Kargil remembered: Great Indian war machine, illustrious armed forces

It was in the early afternoon of 7 May 1999 when at Nal-Bikaner Airfield, where I had accompanied the Chief for an Operational Mission, that I was rung up by my Director from the Military Operations (MO) Directorate, New Delhi

By Dr. Mohan Bhandari  Published on  26 July 2021 4:30 AM GMT
Kargil remembered: Great Indian war machine, illustrious armed forces

It was in the early afternoon of 7 May 1999 when at Nal-Bikaner Airfield, where I had accompanied the Chief for an Operational Mission, that I was rung up by my Director from the Military Operations (MO) Directorate, New Delhi that no sooner we land at the Palam Technical Area, I should bring the Chief straight to the MO Operations Room. Immediately I informed the Chief, & at about 7 PM when we arrived at the MO Directorate, the DGMO broke the news of intrusion by a couple of Black Dangree men & sighting of some Radio antennas sticking out of rocks opposite our defences near Banju & Kukarthang in Yaldor Sub-Sector of Kargil.

Later, this beginning of intrusions in all Sub-Sectors of Kargil confirmed a well planned, executed & well-conceived military operation masterminded by Musharraf himself. As things became clearer, a total of fourteen Pakistani Army Regular Units were involved in this misadventure. In addition, Pakistan Air Force, 35 Pakistani Artillery Fire Units along with a huge number of sophisticated weapons & allied equipment were used by Pakistan which included 130 mm Guns, Missiles, Passive Night Vision devices, Snow Scooters, etc.

The IB, & RA&W had miserably failed to get any wind of this audacious Pakistani misadventure. During the first Cabinet Committee of Policy Affairs on Security Meeting (CCPA) held at the MO Operations Room, Mr. Dave the then Director of IB had the moral courage to confess to the Prime Minister that he had failed. A cool Vajpayee was magnanimous, in that, he said, I Quote, "Jo Hona Tha Ho Gaya, and Ab Aap Age Ki Sudh Lejiye". Although he did not say anything, he looked visibly upset over 'Stabbing in his back'- by Pakistan, just after he had made the historic Bus Yatra to Lahore. Soon it was all quiet in the MO Operations Room, & no sooner meeting finished, I & my team got going right earnestly to get the latest inputs & start making operational plans. Before that, I had flown to Kargil three times & was briefed at Corps & Divisional Headquarters.

Pakistan, no doubt, had been able to carry out the initial intrusion by troops located in Frontier Corps Northern Army (FCNA), thereby entailing minimum move of troops from outside the sector prior to commissioning this misadventure. Acclimatized troops of the Northern Light Infantry were used. To confuse Indian Army that the intrusion had been conducted by Mujahedeen, Pakistani Signal Communications were manned by some militants who spoke in chaste Balti, Pushto, Sheena or Dardi & some other dialects to confuse Indian Army & they did succeed initially!

On reaching his office, Prime Minister Vajpayee spoke to Mian Saheb, who expressed his total ignorance about the intrusion. Nawaz Sharif still maintains that he was not briefed by Musharraf about Operation Badar. It came to be known later that only Musharraf, his Chief of General Staff, Commander FCNA & Maj General Tauriq Zia the Pak DGMO knew about this Operation. Amazingly, even the Pakistani Air Force Chief & Pakistani Naval Chief were not kept in the loop. Even today, they are second-rate Chiefs. It is Punjabi Musalman dominated Army that rules Pakistan.

Soon, our intelligence agencies intercepted a telephonic conversation between Musharraf (who had conveniently gone to China & his Chief of General Staff located at Rawalpindi discussing Operation Badr in Kargil. As a result, Pakistani bluff was over & the whole world came to know that it was Pakistan Regular Army inside Indian Territory with intrusions varying in depth from 3 to 9 KMs in heights varying from 12,000 FT to 18,000 FT - spread over a front of more than 120 Kilometers.

During another CCPA Meeting, a considered decision was taken at MO Operations Room that the Indian Army will not cross the Line of Control. Vajpayee gave a nod. This principled Indian stand was appreciated the world over. Our response now was very swift, focused & hard-hitting.

