The calendar had just turned – it was the early hours of January 2. A helicopter with thermal imagers was getting ready to take-off and scan the Pathankot Air Base based on an alert that the high-value military asset was to be targeted by terrorists.
Within a few minutes of being air borne, the thermal imagers beamed down images of four suspects. They were first spotted in the dense jungle at the rear of the Mechanical Transport Area in the 2000-acre compound. Roughly 45 minutes later, the Mi-35 attack helicopter that was flying over the base with thermal sensors would beam back pictures to ground which showed the terrorist had moved just a few meters from their earlier location – to store huts of the Mechanical Transport base.
Gursevak took cover behind a heavy earth-mover along with his buddy even as they made first contact. Gursevak took three bullets, but kept fighting.
Seeing Gursevak down, Sailesh and Katal – the second team – moved in quickly using Israel-made rifles and machine guns to return the terrorists’ fire. Then, Sailesh was hit – more than half a dozen bullets in his lower abdomen. Bleeding profusely, he didn’t abandon his post and, with buddy Katal, kept the operation going for nearly an hour, while they waited for back- up and replenishment.
The terrorists then managed to sneak out of the Mechanical Transport area, but were stopped from reaching the technical area – where they could have damaged the fighter jets and attack helicopters that are crucial for the Air Force.
The operation to eliminate them lasted nearly 80 hours and martyred seven military personnel and injured 20 – including Sailesh.
He was evacuated three hours after being pummelled with bullets to the hospital just outside the base. The 24 year-old from Ambala is now fighting for his life.
“They were moving slowly, to avoid any detection,” a senior IAF official told NDTV.
At about 3 am, 12 Garud Commandos were deployed. Three teams of “buddy” pairs were deployed outside the Mechanical Transport Wing to prevent the suspects from moving. Another three pairs of commandos were asked to launch the attack on the Pakistanis.