One of the highlights of 2015 for the Indian armed forces has been Operation Raahat — a massive evacuation exercise involving brave and highly precise rescue of nearly 4,000 nationals from Yemen where a Saudi-led air campaign against Shia Houthi fighters had left hundreds dead and injured. Captain Milind Mohan Mokashi, commanding the new 2,200-tonne naval offshore patrol vessel INS Sumitra, was the operation’s shining star.
The vessel of Captain Mokashi, who will be awarded the Shaurya Chakra on Saturday, was on an anti-piracy patrol off Somalia when it got, on March 31, the call to initiate Operation Rahat. The captain diverted his ship towards the Aden harbour — patrolled by armed Houthi rebels — amid deadly air-strikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces negotiating a tricky and tense situation to enter the Aden harbour in pitch darkness.
To ensure the safety of the evacuees, including many women and children, Capt Mokashi deployed armed boats as well as Special Forces marine commandos to throw a security blanket around the ship. He also led from the front, positioning himself at the embarkation front, braving heavy firing and shelling, to ensure the safe evacuation of almost 350 people. The officer also ensured his ship remained in the highest state of alert with the weapons manned to counter any eventuality.
In face of active hostility from a few Houthi rebels, he used deterrence and tact to defuse the explosive situation. INS Sumitra, in all, successfully evacuated 1,621 people in five different missions to Aden, Ash Shihr and Al Hodeidah port.