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July 15, 1999
Living life dangerously
Mahesh Nair in Kargil
They are the elite corps. They take orders only from the Prime Minister's Office and the army headquarters. When everything else fails the commandos are called. Not only to rescue kidnapped victims as in Srinagar, but also for helping out in dangerous combat assignments as in Operation Vijay.
It was in the second week of April that the crack team of 21st Paratroopers, stationed at Jorhat, Assam, received orders to get ready for the battle of Kargil. On April 20 they reached Srinagar and set up camp at Kupwara for acclimatisation and training. And on June 28 they were at the Kaksar sub-sector. Their mission: help the 4 Jat Regiment capture the strategically important Bajrang Post.
Situated about 22 kilometres from Kargil, the Bajrang Post was the last important strategic post to be conquered. While Tiger Hills and Tololing were more crucial in terms of their support to ground operations, the Bajrang Post's importance was in the good view it provided of movements across the Line of Control.
The terrain of the Bajrang Post is valuable for holding dominant positions. While the 4 Jat Regiment had been fighting a bloody battle inching their way up -- they lost more than 20 men -- it is the steep and almost vertical stretch of forty metres to the top that put the brakes on Indian troops' movement. Anybody climbing the steep 40 metres was a sitting duck for Pakistan snipers.
This is where the 21st Paratroopers stepped in. Split into crack teams of five men and an officer, these commandos are masters at conquering unfriendly terrain. Expert rock climbers, their mission begins in the pitch darkness. Equipped with state-of-the art rock climbing equipment, wearing special night vision glasses, and armed with deadly modified personal arms, the commandos hunt in "buddy pairs."
''Two of us are given a special mission, like identifying the number of Pakistan sentries at the top. Come what may it is the job of our buddy pair to get the result in six hours before dawn breaks," explains one commando.
At the Bajrang Post, buddy pairs of commandos collected information about the number of Pak sentries, filming enemy position, collecting data on the kind of arms the enemy is equipped with, the location of wireless sets etc. The entire operation is conducted in stealth. "Our mission at the Bajrang Post is not to fight; that would only alert the enemy. Our job is to build a strategic database which will help the regular troops to attack," remarks the commando.
Each commando is an expert in physical battle. Since they are an elite corps most of the equipment they have are sourced from some of the best manufacturers in the world. Most importantly, the commandos are specially trained to be psychologically tough. As one of them says, "Battles are first fought in the mind and then physically."
In the whole of Operation Vijay, the 21st Paratroopers has had only one casualty. And that was when one of the men went to a nearby shrine to offer prayers and a shell exploded nearby killing him. As one of his colleagues remarked, "We are used to leading a dangerous life. It's leading an ordinary life that seems more dangerous!"
It is no wonder that the commandos usually have to sacrifice their personal lives. In the Bajrang Post crack team only one is married. Unfortunately he had to report for Operation Vijay a couple of days after his marriage.
Another commando does not even want to contact his parents till the mission is accomplished. "I know if I talk to them I will get emotional. I don't want to do that until this mission is over," he says.
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