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May 29, 1999
Intruders Pak soldiers, not militants: General
Chindu Sreedharan in Srinagar
After maintaining for 20 days that the infiltrators in the Kargil-Drass-Batalik area were "militants supported by the Pakistani army", the army on Saturday revealed that they were regular Pakistani troops.
"They are not what has been termed as militants so far," said Lieutenant General H M Khanna, GoC-in-C, Northern Command, in a belligerent press briefing in Srinagar, "This is the Pakistani regular army, aided and supported by highly trained and highly paid mercenaries from Afghanistan of Taliban."
The troops, it appears, belong to Pakistan's Fourth Northern Light Infantry, which is positioned on the other side of the border in the area.
He said the situation in Kargil and Drass was 'near-warlike'. When pressed to clarify, he admitted, "In Kargil-Drass, it is war."
The presence of Pakistani troops would, thus, mean that part of the Line of Control in the area has been pushed into Indian territory.
"We are fighting regular troops," the general said, "We will not use kid gloves."
He also revealed that there have been some intrusions in Leh district, between Chorbatla and Turtuk.
To date, the army had been making guarded press statements claiming that the intruders were mercenaries, though it did not ''rule out the possibility that there may be some Pak regulars in the group".
In fact, Lieutenant General Krishan Pal, GoC-in-C, 15 Corps, had gone on record stating so.
The army also changed its figures about the number of intruders. From the claim of 350 men it had published in the middle of the week, it has now gone up to "500 to 600 personnel with another 500 to 600 on their way".
The conclusion, Lieutenant General Khanna said, was based on evidence -- Friday morning the army had recovered a backpack, which contained the "identity card of a soldier whose body they have dragged away".
The soldier, he said, belonged to the Fourth Northern Light Infantry.
"They are occupying positions in the heights and therefore enjoying the advantages that automatically accrue to a defender in the mountains," he added, "The lower heights have been cleared and they are with us. A fire-fight is continuing for the higher heights."
The foreign troops were sitting at heights of 5000-plus feet.
How far have the Indian troops progressed?
"In Drass we are firing at each other (directly). We are so close. But he is on the higher side, which he has secured," the general said.
He admitted, though reluctantly, that at one point of time the Pakistan troops had advanced very near to the Srinagar-Leh road. "But they have been pushed back now," he said. "We are in complete control of the highway."
Pakistan's intention, he added later, may have been to dominate the highway.
The Srinagar-Leh route is of great military importance as it is this that reaches supplies to the troops in Siachen glacier.
The army would dislodge them 'slowly but surely', the general assured. "It will take time. We are not prepared to have excessive casualties. We will pay the price that is required. Nothing more. And we will make the enemy pay the price for his miscalculation. We will give him a chance to die for his country."
''So far we are not able to totally stop their supply lines. However, we were able to dislodge them from lower heights and the process to clear them from upper heights will continue.''
The general had, at the beginning of his statement, termed the advance as 'a calculated miscalculation'.
Completely in tune with the earlier defence statements, the general asserted that all infiltration was in 'unheld areas' and that no regular Indian posts have been taken.
''Our forces, with the active support of air strikes, were able to dislodge intruders from some positions in the 'unheld areas','' he said. ''Efforts are on to send troops to the 'unheld areas' in other sectors all along the border to avoid a similar situation.''
He said Pakistan had succeeded in making gains initially as they might have planned to capture 'unheld' areas some time back.
''We acted very swiftly and stopped the march of intruders and now we will get stronger in the area to get these 'unheld' areas vacated.
Questioned about the chances of the exchanges on the border turning into full-fledged war, he first said that it would not happen. However, he did not rule out the possibility when pressed, saying that it was not the army's intention.
"We will try and restrict this to the area of Kargil-Drass. If something happens to escalate it or go to other areas, I will not hesitate."
The general had termed the intrusion as part of the ''qualitative upgradation of the proxy war that has been going on for the past 10 to 12 years''.
''We have accepted this challenge,'' he said. ''We are ready to face any eventuality if forced to,'' he said.
Asked how effective the air strikes have been, the general said, "They are a help. They are effective."
