The Siachen Glacier

Operation Cactus

The central location of the island nation of the Maldives in the western Indian Ocean, appeared to provide an ideal staging post for illicit arms shipments to the PLOTE (People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam) in Sri Lanka. It was a difficult period for them, as the LTTE (Liberation Tamil Tigers Eelam) was beginning to dominate the local scene in Eelam and were militarily much stronger. PLOTE's plan was to capture the islands and conduct their campaign from there. Taking a cue from previous mercenary-led coups in the Indian Ocean, two trawlers landed about 150 PLOTE mercenaries on the island at 0415 hours on 3 November 1988. Using rockets and grenades, the mercenaries quickly overpowered the Maldivian Militia and attacked the President’s residence. A 'panicked' Maldivian Government sent out calls asking for assistance. The Government of India were the first to respond.

The Indian Cabinet approved the dispatch of forces at 1530 hrs on November 3rd. Within 6 hours of cabinet approval, 50 Ind. Para Bde. launched the Maldives operation, codenamed Operation Cactus. The first pair of Indian Air Force IL-76MDs taking off from Agra embarked elements of 6 Para Bn. and 17 Para Field Regiment (the regiment's heavy weapons unit). The lead aircraft carried the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, who then was in New Delhi and Brigadier F.F.C. Bulsara, the Bde. Cdr. The first troops touched down at the airport in Hulule, an island 3 kms from Male - the capital, after a non-stop 4 hour flight. The paratroopers made an uncontested landing and the island was secured within 30 minutes.

Two platoons from 6 Para then commandeered local boats to cross into Male. By 0230 hours on November 4th, President Gayoom had been located and escorted to safety. November 4th also saw the arrival of more Indian forces. A fleet of An-12s, An-32s and IL-76s brought in the remainder of 10 Para Cdo. and 6 Para Bn. A pair of IAF Mirage 2000s, were also deployed to the island in a show of force. Later that day Mi-8s flew 10 Para Cdo. to the outlying island to search for any mercenaries. Shortly thereafter a vessel was seen fleeing Male and it was discovered that mercenaries were on board with hostages, including the Maldivian Minister of Education. Cdr. of the 17 Para Fd. Regt. rushed its heavy machine guns and rocket launchers to the southern tip of the island and fired on the ship. Though the 17 Para Fd. Regt. scored hits, the ship escaped only to be boarded by the Indian Navy the following day.

The ship was detected by an IL-38 May maritime recon aircraft, from the Indian Navy, and was then tracked by an Tu-142M Bear-F, another maritime recon aircraft of the Indian Navy, until 2 Indian Naval vessels, the INS Tir and INS Godavari were able to capture the absconding ship. Two Sea King Mk.42 choppers, from the one of the naval vessels, dropped depth charges to deter evasion. On the morning of 6 November 1988, the Indian Marine Strike Force (now known as the Marine Commando Force - MARCOS) commandos boarded the vessel and took control without any resistance from the mercenaries. Operation Cactus was concluded without any casualties to India, except for an Indian soldier who shot himself in the foot. The 6 Para Bn. was to remain in Maldives for exactly one year after the coup attempt.