|HOME | NEWS | REPORT|
May 28, 1999
Infiltrators armed with American Stingers
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
After the loss of another aircraft, a Mi-17 helicopter, and four personnel -- a squadron leader, a flight lieutenant, and two gunners whose names are being withheld till their families are informed -- the Indian Air Force prepared to review its tactics to meet the challenge from the well-armed infiltrators in the Kargil sector.
The presence of the American Stinger missiles, always suspected, is worrisome. The heat-seeking missiles were used to devastating effect by the Afghan mujahideen in their decade-long guerrilla war against the Soviet Union.
The IAF said while it has not yet reached the wreckage of the helicopter, early information indicates that the surface-to-air missile fired was a Stinger.
While the IAF has not spelt out what it will do to tackle the new threat, one option is to use flares that distract the missiles from their target, an air force source said.
The IAF is using its entire range of MiGs to test the enemy's firepower, most of which is by now known. Moreover, most of the peaks held by the infiltrators have been identified and mapped, making it easier for the IAF to pick and destroy targets.
The air force has denied reports of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI -- India's most sophisticated fighter -- being pressed into service. "Neither the Sukhois nor the Mirage 2000 have been used so far. And they are unlikely to be used. The IAF is sticking to the MiGs," said one officer.
Air Vice-Marshal S K Malik said the helicopter had crashed 6 to 7 km from the Line of Control, which meant it was shot by the infiltrators.
Stinger missiles have a range of 3 to 4 km. The helicopter was hit at about 1100 IST.
AVM Malik said the IAF is carrying out 40 to 50 sorties a day and further losses cannot be ruled out, since the infiltrators are well equipped.
Major General J J Singh, additional director-general of military operations, said the army has made "critical" gains, with most of the key ridge positions having been captured and lines of supply from the Pakistani side cut off.
He said more than 200 infiltrators, probably as many as 400, had been killed. Earlier, he had said around 600 infiltrators were holding various peaks in Indian territory.
But Maj Gen Singh said that even if only 300 infiltrators are left, it does not make the army's task any easier. "Even if just 10 men are holding on to one peak, they can stop hundreds of soldiers trying to climb, especially if they are properly equipped and trained. These militants are very well equipped and trained, and since we are keen to keep our losses low, regaining the heights will be a time-consuming process."
Meanwhile, it is now learnt that the infiltrators were first noticed as early as January 1999 by the Border Security Force. The BSF came across some of the infiltrators sneaking in and occupying the peaks at the height of winter. The Indian Army usually withdraws from the heights in November when winter sets in and the peaks become snowbound.
The BSF reportedly informed the army as well as the Research and Analysis Wing, the country's external intelligence agency.
But the army dismissed any hint of intelligence failure. "These areas are not occupied by anyone and our surveillance did not indicate any activity. As soon as we saw some activity, we rushed in and stopped them just four to five km across the Line of Control," said Maj Gen Singh.
He added, "In fact, it was our prompt action that prevented the infiltrators from their main target of capturing the heights that overlook the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh road."
A defence ministry source, however, blamed the lack of co-ordination on inter-services rivalry. "There is no love lost between the services, or between the services and the paramilitary, or between them and the intelligence agencies. They probably did not co-ordinate their response properly," he said.
Lieutenant General (retd) V R Raghavan, who was the director-general of military operations, squarely blamed the intelligence agencies. "It is not the army's job to monitor activity across the border. Our job is to safeguard the borders, which is what we are doing now," he said.
The intelligence agencies, however, said they had informed the army, but their information was disregarded.
INFOTECH | TRAVEL |
BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL RESERVATIONS | WORLD CUP 99
EDUCATION | PERSONAL HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | FEEDBACK