By Lt Col Manoj K Channan
A glorious death is his Who for his country falls” – Homer in his “Iliad’ in 1000 B.C.
Operation Vijay was undertaken in the month of May – July 1999, to evict the Pakistani intruders from the oxygen starved heights dominating the Srinagar – Kargil – Leh highway.
The late Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had hopped on to a bus to visit Pakistan with a hope that this will usher in an era of peace and tranquillity between the two countries which had been divided by the British in 1947.
Mr Nawaz Sharif too had laid out the red carpet and the visit was reportedly a roaring success.
While this was making headlines across world capitals, in the Operations room at the GHQ Gen Pervez Musharaff was planning an offensive to surreptitiously occupy dominating heights, in a bid to threaten the Kashmir valley and seek glory as a revenge of 1971, when Pakistan lost the war and the country was dismembered and Bangladesh was created.
On the Indian side, the winters had set in and high-altitude posts had been vacated and the surveillance was being carried out by Army Aviation and the long range patrols of the Indian Army.
The Pakistan Army regulars and trained Mujaheddin had infiltrated into the Indian Territory and occupied the heights. It was later revealed that Gen Pervez Musharaff too had landed in a helicopter to carry out a reconnaissance.
The local Gurjars, the animal herders who had come down from the mountain ranges where they spent most of the summers grazing the cattle on the hillside, reported to HQ 121 (I) Infantry Brigade the presence of the intruders.
Capt Saurabh Kalia, the first to report Pakistani incursion in Kargil in 1999, was taken captive by the Pakistani troops and a few weeks later his mutilated body was handed over to Indian authorities.
The flow of information was scanty and the intelligence negligible, concerted air reconnaissance revealed that the intruders had occupied dominating heights and covered all approaches by observation and fire.
The Indian Army was given a political directive that the line of control will not be crossed and therefore it limited the options of the attacking troops to go in for frontal assaults.
The task was difficult but not impossible. Units which were deinducting from Siachin Glacier and others were quickly mobilised to reach their firm bases so that the eviction of the enemy could be undertaken.
The then Indian Army Chief General VP Malik who was away on a tour to a friendly foreign country flew back and immediately reached HQ 3 Infantry Division to get a firsthand account of the situation.
While it may not be feasible to write a detailed account for each unit / subunit that acquitted itself so well, I will however try and highlight the challenges that were encountered and overcome by thinking out of the box.
The initial approach from the firm base to the objective was a steep climb over 12-14 hours under the cover of darkness. The hill side was devoid of vegetation and the enemy could easily monitor the approaches. Carrying full battle loads in those oxygen starved heights, no source of water, the troops survived by scraping off ice and snow to replenish their water bottles.
Young officers led from the front each committed to ensure victory and keeping the ethos of Naam, Namak and Nishaan foremost in their minds. The Commanding Officers and their Brigade Commanders were there with the troops; where feasible the Army Chief too would reach the troops to boost their morale and ensure that victory was achieved at all costs.
Operation Vijay saw the ingenious use of artillery in its direct firing role of the 155 mm Bofors gun on to the targets at the peaks. Fire planning and its devastating affect were visible on the enemy whose morale was badly affected as they were now under the observation of the Indian Army and Air Force.
The Indian Air Force initiated Operation Safed Sagar and in the process lost aircrafts and helicopters by the effective use of the Stinger Fire and Forget missiles.
The Indian Air Force used laser guided weapons, which were hastily procured and overnight, fitted on dumb bombs to make them PGMs.
This was the first TV war brought into the living rooms of the people in their homes in the hinterland; it also allowed the Pakistan Army to revisit their defensive battle. This was quickly corrected by the Army HQ.
The intruders at Kargil were evicted at a heavy cost of 527 Killed in Action, enemy killed was between 357 and 453. The Pakistan Army did not take back their dead; the Indian Army buried the remains of the dead with full military honours.
Each year the Nation remembers those killed in action, the heroic deeds of the living. It is also a time to reflect upon our short comings and what we need to focus on. To quote Gen Satish Nambiar who stated this in an article published by The Week with a headline “Junior Army men were outstanding in Kargil, Generals floundered”.
“No other Army in the world would have displayed the determination, grit, spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty that our youngsters did. Success in evicting the Pakistani intruders in the Kargil Sector was achieved through great feats of bravery and commitment, aided in no small measure, by the performance of our gunners using the much-maligned Bofors, and by our young “air warriors”.
It is unlikely that in the foreseeable future, we will secure such a victory again. However, in the evolution of operational strategies, and proposed execution of operational plans, it is imperative that we factor in capacities that enable us to pre-empt our potential adversaries if we can, and/or respond to an aggression in such a manner as to make him/them recoil, and seek termination of hostilities on our terms.
My plea to our colleagues in uniform is do not put our youngsters through another Kargil-like operation. By more effective use of political, diplomatic and military options, make sure that, unlike in Kargil, they are given at least an even chance in their efforts at dealing with the adversary.”Unquote.
The youth of India has always chosen to serve in the Indian Armed Forces, the current recruitment policy and its implications are fearsome, will the Indian Armed Forces be able to deliver when called upon in the near future remains a nightmare for most who have served with honour.
To sum up, the Indian Armed Forces need to be prepared for the next challenge, as the nature of warfare is hybrid, there are no frontlines and use of Cyber offensive operations is likely to inflict more damage and impose a economic cost thus negating the combat potential of the adversary.
With a prayer on our lips for those who serve, May God keep them safe from harm’s way, JAI HIND.
(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Served in Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. He tweets @manojchannan. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).