Ladakh and Kargil Operations
Maj Gen SP Malhotra, General Officer Commanding 3 Infantry Division, was operationally responsible for the defence of Ladakh and Kargil tehsil of Leh district. He faced two hostile neighbours, China and Pakistan. The area of responsibility so far as Pakistan was concerned extended along the erstwhile ceasefire line from Biegdangdo in the Shyok river valley to north of Zojila. The routes of ingress from Pakistan follow the valley opposite our Partapur sector, comprising the Karakoram and Ladakh mountain ranges, the Indus and the Yamo Laru ridge and the Shingo river valley.
The land is extremely broken and rugged. It is cut by deep, narrow gorges and ravines. Because the river valleys are narrow, the gradients are steep. Vegetation is confined to the river banks in summer. Rainfall is negligible, and the climate is dry and very cold. The temperature at the heights where operations were conducted was as low as minus 25° Centigrade.
The temperature at the heights where operations were conducted was as low as minus 25° Centigrade.
Our military base in the north was located in the Nubera valley, which came to be known as the Partapur sector. This sector was connected with Leh by a precipitous and indifferent pony track across Khardungla. The Partapur garrison, which consisted of about four companies of Ladakh Scouts, was maintained by airlift up to Thoise. A jeep track ran along the Shyok river from Thoise to within a few miles of Biegdangdo village.
Pakistan encountered similar difficulties. Its forward posts close to the ceasefire line near Biegdangdo were connected with the military base at Skardu by about 135 kilometres of indifferent jeepable road up to Turtok and from there by foot or animal transport. The constraints of hazardous and lengthy lowclassification communications forbade either side from launching a major thrust into the area. The terrain is among the most difficult in the world. Steep, rocky mountainous features ranging in height from 18,000 to 23,000 feet span the area on either side of the Nubera valley. A small force could hold up a frontal offensive as any local outflanking move would require a major mountaineering effort and hence could be possible only on a limited scale.
The constraints of hazardous and lengthy lowclassification communications forbade either side from launching a major thrust into the area. The terrain is among the most difficult in the world.
The main Srinagar-Leh highway, the lifeline of the troops employed in Ladakh, ran through Kargil. This road passed through Zojila, which was snowbound about seven months a year. The open season from May to October was fully utilised by military traffic. But this highway ran close to the Pakistan picquet line and was overlooked from Point 13620 and the Black Rock complex immediately north of the plateau area.
Movement in the Harka Bahadur Bridge area, near the confiuence of the Shingo and Sura rivers, was also dominated by the Barchla Pass and the neighbouring posts of the Gangam area. It was therefore imperative that the contingency plan should ensure our securing such territory as would deny domination of the Srinagar-Leh highway by the enemy by fire and observation.
The Pakistani-occupied territory opposite the Kargil sector is served mainly by a Class 5 fairweather road from Gilgit via Skardu to Gangam, a distance of 200 and 85 miles respectively. This ruled out any significant threat to the area from the Pakistan side, but the better communications in the sector gave greater offensive potential to the Indian side. The Shingo loops into Indian territory, entering from the Gultari side west of Gangam near Dalunang, and flows back into Pakistani-occupied Kashmir at Gangam. The area between the Indus and the Shingo where it enters Indian territory is accessible from the Gangam track, while the area west of the Shingo is supported from Gultari, which in turn is connected to Minimarg by a tortuous jeep track. The approach from Gultari is by animal transport over 48 miles of difficult country and could thus support only marginal forces. Terrainwise the going is less difficult than in the Partapur sector and again, as elsewhere, major outflanking movements are restricted.