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May 20, 1999
Troops rushed to Kashmir to cap Pak attempt
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Extra troops are being rushed to Kashmir to tackle Pakistan's effort at infiltrating mercenaries into the valley and recapture the posts taken over by the Pakistani army and militants.
Three brigades, amounting to around 10,000 men, are being dispatched to the Kargil-Drass Batalik axis area, which lies along the Line of Control that separates Kashmir from Pakistani-occupied Kashmir.
The extra troops are being sent to strengthen the soldiers present along the LoC. Most of the troops present in Jammu and Kashmir have been already deployed, leaving no extra soldiers to strengthen the border posts at Kargil.
About 400 Pakistani troops and militants have crossed the border and captured a few forward posts.
Army officials are confident that the posts would be recaptures shortly and the militants flused out.
The army aims to completely seal off the high mountains and engage the Pakistani troops and militants who have crossed the border and set up reinforced concrete cement bunkers on the Indian side. So far, India has lost eight soldiers. Nineteen have been killed. The unofficial count, however, is higher.
It is also believed that the army has requested the use of Indian air force MI-25 choppers, though army officials denied the report saying that in the high mountains with low visibility, helicopters have limited utility.
Pakistan, for its part, has warned India that it is prepared for any crisis. The Pakistani Radio has been reporting that the "crisis erupted after the residents of Kargil revolted against Indian rule". The radio claimed such "revolts" occurred in the Kargil-Drass area and the Kupwara-Keran sectors.
In what is turning out to be one of the biggest attempts in recent times at infiltration, the Pakistani army has been engaged in helping battle-hardened Afghan mercenaries to infiltrate into India to shore up the declining militancy in the valley. The Indian army said that regular Pakistani army troops may have crossed over. It sees the active involvement of the Pakistani army in the attempt.
The Pakistani troops, they said, crossed the LoC in to capture the Indian posts, which are regularly vacated during the winter months. In fact, it was the early spring that occurred this year that gave away the Pakistani gameplan. A patrol party came across armed men on the Indian side, ringing alarm bells in the army, which then immediately rushed troops to recapture the posts.
Pakistani troops have been shelling Kargil and other villages along the LoC since May 8, forcing most of the villagers to seek safety lower down the mountains and deeper inside Indian territory.
Army officials also said that Pakistan infiltrators had tried to cut off the lines of communication to Leh. However, the attempts were frustrated and the Zoji La route is functional. Similarly, the Batalik sector, operations are on at heights of 15,000 to 17,000 feet to clear the area of all infiltrators.
The army has also denied a news report, which stated that two lieutenant generals had been asked to go on leave for their failure in Kashmir.
Meanwhile, a former senior army officer said there was nothing to worry about, saying shelling across the LoC was a common feature once the snow begins to melt. The aim was to help infiltrators sneak in. Moreover, since most of the traditional passes and routes have been blocked by the Indian troops, the Pakistani army has been forced to find newer routes higher up in the mountains.
The former army officer also said the dispatch of extra troops was not unusual. "Sending more troops to Kashmir should not be misread," he said, adding, "the Northern Command is a big one and troop movements across are a regular feature."
He admitted that Pakistan might be trying to take advantage of the current political turmoil but added that it was really a small matter that the Indian forces could easily handle. "There is no problem. I just think the media is playing it up. In a few days all the infiltrators will be pushed back or captured and this whole episode will be over," he said confidently.
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