The Indian Army should set the record straight on several unrecognised military operations.
India hasn’t stopped its euphoric celebration of the brilliant trans-Line of Control (LoC) tactical raids by the Special Forces on 29 September 2016, popularly known as ‘surgical strikes’— and now made into a film titled Uri.
But there are scores of such equally daring operations that have remained unsung and lost in files. It is only fair that the Indian Army officially acknowledges all such operations and gives the soldiers/veterans due recognition and enable the nation to celebrate their valour.
Let me highlight two such unsung events. Executed in a span of two years by one brigade on and across the LoC, these were not carried out in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and the Kargil wars, but during the ‘no war, no peace’ scenario that prevails along the LoC.
Strike one: Karubar Bowl
Five months after the Kargil War, I had taken over the Batalik-Yaldor-Chorbatla Sector most of which had been occupied for the first time since 1947. LoC was marked on a small scale map with a thick pen after the Shimla Agreement. There was ample scope for securing tactical features on and across the LoC. There were four such features in my area, and one of them also offered an opportunity to do a “reverse Kargil” on a small scale. Let me describe this operation – I have mentioned it in one of my earlier columns – as it took place on 7/8 April 2000.
At 1500 hours at Takpochand, a small Indian Army post on the Ladakh Range in the Chorbat La Sector, feverish activity began to take place. The altitude was 5,400 metres and a blizzard was blowing. The visibility was barely 20 metres. The soldiers were busy erecting a boom on top of the cliff overlooking a glacier 100 metres below. Fifteen minutes later, a task force of 60 soldiers led by a young Captain was descending on to the glacier to begin a two-kilometre approach march to capture Point 5310 (in military parlance ‘Point’ refers to significant heights marked on a map with a ‘period’). At 1430 hours, as the Brigade Commander, I had given the ‘thumbs up’ for launch of the operation for which planning and training had been going on for two and a half month
The operation was to be launched after last light, but the commander of the task force wanted to take advantage of the foul weather to gain time as he had to capture Pt 5310 before first light on 8 April. The movement over the glacier was extremely slow. It took one hour to traverse 100 metres.
Apart from the omnipresent danger of avalanches, there were a number of crevasses with unfathomable depth which had to be bridged with aluminum ladders. Eight such crevasses had to be crossed. The soldiers were ‘roped’ in small groups for safety. The temperature was minus 20 degrees Celsius. After every hour, the soldiers would huddle around a kerosene stove under a canvass sheet to warm themselves up. It was a struggle of human endeavour against nature in its extreme form. Naib Subedar Satnam Singh, the second in command of the task force, fell into a crevasse and was killed in action.
Fortune favours the brave—Point 5310 was not held by the enemy. History was made and it was secured at 0700 hours, 8 April 2000. The same evening, it was announced by the BBC radio Urdu service on that the Indian Army had captured a feature across the LoC in the Chorbat La Sector. Yes, Point 5310 was a dominating feature in the Karubar Bowl (a nullah is known as a ‘bar’ in this area and a ‘bowl’ is the military term for a small valley), two kilometres across the LoC. The LoC around the ‘bowl’, which is six kilometres wide, is U-shaped with the base towards our side. Point 5310 was two kilometres from the base and thus effectively controlled an area of 12 square kilometres, which was now permanently a part of India.
Strike two: Summer of 2000
In the summer of 2000, my brigade secured three more disputed features on/across the LoC in in the Yaldor Sector but the territorial gains were marginal. In 2001, we planned for another major operation.
Insurgency was at its peak. As per South Asia Terrorism Portal, 1956, 2645, 2215, and 1964 terrorists were killed in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 respectively, at the cost of 1,700 soldiers killed in action.
General Rustom K. Nanavatty, GOC in C Northern Command for most of this period, planned and coordinated relentless counter-terrorist operations that broke the back of the insurgency and turned the tide.
In addition, trans-LoC operations and fire assaults were being launched by both sides. In 2001, the situation was very grim. To end the impasse, the Indian Army decided to launch a Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)-centric limited war.
Political sanction was obtained and the scheduled D-Day was in first week of October. The likely political aim was to force compellence on Pakistan to stop the proxy war. The military aim was to permanently alter the status of the LoC by 5-10 kilometres in selected areas all along the entire front—from Turtuk to Jaurian. Twenty-five to 30 Pakistani posts were to be captured from a ‘cold start’ by the troops deployed along the LoC, the integral reserves of Northern Command of one division and four brigades and one division of Army Headquarters reserve.
Most of the troops were already in J&K. And so, preparations began in May 2001.
There were two such posts in my sector. Detailed reconnaissance was carried out. The objectives were shown to the attacking troops. Heavy weapons including old artillery and air defence guns were lugged up to our post for direct firing. The planning and preparations were perfect in all respects. Each post was to be attacked with one battalion supported by the fire of 100 artillery guns.
The timing—first week of October—was perfect. After mid-November, operations in high altitude and the Valley become severely restricted due to extreme cold and snow. The enemy was left with only a small window for quid pro quo operations.
To maintain surprise, no large-scale mobilisation was planned in the plains and subsequent plans were contingent upon the escalatory dynamics after the launch of the J&K-centric operations. Alas, 9/11 changed the regional strategic situation, with Pakistan becoming the base for planned American war in Afghanistan. Due to the changed circumstances, the planned operations were called off.
The aim of writing this piece is to remind the nation that while we must celebrate the “surgical strikes”, we must not forget the hundreds of soldiers whose valour and achievement remain unsung and uncelebrated due the prevailing policy. It is time the Indian Army formally sets the record straight.
Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal.