Operation Khukri is the Indian Army’s most daring breakout mission, undertaken in the year 2000 in Africa by over 200 Indian soldiers who were a part of the United Nations Peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, sent there to help the government tackle the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group. It is rare for Indian soldiers on a peacekeeping mission to have become first prisoners of local militias and after months of captivity – without much food or sleep – to fight their way out of their camp when surrounded by armed militias in the jungles of Africa.
This required a daring plan, tenacity, professionalism and sheer cold courage. And Major (now General) Rajpal Punia and his determined band of officers and men from 14 Mechanised Infantry and a Gurkha Unit (5/8 GR) did precisely that, to create a legacy that will perhaps never be emulated in the foreseeable future. Our hats off to Rajpal Punia and his band of very brave men.
Major Punia’s leadership – despite enormous pressures – in confronting multiple factors in war-torn but diamond-rich Sierra Leone in West Africa was remarkable. He sought peace to the very end but not a compromise as surrender for him and his men was not an option, thus he eventually led his men in a dramatic escape from his camp, surrounded by heavily armed rebels, to a rendezvous with his headquarters.
Before doing so, Major RS Punia exercised astute political-diplomatic skills (normally not the forte of a soldier) while keeping the dignity of India and its flag as his primary aim. It is a story that every Indian – especially an army officer- must read and learn from, this tale of leadership and valor, superbly narrated by Damini Punia. It is the stuff that legends are made off and scripts for movies are written on.
In the video conversation with Maroof Raza, a former colleague of Maj. Gen Punia from 14 Mechanised Infantry, now Consulting Editor of Times Network, Maj Gen Rajpal Punia, then a Major with 14 Mech Inf, talks about how he Operation Khukri presented him with many challenges as he led from the front, though surrounded by rebel forces, and how they survived the ambush of the RUF in prolonged engagements in those jungles twice, but refused to surrender.
He eventually returned to his headquarters with all his 233 soldiers except for one casualty. This video is a riveting account of courage and leadership against many odds that Major Rajpal Punia and the brave Indian peacekeepers exhibited.