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Generals change, not Kargil chorus

New Delhi, June 9: The Congress-led government today said its predecessor took 18 days to accede to a request by the army for air strikes in Kargil in 1999, but added that the “time taken” was “not the reason for higher casualties”.

“After all it was a difficult war fought from a position of disadvantage. The members of our armed forces demonstrated indomitable courage, fighting abilities, evicted the enemy and won the war,” said a suo motu statement placed by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The minister tabled the statement after reports in the media that an internal study by the army had blamed the government for dithering over air strikes. It was said that the dithering had cost the army dear and had taken a toll on its soldiers.

The document dwelt only on the issue of ordering air strikes and not on the question raised by a sacked brigadier — why a height in Kargil (Point 5353) continues to be occupied by Pakistani forces.

It is understood that the carefully-drafted statement was decided upon after a meeting between Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The government does not want to immediately allow questions on the conduct of Operation Vijay — the army’s codename for the 1999 offensive to evict intruders from the heights — to snowball into an issue right now.

The military establishment is also keen not to allow the impression to gain ground that there was a disconnect between the army and the air force. The air force strikes that were finally launched were codenamed Operation Safed Sagar.

Mukherjee’s predecessor and the defence minister in 1999, George Fernandes, and the BJP’s Jaswant Singh immediately interpreted Mukherjee’s statement as a good certificate and patted themselves and Mukherjee.

Mukherjee, himself was loath to use the phrase. “I have only laid the facts on the table as they are,” he said.

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