The Pakistan Regular Army's assessed presence inside Indian territory at Yaldor was from 300-350; in Drass it was 200-230; in Kaksar it was about 100 & in Mashkoh Valley, it was from 150-210. The total strength that had intruded inside thus varied from 900 to 950. Prime Minister was briefed that the priorities for clearing the intrusions would be, first, in Drass, thereafter in Batalik, Kaksar & Mashkoh Sub-Sectors in this order.

Pakistan Army's Aim was, firstly, to draw the Indian Army's Reserve from Valley to facilitate Proxy War, secondly, to cut Road Zoji La-Leh, thirdly, to carry out propaganda & psychological exploitation &, fourthly, to draw the world attention to Kashmir Imbroglio.

After the 'go ahead' by Vajpayee was given, massive mobilization involving the movement of a large number of Infantry, Artillery, Engineers & Services Units started taking place. It was a real challenge to undertake offensive operations in super high-altitude areas. However, deployment of troops in the Counter Insurgency grid proved to be a boon as battle-hardened troops were available who switched roles in record time. The importance of multidirectional & multi-point attacks once again came to the fore with their inherent advantages of surprise, flexibility & division of enemy resources & attention.

The utility of multidirectional attacks was proved in spectacular successes at Pt 5140, Tololing, Tiger Hill, Point 4875, and Stangba & Khalubar Ranges. Indian Army used their superior combat skills & caused a large number of casualties on the enemy. The Junior Leadership displayed by our dynamic & young Officers, JCOs & NCOs was exemplary. Op VIJAY's success can largely be attributed to the grit, determination & courage of our men & Junior Leaders. Steady nerves & the capability to take bold decisions by higher commanders at all levels added the right ingredient in the recipe of success. Artillery played a significant role in the success of Operations.

The role played by Air Force was singular. Targeting enemy bunkers from heights of 23000 Ft & above was a testimony to their training & flying expertise. This also included the destruction of enemy targets by Laser-Guided Bombs. The total annihilation of one of their major Administrative & Logistic Base at Muntho Dhalo resulted in crippling the enemy's fighting potential. MIG-21, MIG-23, MIG-27, MIG-29, MIRAGE 2000, JAGUAR Squadrons & MI-17 Helicopters did wonders. Army Aviation flew hundreds of sorties taking great risks.

Administration & Logistics was a big challenge. In spite of all odds, troops never looked back. The Supply Chain Management was of an exemplary degree & in copybook style. The evacuation of casualties was swift & extremely well coordinated.

Unlike a professional army, Pakistani troops ran away leaving behind 249 dead & many wounded. Indian Army looked after the wounded Prisoners of War & buried the dead as per military norms & as per religious rites. Pakistan Army accepted only five dead bodies including the dead body of Captain Karnal Sher of 12 NLI Battalion killed atop Tiger Hill. The total enemy killed were 872 including 65 Officers & 76 SSG Personnel & over 1100 Wounded. We lost 25 Officers, 18 JCOs & 438 Other Ranks besides 950 Wounded.

The success during Op VIJAY is also attributed to the effective & constructive role played by Media-both Print & Electronic. The media literally acted as a Force Multiplier.

Clinton had given a boot each to crying Mian Saheb & Musharraf on 4 July at Washington. On 9 Jul, Nawaz Sharif was conveyed a message by PMO to send his DGMO at Wagha Border for talks with our DGMO on 11 July 1999. I accompanied our DGMO. And whom do I see - A disheveled Maj Gen Tauriq Zia, Pak DGMO fumbling for words! Incidentally, we both were part of the Seventh Round of Siachen Talks at New Delhi in 1998.

What was Operation VIJAY? A War- a Classical Limited War- An Armed Conflict or what? Amazingly, while both Armies were fighting bitterly, full diplomatic relations continued to be maintained. For Pakistan, it was yet another disaster after 47-48 J & K War, 1965 & 1971 Wars - Fourth in the series. This Pakistani defeat generated dissension between the Pakistan government, antagonist sections of the population & various terrorists' outfits, who were averse to the withdrawal dictated by the 'Indian Military Might'.


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