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The Rediff Special/Brigadier (retd) Sudhir Arora
Create a fear psychosis that the only way out is through surrender
The effect of the Kargil terrain on troops and equipment
On an average the Line of Control runs at a height of 5000 metres and above (16,000 to 18,000 feet). In the area of Drass the mountain ranges rise up to 20,000 feet and above.
This makes the area the second coldest region of the world. In this region the Line of Control runs along a series of heights approximately 150 to 200 kilometres long.
The actual Line of Control runs from Jammu to NJ 9842 and from there the 110 kilometre-long Actual Ground Position Line runs along Saltroo Ridge overlooking Siachin Glacier which is located north-east of the Kargil sector.
The region has five important areas: Mashkoh valley, Drass, Kaskar, Kargil-Batalik and Chorhbat. These are lower heights ranging from 2700 metres (Kargil) to 4812 metres (Batalik).
The main road NH 1-A (approximately 500 kilometres) links Srinagar to Leh and is a vital link of strategic importance. It takes two days for a convoy to cover this distance provided the weather is good. The road is open only from June to October.
During winters, it has 15-20 feet of snow, which has to be cleared every year. Apart from this there have to be constant repairs to keep the road fit for traffic.
This road, a masterpiece of engineering, was conceived by Norbu, a very enterprising and brilliant engineer from Ladakh, and has been in use from 1956 onwards. For winter stocking of Ladakh and Siachin this road is of vital importance.
Ladakh is also linked from Manali, and this highway remains snow-bound for seven-eight months of the year. Srinagar valley sector ends at Zojila Pass, from where the road runs parallel to the LoC, at some places as close as 12 kilometres.
Thus by encroaching anywhere in the Drass-Kaskar-Kargil-Batalik region Pakistanis can dominate, interdict or even render the highway in a state of disuse. On the Pakistan side, at Gultari, there is a short take off and landing ground.
From Gultari to Drass, two sets of roads run to the LoC. If the infiltrators can link these roads it endangers our positions on the LoC.
Another road runs from Skardu (Pakistan brigade HQ) to Olthingthang and from there to Kargil. The plan of the infiltrators in Drass and Kargil region was to cut off the road link, destruction of ammunition dumps, mining the road and forcing Shia Muslims out of this region.
After achieving success, operations would be launched via Turtuk towards Siachen, a thorn in Pakistan's flesh.
Effects of Terrain
Troops: Troops have to be acclimatised for fighting here in three stages of almost three to four weeks. The terrain is very harsh and the weather extremely cold. Dehydration and a temptation to eat snow, can cause pulnomary odema and unless the casualty is evacuated immediately, cases are always fatal.
Faulty boots and clothing often lead to frost bites; amputation is then the only answer. Climbing these heights is extremely tough. It saps stamina, which reduces the load-carrying capacity of the troops.
Casualty evacuation is almost impossible since at least eight to ten persons will be required to evacuate one casualty. Due to lack of oxygen, hallucinations, disorientation and insomnia are common ailments. In Siachin troops operate at 20,000 feet and above and it is extremely hazardous for health.
Equipment: Due to the rarified atmosphere, artillery shells achieve more range. The big rocks and boulders in this region make it easy for the defenders to make bunkers. The shells and bombs of the air force hardly have any effect unless it is a direct hit.
The artillery has to fire at a high angle, reducing its accuracy. The planes can fly in only one direction and with their high speeds firing cannot be accurate. Only attack helicopters can be of great success. Small arms and machine guns tend to fire high. Napalm will be most effective.
Anyone who plans and attacks first has a great advantage. Given time, they can dig in, make bunkers and occupy them. Even one well-trained soldier in a bunker can hold up to 3000 troops and cause huge casualties.
Removal of these infiltrators is thus a difficult, tough and time-consuming task. The ideal strategy is to cut off their routes of escape, destroy their bases and create a fear psychosis that the only way out is through surrender.
In the same region in 1948, the Indian Army used light tanks to chase out the infiltrators and force them to surrender.
This time with the use of air force, heavy artillery and good infantry tactics the folly of the Pakistanis will be fully exposed as in 1965, where massive infiltration in all of Kashmir failed miserably and Operation Gibraltar became a fiasco.
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