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May 26, 1999
Air action to continue till lost ground is recovered
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
For the first time in over ten years, the defence authorities early this morning used airplanes and helicopter gunships to target intruders in the Kargil, Batalik and Drass sectors.
Residents of the Jammu and Kashmir summer capital, Srinagar, awoke to the roar of fighter jets and helicopters making sorties to the areas around Kargil. As the air-strikes began this morning, the authorities shut down Srinagar airport for all civilian flights.
Highly placed officials in Srinagar said Jammu airport may also be closed for civilian flights. A defence spokesman in Srinagar said early this morning that the air operation was to "flush out Pakistan-aided infiltrators in Kargil sector, who had entered our side of the Line of Control."
The fighter jets and helicopters made sorties from Srinagar to attack positions occupied by the intruders. However, the number of casualties suffered by the intruders in today's aerial strikes could not known immediately.
Meanwhile, a report from Kargil said intermittent shelling continued from across the border last night. However, no one was reported injured.
The action, the spokesman said, was "forced upon India because "these infiltrators are well-trained mercenaries who have taken positions of advantage on very high ridges which are difficult to neutralise by ground action alone".
He said the army is "closing in to clear the positions engaged by the air force today". He said the aerial strikes will continue till defence forces re-occupy "our territory". He said if the intruders were not contained at this stage, "Pakistan would have been encouraged to extend its operations".
He said in view of the infiltration, the security of "our vital ground line of communication from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil could be under threat".
In Srinagar the news about the aerial strikes spread this morning and residents remained glued to their television sets to know the latest. Srinagar was paralysed in view of a strike called by the traders federation to protest against alleged atrocities by the security forces. Shops remained closed and skeletal traffic plied on the roads. People were seen enquiring about the air-strikes which they fear "may trigger a war".
Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, the chief secretary and the state police chief, who were in Delhi for consultations, are returning to the capital via Jammu in view of the closure of Srinagar airport.
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