Operation Khukri – Daring Operation of Indian Armed Forces Overseas

What was Operation Khukri ?

  • Operation KHUKRI was an unique multinational operation launched in the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), involving India, Ghana, Britain and Nigeria between 13 to 16 July, 2000.
  • 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 Gorkha Rifles Infantry Battalion Group.
  • A record of the contribution of brave Indian Soldiers on foreign shores is incomplete without the mention of the little-known Operation Khukri.
  • A daring mission in which 223 UN peacekeepers (held captive by rebels) in Sierra Leone were rescued and evacuated by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force.
  • Operation Khukri is one of history’s most successful rescue operations.

Who are the Gorkhas and what is Khukri?

Who are the Gorkhas and what is Khukri


The Gurkhas or Gorkhas (Nepalis :गोरखाली ) are the soldiers of Nepalese nationality recruited in the British Army, Nepalese Army, Indian Army, Gurkhas Contingent Singapore, Gurkha Reserve Unit Brunei, UN Peace Keeping force. But Khukri is a knife that Gorkhas holds.


“If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gorkha”

-Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Indian Army

  • From 1991 to 2002, the Sierra Leone was engulfed in a civil war which devastated the country.
  • The was was characterised by extreme brutality and widespread human rights abuses against civilians.
  • It left more than 50,000 people dead, much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed and over 2 million Sierra Leoneans displaced as refugees in neighbouring countries.

United Nations Mission In Sierra Leone

In October 1999, the United Nations agreed to send peacekeepers to help restore order and disarm the rebels.

  • By mid-April 2000, two of the companies of INDBATT-1 were deployed in Kailahun, while the rest were deployed in Daru.Map of West Africa
  • However the situation at Kailahun kept deteriorating, and the two companies of 5/8th Gorkh Rifles remained in their base surrounded by hundreds of RUF rebels of the 1st Brigade.

The rescue plan/ 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 Kailhun column at Pendembu. Extration to begin by air.
  • Phase V : All forces to fall back to Daru.

UN missions have their own unique and complicated dynamics between officials, military commanders, contributing countires and UN Security Council in New York.

The situation was further complicated by the legal status of the UN mission and its limited mandate to actually use force. The UN was keen to somehow negotiate with the rebes through diplomatic channels to secure the release of the Indian Soldiers.



Ground units and Airborne units

  • 223 troops of 5/8th Gorkha Rifles besieged at Kailahun
  • Approximately six companies of riflemen of the 5/8th Gorkha Rifles at Daru, elements of 14th Mechanised Infantry and Para commandos
  • 18th Grenadiers
  • QRC of Mechanised Infantry
  • One Company of engineers
  • 2 Para (SF)

Air Support – Helicopters

Role of 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.

Reasons For Success

  • Synergisation of all available assets.
  • Simultaneous Operations.
  • Real Time use of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT).
  • Good Intelligence of RUF Activities and Intentions.
  • Deception and Security During Build Up.
  • The success of Operation KHUKRI gave the RUF its worst defeat in recent history and at the same time gave a tremendous boost to the UNAMSIL forces in particular and to the UN as a whole.
  • The detractors of the UN were silenced and the potential of this noble institution was once again displayed.
  • The greatest reward for the Indian Peacekeepers was the rapturous reception given to them by the people of Daru as they came triumphantly back from battle.
  • It was the welcome of a long suffering and desperate people who understood that there were people in this world who would shed their blood for them. Perhaps, that is why they helped build the KHUKRI Memorial in Daru barracks overlooking the Moa River.

