“Life is too short, sometimes just two inches,” said a congratulatory card that Commando Bharat Singh has returned with from Mumbai. The card and flowers were from another commando, KS Yadav, who faced the raining bullets alongside Singh at the Oberoi hotel.
Death had come as close as two inches — Singh’s earlobe was partly sniped off by a grazing bullet and now stitched back as a memento of his valour. “His wife will not pull his ears now,” joked the officer who commanded the team at the Oberoi.
It was a moment of unbound joy and pride at the headquarters of the National Security Guards (NSG) as nearly 400 commandoes returned victorious from the most challenging anti-terrorist operation since the founding of the elite forces in 1985. Eight men have sustained injuries.
NSG Director General J.K. Dutta said the terrorists knew the hotel very well and always moved in places where it was not easy to be cornered. “They were well trained, and had well-toned physique. They did not make any demands at all during the entire encounter.”
Dutta said the sweep of the hotel did not indicate any stockpiling of ammunition. “They could not have exploded the hotel with the amount of ammunition they had,” he said. NSG officers involved in the operation said the arms and explosives carried by the terrorists did not exceed what a trained person could carry. News reports had speculated that the hotel had a huge stockpile of explosives.
The occasional fires in the Taj Mahal hotel during the siege were a diversionary tactic and the NSG saw through it soon enough, before they went for the final kill on Saturday morning.
The now-familiar visual of a terrorist falling through a broken window was the result of the NSG’s quick adaptation to terrorist tactic. Instead of moving away and calling for fire tenders, commandoes barged into the hall where curtains had been set ablaze. There were two terrorists inside, and both were dead in minutes.
The other two had taken position on a spiral staircase, behind a huge column and were firing at will, said Dutta. “It took a while before they were neutralised. We had to ensure that no civilian was injured by us. And we managed to do that.”