New Delhi, Oct. 3: Troops of an Indian Army battalion were “inching” towards their objective after 10 straight days of a firefight with militants on a ridge near the Line of Control in Kashmir’s Kupwara district, an army source in New Delhi claimed.
Unanswered questions dog the operation by the Indian Army. One officer said the nature of the operation can be disclosed only 72 hours after it is over. He will not give a timeline.
The nature of mountain warfare is such that troop movement is dictated by terrain and the advantage of height held by a defending force.
In Kupwara currently, between the Line of Control and India’s “anti-obstacle infiltration fence”, the army is reluctant to give a timeline to evict suspected militants who have established a “fire base” in an abandoned village at about 9,900ft.
The suggestion that this is a mini-Kargil — echoing the hostilities of 1999 in the Himalayan heights — is immediately rejected by senior army officers. But even that year, it took the Indian Army more than 50 days and an intervention by then US President Bill Clinton to clear the heights in Indian territory over a frontage of about 30km. Then defence minister George Fernandes had claimed the evictions would take a mere 48 hours.
Lt Gen. Gurmit Singh, the commander of the Kashmir Valley-based 15 Corps in whose area of responsibility the operations are on, said yesterday in Srinagar he suspected that special troops of the Pakistan Army’s Border Action Team (BAT) were probably supporting the militants.
But a source here in Delhi said the last time Pakistani troops opened fire on Indian positions from a post was on September 26. The militants are said to have occupied the spot on the night of September 24-25. The firing has continued even as the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers met in New York and decided to explore mechanisms for peace on the LoC.
The military operations directorates of India and Pakistan were in contact earlier this week. But official sources would not detail the discussions between the military operations directorates on the current situation in Keran-Kupwara and Pakistan’s response to Indian charges.
A crucial question that is yet to be answered is why was a height of 9,900ft — that potentially could offer a panoramic view of Indian military positions — on the Indian side not occupied by Indian troops.
This does not necessarily mean that the Indian Army vacated the position. It is possible the position was not considered militarily prudent to hold because it is overlooked by a Pakistani post. But there is no such explanation yet from the Indian Army.
The current area of operations, an officer said, is much smaller than Kargil. It is focused on an area that is roughly 700m by 400m.
The officer said electronic surveillance suggested that the militants have replenishment lines to the Pakistani side. The Indian Army can cordon them from only three directions.
A battalion of the Indian Army and militants camping on a mountain ridge have now been locked in a firefight for 10 days in Kashmir’s Kupwara district near the Line of Control.
The Indian Army’s 3/3 Gorkha Rifles battalion is at the forefront of the operation. The army suspects it is facing an adversarial position with between 30-40 militants with Light Machine Guns, rocket launchers and grenades who are probably being supplied munitions and men from Pakistani lines. The army believes that the three-side cordon has checked a deeper infiltration into Indian territory by the militants.