Story of Operation Khukri

  • This Operation was held in 2000 year. A potentially rich country kept in a state of poverty by successive corrupt and power-hungry governments, Sierra Leone in west Africa had become a hot spot of violence, strife and rebellion. The armed rebel groups of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had taken control of large swathes of territory that were rich in diamond deposits, leading to the collapse of the country’s economy and trapping ordinary citizens between the cruelty of RUF troops and starvation.RUF Controlled Area
  • The escalating unrest had left the UN no choice but to intervene by sending peacekeeping troops. India accepted the responsibility of stopping the brutal civilian killings in the strife-torn country. Soldiers of the Indian 58th Gorkha Rifles, the 14th Mechanised Infantry and the 23rd Mechanised Infantry (together designated as INDBATT-1) were sent to join the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and help the local government disarm the notorious rebels.
  • In April 2000, two companies of INDBATT-1 were deployed in Kailahun, while the rest of the peacekeeping unit had been dispatched to Daru. That’s when things started going wrong. On May 1, the trigger-happy rebels attacked the soldiers at Makeni and Kailahun.
  • Over 200 soldiers of the 58th Gorkha Rifles and 11 military observers of various nationalities were taken hostage, with armed cadres of the rebel forces setting up a siege around their base camp. For the next 75 days, the UN negotiated for the release of the captive peacekeepers.
  • With no results emerging from the negotiations, the Indian government decided to take charge of the situation and gave the responsibility to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army. As such, Operation Khukri was launched to break the rebel siege at Kailahun and extricate the Indian soldiers being held hostage 10,000 kilometres away in the sultry tropical forests of west Africa.
  • Under the leadership of Major (now Lt Col) Harinder Sood, 120 special force officers of the IAF and the Indian Army were airlifted from New Delhi and flown to Sierra Leone in what was dressed up as a multinational UNAMSIL mission (logistic support was provided by Britain, Ghana, Nepal and Nigeria).
  • On July 15, two British Chinook helicopters carrying Indian para commandos landed in the dense equatorial forest surrounding the camp were the soldiers were being held hostage. As per plan, the Chinooks were to be followed by three IAF MI-8 attack helicopters (AH). However, these helicopters could not take off due to bad weather.Indian Army’s Para Special Forces exit RAF Chinooks in Sierra Leone during Operation Khukri
  • Beginning the assault, the para commandos detonated explosive charges to breach the walls of the military camp and rapidly entered the camp at Kailahun. One team advanced to rescue the hostages, while another (accompanied by the Ghatak commando platoon) used armoured reconnaissance vehicles to engage with and neutralize enemy check posts.
  • Aided by two teams of heavily-armed para commandos, the rescued Indian soldiers used the jeeps and trucks in the military camp to fight their way out through the breach. Progress was slow as the tyres of the vehicles frequently got stuck in the marshy, muddy land of the forest and the soldiers had to get down to push them out of the rut. Continuous sniping and rocket fire from rebels (who were in hot pursuit) added to the convoy’s troubles.
  • Aided by two teams of heavily-armed para commandos, the rescued Indian soldiers used the jeeps and trucks in the military camp to fight their way out through the breach. Progress was slow as the tyres of the vehicles frequently got stuck in the marshy, muddy land of the forest and the soldiers had to get down to push them out of the rut. Continuous sniping and rocket fire from rebels (who were in hot pursuit) added to the convoy’s troubles.
  • To protect the rescued soldiers, the para commandos took up posts on all the vulnerable positions around the convoy and responded to the heavy enemy firing with their own. As they escaped towards the town of Geihun, the team also laid booby traps and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to delay and deter the pursuing rebels. As the forest cover thinned, IAF’s Mi-35 helicopter gunships swung into position to provide additional security for the convoy.
  • As the convoy entered Geihun, they were greeted by the 18 Grenadiers of INDBATT-2 who had been airlifted from Daru to provide cover and support. One hour later, the rescued hostages were airlifted to Daru by IAF Mi-8 helicopters.
  • With no Indian casualties and no injuries other than a few shrapnel wounds, Operation Khukri’s resounding success was a testimony to the prowess of the Indian para commandos and the IAF contingent (which flew an impressive 98 sorties over 66:05 hours during the operation).Greeted Indian Army

Shah Rukh Khan to produce film based on Operation Khukri, IAF rescue operation in Africa

Shah Rukh Khan’s home production banner Red Chillies Entertainment churned out two successful films recently in Gauri Shinde’s slice of life drame Dear Zindagi and Rahul Dholakia’s crime drama Raees. Their next project is the biggest in terms of scale and it is based on a remarkable achievement of the Indian Army.

  • Interesting, this little-known mission is being recreated on celluloid by Red Chillies Entertainment (Shah Rukh Khan’s home production banner).
  • A celebration of the unsung heroes of the Indian Armed Forces, the high-budget film will be shot in real locations in Africa and will have real-life armed combat sequence.

All the best for your upcoming exam!

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