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Army chief in border stocktaking

New Delhi, Aug. 18: Army chief General .C. Vij is reviewing deployment of troops and taking stock of fences being put up in “vulnerable stretches” along the Line of Control in Kashmir, defence sources said today.

General Vij is visiting forward posts during a five-day trip that began on Saturday. “He will assess the overall security situation both in Jammu and in the Kashmir Valley,” the sources said.

The army chief will meet commanders and units in forward areas to take stock of the counter-infiltration posture as the army prepares for a turnover of units in some areas along the LoC before winter sets in.

Much of his visit would focus on the Poonch-Rajouri area in Jammu and in south Kashmir where moderate to heavy shelling has been reported intermittently.

The visit comes amid indications that the army will launch the next phase of Operation Sarp Vinash.

Yesterday, the defence ministry denied a report circulated by the official Pakistani news agency from Islamabad that said India had mobilised a large number of forces in Dras to prepare for a military operation. Defence ministry sources said this was untrue and that movement of troops in Dras at this time of the year was “normal”.

Dras is a brigade headquarter. During the 1999 Kargil war, intensive air, artillery and infantry warfare broke out in its area of responsibility as the army evicted heights occupied by Pakistani regulars and irregulars.

Since that war, Indian and Pakistani military presence in the area have multiplied. The army has entrusted its responsibility to a new formation (the 14 Corps) based in Leh.

Before 1999, both Indian and Pakistani units used to reduce troop presence on the heights because of harsh winters. Since the war, however, India maintains an increased presence.

In August and, more so in September, there is a turnaround of troops that temporarily increases military presence in the region. This is usually a defensive manoeuvre.

Despite the war, however, there is at least one crucial height in this sector (Point 5353) that continues to be with a regular Pakistani unit.

Defence sources would not give details of the army chief’s tour but said taking stock of the work on the fence was high on his agenda.

A series of fences — not entirely contiguous because of the topography — is being put up eight to ten km inside Indian territory from the LoC. Pakistani gunfire has often been directed against the fence sought to be put up along a stretch of the international boundary in Jammu that Pakistan disputes.

The sources said 223 km of barbed wire fence would be in the Jammu region and the rest in the Valley. The first phase of the work is slated to be completed by the middle of next year.

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