New Delhi: Indian authorities are likely to review the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and rules of engagement being followed by its soldiers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the wake of repeated violence by the Chinese, including the deadly clash Monday evening that led to the death of at least 20 soldiers and injuries to several others.
Sources in the defence and security establishments told ThePrint the exercise will include the review of the practice of not carrying firearms at the LAC.
“The sheer violence and barbarity being displayed by the Chinese troops is shocking and goes against every agreement signed between India and China. In wake of this, the SOPs and rules of engagement are being looked into,” a source said.
Sources said if a patrol team is not carrying firearms, it can be overwhelmed by a larger strength of soldiers from the other side.
During the Monday clashes, the Chinese used iron rods, stones and sticks with barbed wires and nails on them to attack a group of Indian soldiers led by 16 Bihar Commanding Officer (CO) Colonel Santosh Babu.
As reported by ThePrint Tuesday, many soldiers fell down from a narrow slope, where the engagement was happening, into the icy cold waters of the confluence of Shyok and Galwan rivers near Patrol Point 14.
The soldiers, some of whom were pushed down in the clash and some who slipped, fell into the waters and were hit by the rocks in them.
Since the rescue happened only on Tuesday morning, many had died due to hypothermia.
According to the 1996 agreement, “neither side shall open fire or conduct blast operations within 2 km of the Line of Actual Control”.
This, the sources said, led to the time-tested practice in which soldiers never brandished weapons at each other.
“The pushing and jostling have happened in the past as well. Pelting of stones by the Chinese has been seen in recent years. But use of clubs with barbed wires and nails is shocking and will not be tolerated,” another source said.
What transpired Monday evening
Sources said the “violent face-off” was over a tent the Chinese had set up at Patrol Point 14 at the mouth of the Galwan Valley last week, which was not dismantled according to the decisions taken during the meeting held Monday between Colonel Santosh and his Chinese counterpart.
Sources said following the meeting that ended in the afternoon, Colonel Santosh along with a small group of officers and personnel went again up to the Patrol Point 14 area in the evening to see whether the Chinese had fulfilled the commitments made.
Seeing the tent still present, the CO asked his men to remove the tent. A small group of Chinese soldiers then came forward and indulged in a verbal spat.
Sources said this slowly turned into pushing and shoving. While the Chinese were outnumbered initially, a larger group of Chinese soldiers came to the spot armed with iron rods, stones and even sticks with nails and barbed wires on them.
The Chinese attacked the Indian soldiers and the CO was hurt in the initial stages only as he was in the front.
The Indian soldiers were on a slope, below which was the confluence of the Galwan and Shyok rivers.
Seeing the fight, more Indian troops also came in but by then the Chinese troops also swelled. Many fell down into the cold waters below after being hit, while several others slipped.
“The water did not have much depth and the soldiers fell on the rocks in the water and injured themselves too. Because it was dark, many could not be rescued immediately and many deaths have happened due to injuries while falling down and hypothermia,” sources said.
No official word on Chinese casualties yet
Sources said such was the confusion that stones being pelted by both sides hit soldiers of their own too, who were ahead and involved in the direct clash.
The body of Colonel Santosh was recovered from the water below, sources said.
The Army while announcing the death of the three soldiers Tuesday morning had said there were casualties on both sides.
However, there has been no official word yet from either India or China on the exact number of Chinese casualties.