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May 25, 1999
Army prepares for major attack to evict infiltrators
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
The Indian Army is preparing to launch a major offensive to evict the infiltrators in the Drass and Kargil sectors. Army HQ today sent one more brigade of troops to reinforce positions on the Line of Control.
Defence sources in Srinagar said the army is set to mount the operation to flush out the invaders hiding in the mountainous terrain. "The intruders will be encircled and neutralised," they said.
Almost an entire division is preparing for the attack.
The sources admitted that progress in the operation to eliminate the invaders has been slow. "The terrain is very difficult," they explained.
The sources said the troops would first try to cut off the supply lines of the intruders. They said the number of intruders, who are "on a suicidal mission", could be around 300.
So far Indian troops have killed between 70 and 100 of them, losing 17 of their own in the process. Fourteen others, including three officers, have been reported missing. Ninety soldiers have been wounded, 20 of them critically. They are all undergoing treatment in Srinagar.
There was heavy movement of army convoys carrying troops to Kargil and Drass from the Kashmiri capital. From early morning, army and civilian vehicles were seen moving speedily along the Srinagar-Kargil highway ferrying troops, ammunition and rations for the brigade that had moved into the affected sectors this morning.
Earlier, the sources said, just one brigade used to be deployed in summer in the area from Zoji La to Kargil.
The troops are now engaged in constructing bunkers and trenches in the Drass, Kargil, Batalik and Mushko Valley areas.
"It is a war-like situation and no civilian movement is being allowed on the Srinagar-Leh highway. Today I saw hundreds of army and civilian vehicles carrying supplies and troops to Kargil," said Mohammad Shafi, a shopkeeper at Kangan, a village on the highway.
Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, Governor Girish Chandra 'Gary' Saxena, and senior officers of the Jammu & Kashmir government held detailed talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other central leaders today. According to sources, the state government has urged the Centre to use force to evict the intruders from the ridges.
Despite massing of troops near the LoC, heavy artillery duels continue for the third week running. Scores of shells landed on Drass this morning, resulting in the death of one civilian and injuries to two others. The villager was killed when a shell hit a house at Chokiyal near Drass.
After the attack, the villagers began shifting to safer places, a senior police officer said.
Shells also landed in various localities in Kargil, forcing the handful of residents who refuse to leave the deserted town to take shelter in underground bunkers.
The locals are without essential commodities, including food grain and fresh vegetables. The administration, despite claims to the contrary, has made little effort to rush the goods to Kargil, though 10 trucks despatched from the border town are waiting in Srinagar. Privately, state government officials admit the situation in the town is getting worse with each passing day.
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