How long would these continue? "As long as we require," was the answer.
Questions about how Pakistani troops managed to advance so far without detection and whether it wasn't a failure of the intelligence network received no direct answer.
"This was an unexpected development. We never expected the regular troops to come in. While he was talking peace he was preparing for war," said the general, who repeated the earlier army statement that the advance followed long planning and extensive training, "While he (Pakistan) was talking peace, he was preparing for war."
Wasn't it also a failure of the army's surveillance?
"They came in through a place which was snow-bound. These areas are not being held (by either side) in winter -- in fact, these areas are not being held even in summer. This is a sense of agreement between both sides that this is not the best place to have a fight. They have decided to have a fight, so we will give it to them."
The general said his troops haven't yet succeeded in completely cutting of the supply lines to the Pakistani troops.
Talking about the weaponry of the 'intruders' in connection with the downed India aircraft, he said that they didn't have anti-artillery guns. "What they have got is automatic guns equivalent to light machine guns and missiles."
Lieutenant General Krishan Pal was also present at the briefing.
In New Delhi, sources said the army now has 'definite evidence' of Pakistani army regulars' presence in the ranks of infiltrators.
Radio intercepts during the last three days also clearly proved that the infiltrators were regular soldiers. They speak mainly Punjabi and Pushto.
The sources said the infiltration was quite different this time.
The infiltrators were equipped with weapons like Stinger missiles. They had been sent with the intention to entrench themselves on the Indian side of the Line of Control to facilitate further intrusions during the summer.
But the army has taken action not to allow any further intrusions.
Through this action, the Pakistan army wanted to ''degrade the capabilities of the Indian Army further by keeping alive the low-intensity conventional war''.
Pakistan wanted to internationalise the Kashmir issue through such actions.
Defence sources said radio messages have been intercepted in the Kashmir valley with the militants asking the Pakistani army either to stop the movement of the Indian Army or make it more difficult.
It had taken the infiltrators 25 to 30 days to occupy the positions in the Drass, Kargil and Batalik areas along the LoC. They have intruded only five kilometres into Indian territory.
Major General J J Singh, additional director general of military operations, said the joint operations by the army and the IAF in the Batalik and Drass sub-sectors had made significant gains and a large number of infiltrators had been evicted from a number of positions they have been occupying since May 8.
Pakistan was trying to infiltrate more people through the other sectors. ''Pakistan army regulars and special security group men were in big numbers among the infiltrators.''
General Singh said yesterday that three attempts had been made to capture a forward post in the Rajouri sector but it had been effectively repulsed and the intruders had suffered heavy casualties. The attempts were made in the Hamirpur, Gambhir and Katal areas.
He said the infiltrators at many places in the Kargil sector were holding out with very meagre support. In some positions they had no artillery support nor ammunition with them.
Air Commodore Subash Bhojwani, director of air operations (offensive), said shoulder-fired American Stinger missiles were being used by the infiltrators. Most of them were missing the targets, he added.
Asked whether the civilian population had fled from the Kargil sector, General Singh said they kept moving to safer places and coming back to their homes.
Normally the army vacates positions in the Drass, Kargil and Batalik areas during the winter but this time these positions were not vacated as Pakistan had indulged in heavy and intermittent shelling in October last.
Sources admitted that the Indian side failed to perceive the Pakistani intentions this time.
The sources said that the Drass, Kargil and Batalik areas were populated predominantly by Shias and Buddhists. As a result, the infiltrators did not get any local support and this made their task difficult.
The sources said it was not the army intelligence alone that is responsible for detecting such activities from across the border. There are several other agencies like Research and Analysis Wing, the Intelligence Bureau and the local police who also perform such functions.
In another development, Defence Minister George Fernandes, accompanied by Chief of Army Staff, General V P Malik left today for Jammu and Kashmir. He willl visit the injured at the army hospital in Srinagar and meet commanders currently engaged in the Kargil operations.
Tomorrow, before returning to New Delhi, the defence minister will also go to Kargil, Drass and Batalik.
This is his first visit to the region after the air strikes began on Wednesday.
Additional reportage: UNI
Air strikes on; Pak beefs up forces
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