Military & Aerospace

Kargil: A Ringside View
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Issue Vol 21.4 Oct-Dec2006 | Date : 24 Jul , 2013

From the deployment assessed by us and the degree of  enemy’s interference on the national highway, it was evident that the Drass sector had to be given a higher priority over Mushkoh, and consequently the complete effort was diverted towards Drass while Mushkoh was planned to be adequately contained. A quick analysis of the task revealed that the sanctity of the LoC had to be restored at the earliest and most certainly well before the onset of winter to give us time to sufficiently stock and prepare ourselves for the same. Had the operations continued till the winters, the enemy would have consolidated his gains and perhaps made it extremely difficult for us to evict him in the next campaigning season.

These were the gallant men who had laid down their lives for their motherland but in return were not even accepted by their country and were denied the honour of being given the last rites by their nation.

There was also a lot of talk about  our failure to isolate the enemy defences. In the Drass sector the  terrain did not favour  this without penetrating gaps in enemy’s  defences or by crossing the LoC; the former was not tactically feasible and the latter  not permitted. Since isolation was not possible, I decided to give the task to the battalions to physically assault the localities where the enemy was dominating the highway. In the Mushkoh Valley, I decided to contain the ingress, and where tactically feasible, to go behind the enemy and cut off his lines of maintenance.

My battalions, artillery regiments alongwith the balance of the Div started their build-up after getting relieved by the RR units in the valley. I utilised the time between 1 Jun when we had assumed operational responsibility of this sector till 12 Jun for reorientation of the battalions from the counter-insurgency grid to conventional operations, acclimatization of troops to the second level  for extreme high altitude operations  and building up the logistics, in particular artillery ammunition. 2 Rajputana  Rifles (Raj Rif) the earliest to arrive were put through the paces and were given the task of capturing Tololing. This feature was the deepest penetration made by the enemy in the Drass sector and proved very costly.

18 Grenadiers, who were in contact since three weeks had already lost two officers, two JCO’s and nine OR in their effort to capture the objective.  The plan of 2 Raj Rif was to address the objective from two directions, with 18 Grenadiers  to act as reserve. 18 Garhwal Rifles was to concentrate North of Tololing and launch a diversionary attack from that direction. By this time and using the period till commencement of the attack on Tololing, we had perfected the employment of the Bofor guns in the direct firing role. The effect of the firing was devastating and most encouraging for our troops. Hereafter, we used this technique to our advantage and with great success in all our attacks. The attack on Tololing was critical for many reasons. Most importantly, nearly a month had passed without any success and there was a palpable degradation of morale within the Army and the country.

A success, therefore, was of utmost importance. 2 Raj Rif began their attack at 2100h on 12 June amidst a great deal of expectation and hope and preceded by  one of the heaviest artillery support of 18 fire units. Sitting in the Operations Room of 56 Mtn Bde, I was able to monitor the progress of the attack and keep myself abreast of the situation. By midnight the attacking sub units had met with some success but it was only by early morning of 13 June that the battalion was able to secure the objective after repulsing a number of counter attacks. The enemy had suffered 20 dead of which nine of the bodies were  recovered and buried. The remaining bodies could be seen lying in the nala, thrown down by their withdrawing comrades. The battalion suffered ten killed including one officer and 25 other ranks injured. It was a spectacular operation conducted in complete conformity with tactical teachings. Adequate time had been given to 2 Raj Rif for carrying out recce  of the objective and orientate themselves to conventional operations. The plan evolved was sound with a high degree of success.

Tactically by not crossing the LoC we closed our options of conflict termination in an earlier timeframe and perhaps lost the opportunity to take a large number of prisoners who would have got entrapped by our encirclement.

The CO was a highly motivated professional who had moulded his battalion into a fine and competent outfit. The capture of Tololing was the turning point of the Kargil War and thence onwards we had the enemy on the run. With our victory on Tololing, the battle of the ridges commenced as we successfully went “ridge hopping” to restore the sanctity of the LoC and the honour and pride of the army and the country. Every battalion was launched with effective fire support of artillery, combat engineers, fully backed by communications and logistics. All without exception met with success in   accomplishing their task.

