
“Get some eyes overhead,” Haider ordered.
Akram nodded and then removed his palm from the speaker and gave some terse orders. A few seconds later he handed the speaker back and looked at Haider: “done.”
“Let’s go then,” Haider walked past the men towards the staircase. He walked down the six flights of stairs and reached the bottom floor where several dozen officers and soldiers manned his field command post. This was now the beating heart of his defenses. What the rest of the army did outside the city was not his concern, but everything
the city, was his jurisdiction. And this center was where he ran the show. The place was alive with chatter and men running back and forth. Chaos reigned.
Outside, the city was made to look as normal as possible. The streets were deliberately devoid of all military vehicles for one block in any direction. Haider had even forced the civilians to be made to stay visible in the streets to ensure the Indians continue to believe that this block of houses was nothing special. One block away, the field hospital was overflowing with casualties. A day ago it had been possible to fly in helicopters to the rooftops. But the swift demise of the
had meant that helicopter pilots were now no longer allowed to fly into the city. Haider himself had placed that order after he had seen an army liaison helicopter blasted out of the sky by a strafing Indian Su-30. The charred wreckage of that helicopter still lay inverted between the gaps of two buildings, a kilometer away…
“Sierra-two-two is active.” Captain Saadat said as Haider and Akram walked up. Saadat was in charge of the unit operating the short-range, unmanned-aerial-vehicles.
“You have the feed yet?” Akram asked.
“Hold on,” Saadat said as he spoke into his comms mouthpiece and then flipped open his battlefield computer. He talked through its boot-up process and then turned to the senior officers: “the boys just sent up a hand-held drone a kilometer away from the road that the Ghazi group is going after. It will have limited endurance so there might be down times when we recover the birds and rearm the batteries.”
“Understood,” Haider noted. “It will have to do.”
Saadat turned back to face the screen as it lit up with a birds-eye view in thermal monochrome lighting. They could see the road and what were dark, black blobs of tanks driving, turrets swiveling on either side: Indian T-90s. The screen also showed blobs on the marshy fields on either side of the road and much smaller heat blobs showing humans moving tactically alongside the tanks.
“Go white-hot,” Akram ordered.
Saadat pressed one of the buttons on the side of the screen marked “
” and inverted the monochrome color. The thermals were now white. The coloration changed just as one of the leading blobs let loose a tank round and the screen flickered. Saadat zoomed out and saw a building sidewall blown to smithereens. A battle was on. The Indian soldiers were shepherding away civilians caught in it.
“Wait for it…” Akram said, holding his breath.
The screen flickered again as the group of Indian soldiers and civilians disappeared in a massive flash of white that faded to black. The battlefield turned into an instant chaos with surviving civilians running in all directions while other Indian soldiers ran towards the smoking remains of half-a-dozen of their comrades. In all the confusion and chaos, some of the civilians ran
the Indian vehicles…
One of the Indian tank commanders caught on when he saw a jihadi dressed as a civilian run up to his tank. He shredded the imposter with his machinegun fire. But there were a lot more of the jihadists now. One of them ran to the side of an Indian T-90 a split-second before a terrific explosion ripped through his body. Pieces of metal and the tank wheels flew in all directions.
Other Indian soldiers were now engaging the jihadis in civilian clothing and were engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Some of the jihadis pulled out rifles from underneath their dresses and mowed down two Indian soldiers who had taken them to be civilians. The jihadists took out grenades and began tossing them on the other tanks nearby.
One T-90 gunner fired a continuous volley of machinegun rounds on a group of jihadis who had run out of a small hut and were clambering atop one of the
personnel carriers. The fire riddled the top of the vehicle with sparks as the jihadis were ripped to shreds with their war-cry still lodged in their throats. A moment later a rocket-propelled-grenade slammed into the T-90 turret and detonated the reactive armor panels. The shrapnel from the explosion cut down several Indian soldiers in close proximity to the tank. As the chaotic combat continued, the Indian tanks and other vehicles began rolling backwards, engaging their newfound enemies as they did so. They left behind three burning T-90s and one disabled
. The jihadis scrambled on top of the disabled vehicle covered with the remains of the their comrades and dragged out the body of a dead Indian crewmember. They began to behead it with a curved knife on top of the turret. They never did get there, as one of the retreating T-90s fired a high-explosive round into the
and destroyed it in a massive fireball.
The screen in front of Saadat blinked off. He took a breath and then turned behind: “our bird lost power. We are recovering it now.”
Haider patted him on the shoulder and gestured to Akram as he walked away, leaving Saadat stroking his beard and feeling satisfied.
“That went well,” Akram muttered sarcastically once they were out of earshot.
“You disagree with the results?” Haider asked curiously.
“Well it certainly wasn’t a glowing success,” Akram responded. “The idiots are more savages then soldiers. They could have inflicted a lot more damage with the surprise element if they had
shown some discipline.”
“Perhaps.” Haider ceded. “But perhaps that brutality will petrify the enemy from entering the city, if they know what awaits them around every corner. This war is as much psychological as it is real. And while I don’t
with your assessment, I will add that you shouldn’t underestimate the impact of what we just saw. The Indians just retreated under the brutal surprise. A few more attacks like this will blunt their invasion far more effectively than
else we could throw at them!”