The Bold Voice of J&K

Kargil conflict; OP Vijay May-July1999

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Lt Col Krishan Chand (Retd) 

On 3rd May 1999 local troops in the area learnt through the shepherds that there were Pakistani troops on our side of Line of Control (LC). To verify, patrols were sent and one of the patrols led by capt Saurabh Kalia was ambushed, captured alive, tortured and interrogated and the mutilated bodies of the five members of the patrol including that of Capt Kalia were handed over by Pakistan. Local commanders, troops, the Govt and the nation were all alarmed and outraged be the armed intrusion by Pakistan across LC which appeared to be of long standing and well entrenched on heights that were regarded by our forces as uninhabitable in winters. More intriguing and incomprehensible was the fact that the massive intrusion over a period extending upto six months and preparations and build-up for it had escaped the notice of all our external intelligence and early warning systems of all our agencies and ground forces. That Pakistan did it so soon after the Lahore Declaration for peace on 19th February 1999 further added to the outrage and betrayl felt by the govt and people of India. That this declaration helped in lowering our guard can only be a flimsy excuse going by the record of our dealings and relations with Pakistan.
Pakistani intruders now held the heights all along the LC well inside our side spanning Mushko valley, Dras, Kargil and Batalik. While we were trying to figure out what had hit us and the magnitude of the intrusion by all means available, Pakistan opened the innings by shelling and destroying the ammunition dump in Kargil on 10th May 1999. It also began targetting and shelling Dras-Kargil road. It was at this stage that the gravity of the intrusion registered on the army and the govt of India and preparations in earnest began with move of troops to the conflict zone under Pakistan shelling, from and through Kashmir Valley and from and through Ladakh. Soon it got revealed that the troops and resource requirement would be much greater and India prepared for war to evict the intruders with what ever it had and could reach the area. Massive troop, equipment and munition movements began in earnest and soon an overwhelming force was deployed. The critical task of pinpointing enemy positions and targeting them was proving very hard and it was decided to use the Indian Air Force to pinpoint enemy positions and bomb those at heights not getting engaged by artillery guns. In the initial phase itself we lost one Mig 27 bomber flown by Sqn Ldr Ahuja and Mig 21 flown by Flt Lt Nachiketa who was captured on 27th May 1999 and held as prisoner of war by Pakistan. As the enormity of the task registered more and more troops were pushed in and we soon had overwhelming force in the area, but intruders whom Pakistan was claiming to be Kashmiri militants/ Mujahids were showing no signs of withdrawing. An MI 17 was pressed into service to engage the intruders at dominating heights and was shot down. It was now learnt that the intruders had shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles and that our aircrafts and ammunitions were not suitable to acquire and engage targets effectively. The task now indeed appeared daunting.
The nation and its armed forces rose to the occassion and soon our guns, aircrafts and ground troops were raring to go. The airforce bombed huge Pakistan’s logistic dump at ‘Muntho Dhalo’ serving the intruders, and, our guns too targetted and destroyed many ammunion/ supply dumps and troop concentrations across the LC. Soon the airforce also acquired the capability of computer assisted targetting of laser guided bombs that were used to pinpointdly target enemy bunkers on heights including Tololing and Tiger Hill. At this stage we also captured dead bodies and documents of regular Pakistan Army, but, Pakistan stayed in denial mode. The cost to Pakistan now was getting high and it started panicking and mustering Chinese and US support. General Musharraf’s tele conversation with his DGMO was intercepted and broadcast to the world by India. Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharief rushed to US to seek its help to defuse the situation but President Clinton ordered him to withdraw to his side of LC. China too only paid lip service and didn’t interfere physically anywhere. The end game now was in sight of our troops whose morale was high. Our gunners, and particularly the Bofors gun, was proving deadly accurate in engaging intruder positions and giving effective fire support.
On 6th June 1999 our army launched offensive operations in earnest. Capture of formidable height of Tololing on 13 Jun was a major victory. By 29th June Pts 5060 and 5100 (these are peak heights in meters) were captured preparing ground for assault on Tiger Hill-the most dominating and highest Pak held position from which enemy was observing and shelling Dras-kargil Road. On 4th July 1999, in a daring determined 11 hour long toughest and most crucial battle of the war, ‘Tiger Hill’ was captured and Indian Flag hoisted atop the hill. It was undoubtedly the acme of the war effort and hereafter, the full and final defeat of Pakistan in the misadventure was only a matter of time.
Remaining Pakistani intruders holding many heights all along the LC were now assaulted with great speed and daring leading the Prime Minister to proudly declaring victory of ‘OP VIJAY’ to the nation on 14th July 1999. The war was officially declared won and ended by India, however on 26th July 1999 as, some enemy intruders were still found holding on after 14th July 1999.
A committe headed by K Subramaniam was constituted to study all aspects of the operation and identify lapses in intelligence, operational preparedness, organisation etc to learn from the war and remedy the defects and discrepancies The committee, after wide interactions had concluded that despite the intelligence and other failures the troops performed admirably with remarkable courage and that junior officers led from the front taking very high proportion of casualties. The committe critically observed that our defence set-up had not adapted to the country’s needs and changed conditions and was largely following antiquated procedures estabilished by the British. Its report has been implemented only in part by the govt. Its criticial recommendation about restructuring the higher defence set-up, ministry of defences and appointment of Chief of Defence Staff is pending for consesus building among polity and bureaucracy. The report also hasn’t been debated with interest in Parliament and members have shown little interest in it. Bureaucracy too has been cold, as any restructuring is bound to diminish its powers and size.
The war cost India dearly in casualties with 527 dead and 1,363 wounded, nearly all from the army which is understandable as the war was essentially a ground and troop intensive offensive action in very difficult high altitude terrain with enemy troops on suicidal mission. Pakistan, as per our estimates is reported to have suffered 700 dead. Some later assertions made in Pakistan by those critical of the misadventure have put the casualty figure as high as 4,000. India chose a restricted aim of evicting the intrustion and restricting the war to the area of intrusion for which it paid heavy price. Internationally this difficult self-imposed restraint was appreciated mainly for fear of escalation to nuclear exchange.
In conclusion I’d like to share with the readers that our country has a difficult defence environment with running disputes with Pakistan and China who are co-operating in a big way against us. In any war with either of them we’ve to factor in their combined might. Considering our size, economy, long term interests and location we need to have far stronger and modernised defence forces-not in numbers alone, but in lethal punch and reach in all areas of our interest. We need to cut the flab all across starting with Ministry of Defence, further reduce teeth to tail ratio, give our forces the best training and equipment and, indigenise. Modi Govt appears earnest in this respect and some long pending acquisitions are being expedited and make in India for defence too is getting the right attention, but, considering the past neglect it is a long haul. On this Kargil War victory commemoration a fitting tribute to our brave martyrs should be a national resolve to keep our forces and the nation in a high state of preparedness to defend our country’s borders and core interests against all threats.

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