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June 1, 1999
Mi-17 chopper proves IAF's hero
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
The Indian Air Force has pressed its Mirage-2000 fighter-interceptors into operation in the Kargil sector.
But IAF spokesman Group Captain Raja Ram said the planes are being used only for reconnaissance missions.
IAF sources added that the fighter-interceptors are being used to jam the enemy's radio communications network. The Mirage-2000 carries sophisticated electronic equipment, which is used for both surveillance and to disrupt enemy communications.
Though the fighters are equipped to carry out strikes even at night, they have so far not been used for that purpose.
The Mirage can also be used as escort aircraft, though it has not been used in that role either.
But in the narrow confines of the mountains, the IAF jets have proved to be of limited utility. It is the Mi-17 helicopter that has emerged as the hero.
The Mi-17, which is of Russian make and not very sophisticated, is capable of carrying great loads and has performed amazingly well in the difficult conditions.
"The fact is that despite a huge numbers of sorties carried out with the Mi-17, so far we have only lost one and that too due to unfortunate circumstances," said the sources. "But the amount of destruction the helicopters have carried out among the enemy is fantastic. It is the helicopter more than the sophisticated MiG-21 and MiG-27 jets that has demoralised the intruders."
To give an example, air operations against the intruders began on May 26. By May 28, the Mi-17s had pounded the intruders' positions in the Tololing area and north of Tololing, in the Batalik sector. It was on May 28 at 1100 IST that one Mi-17 helicopter was shot down. Nevertheless, by the evening of May 28, the army had captured the key posts of Tololing and the areas to the north, all within a span of three daytime operations.
The IAF has now nicknamed the Mi-17 'Heroes of Tololing'.
The air force is still concentrating on the Batalik sector where the positions held by the intruders run close to the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway. The effort is bearing fruit, with the army declaring that it has won a key position.
"Our operations are really decided by the army that tells us which area to attack," said an IAF officer.
This does not mean the jets are not being used. In the Jubar area, also in the Batalik sector, it was the jets that inflicted the maximum damage, allowing the army to capture a key position. "The kind of aircraft depends on the terrain," said the sources.
The IAF is still not using bombs, depending primarily on rockets and gunfire. Also, the suggestion to use cluster bombs or napalm has been more or less ruled out.
"Bombing operations run the risk of inflicting damage on our troops also, who are in positions close to the enemy, engaging them in artillery fire," said the IAF officer. "It is a self-imposed restriction so that our losses are kept to the minimum."
Further, he said, napalm would be of little use in the high, barren mountain regions. "Napalm is effective in the jungles and flat lands," he said.
Meanwhile, the army has denied Pakistani reports that its artillery gunners bombed a school across the Line of Control. Reports from Islamabad said an artillery shell had struck a school, killing 10 children.
"We are firing artillery shells only on the military positions of the Pakistanis," said Brigadier Mohan Bhandari. "We have never targeted civilian areas, unlike the Pakistanis."
He added that the artillery gunners only fired in response to the Pakistani shelling from across the LoC.
He said the army is now concentrating on Kargil and Drass since it has achieved success in the Batalik area.
The army has put its casualties at 46 killed and 174 wounded, besides 12 missing. Another officer, Major Adhikari, was killed in action yesterday.
Regarding the enemy casualties, there seems to be some confusion now. Defence Minister George Fernandes said that so far 500 had been killed. Earlier, the army claimed that there were about 600 intruders, which must mean only 100 or so are left.
But the army now says the intruders have been reinforced with men and arms from some of the routes that have still not been cut off. The spokesman gave no figures for the number of intruders still in India. He only said operations would continue till they are all repelled.
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