On December 16, 1971, Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan after a war fought for nine long months. On this day in 1971, the Indian Army— Bangladesh’s most significant ally across the border, started their active participation in the war by launching Operation Cactus Lilly, air attack against Pakistan at the Western front. It was also codenamed as Meghna Heli Bridge.
Operation Cactus Lily is a testament to the unity of India-Bangladesh amidst tough times and the coming together of two allies that believed in Bangladesh as an independent nation-state.
Mitro Bahini, the joint forces of Mukti Bahini and the Indian armed forces planned to clear the path to the Meghna river as they stormed Dhaka. But Ashuganj town, on the other side of the river, was a stronghold of Pakistan.
India’s Lt Gen Sagat Singh planned to airlift the troops over the Meghna river to Narsingdi— 50 km north-east of Dhaka. For the joint forces to achieve this, the armies would either have to build a bridge overnight or swim across the mighty Meghna river, which at its narrowest point was 4000 yards wide.
Tanks were positioned to ford the Meghna river and airlift the troops without interruption from the brutal Pakistani force camped in Ashuganj. Indian Air Force airlifted all of the 311 brigades to Raipura by the night of December 9.
The first troop to touch the ground in Raipura faced vicious opposition from the Pakistani Army. Still, Bangladesh and India’s forces achieved a decisive tactical advantage as IAF throughout the night ensured the arrival of the troops where they were able to solidify their position. The joined forces from Narsingdi made their way to Dhaka by capturing Daudkandi and Baidder Bazar on December 14-15.
Mitro Bahini, finally captured Dhaka on December 16. The success of the Meghna Heli Bridge showed the prudent planning of Lt Gen Singh culminating in Bangladesh’s independence. Bangladesh’s day of victory needs to be recalled, commemorated and denoted as a day of true allyship.