A number of issues keep getting raised on the operations in Kargil, some of the one’s meriting consideration will be discussed in this article. Enough has been written and debated on why the intrusions took place and why was the army not aware of this development. Military intelligence has limited depth in picking up information and much is left to other intelligence agencies for acquisition of information. During the operations air photos were supplied to us by Research and Analysis Wing but there was a total mismatch in the interpretation of  the air photos  with the maps mainly due to difference in the scales with the result we could not with accuracy locate the information available on the photos.

Intelligence was a total failure.

There was no worthwhile information coming our way and we were totally dependent on the troops in contact. Another contentious issue was whether it was correct to politically lay down stringent restrictions of not crossing the LoC. While we may have earned some brownie points, but strategically and tactically we lost more than we gained. By accepting, under international pressure to restrict operations to our side of the LoC, we have wily-nily  given de facto recognition of the LoC as the international border. Statements made by political leaders that there will be no redrawing of borders merely reinforces this hypothesis.

By the time the cease-fire came we had the enemy on the run,  but by accepting it we offered them the easy route to withdraw to their country.

Tactically by not crossing the LoC we closed our options of conflict termination in an earlier timeframe and perhaps lost the opportunity to take a large number of prisoners who would have got entrapped by our encirclement. As a result we had to go through a slogging match to recover territory and evict the enemy from dominating heights, thus prolonging the operations and suffering avoidable casualties.  Linked to this is our accepting the cease-fire when we were in a commanding position. By the time the cease-fire came we had the enemy on the run,  but by accepting it we offered them the easy route to withdraw to their country.

As expected the enemy did not respect the terms of the cease-fire and planted anti-personnel mines along their route  of withdrawal; a route along which we had to move to clear the area upto the LoC. We suffered a large number of casualties, which reflects on the unsoldierly qualities of the Pak Army. The employment of air has been under active discussion at frequent intervals. Employment of air per se  was a morale raising factor for our troops and conversely it had an adverse effect on the enemy. But its effectiveness was questionable. Like us, the pilots were not acclimatized to fight in this type of terrain and did not have the right ordnance to deliver on the target. When they did use the laser guided bombs, their effectiveness improved marginally , but not enough to have an impact on our ground operations or the enemy.

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A number of issues have also been raised by Gen Musharaf in his book “In the Line of Fire” which need to be contested. The General has mentioned that we had inducted more than four divisions who were pitched against his five battalions of Pak. Our 3 Inf Div was responsible for the complete Ladakh sector. 8 Mtn Div which was operating in the valley was the only additional formation inducted to restore the situation in Drass sector. 3 Inf Div, however, continued to look after the Kargil, Batalik , Turtok and  Siachen sectors. Every commander needs to retain balance on ground and the induction of 8 Mtn Div was a tactical necessity and a correct decision as events later proved.

Certainly some additional artillery was moved into Ladakh, but in no way were the offensive formations made redundant by denuding them of fire support. On the Pak side besides the four battalions which were identified in the Drass-Muskoh sectors; an equal number were operating against 3 Inf Div. Information fed to Gen Musharaf needs to be verified by him as evidently there are large gaps in his statements and the ground situation. The book also mentions India’s intentions of preparing for an attack since 1998 and that Pak’s Kargil operations were merely defensive in nature  and in response to our preparation for an offensive. If such was the case we would not have been surprised by the intrusions and would have been adequately prepared to respond to Pak’s military designs.

Except initially at no stage did the Pak Army have the upper hand against us. Militarily they were defeated with heavy casualties and our capture of Tiger Hill on 5 July, 1998 was the last nail in their coffin which forced them to accept a cease-fire. The chapter on Kargil does not stand the test of events  as they unfolded and ended on an adverse note for Pak.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Mohinder Puri

former GOC, 8 Mtn Div.

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