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May 30, 1999
Army, IAF batter Pakistan intruders for fifth day
Air strikes and artillery attacks continue to inflict attrition on the Pakistan infiltrators who are being driven back as more occupied terrain in the icy heights of the Kargil sector come under the control of the Indian armed forces.
Air Vice Marshal S K Malik, additional assistant chief of air staff (operations), said air attacks resumed on Sunday morning despite 24 hours of bad weather. Several missions were launched.
Asked to react to the defence minister's reported statement in Kargil that the air strikes had been called off, AVM Malik said weapons had not been used on Saturday, but recces which are part of the overall operations were carried out. However, air attacks were once again launched this morning on the positions held by the intruders.
''In view of the intelligence reports regarding troop movement along the Western borders, we are continuously monitoring the developments on the international border with Pakistan. Suitable precautionary measures have been instituted to ensure that our forces are maintained at a high state of operational alert,'' Major General J J Singh, additional director general of military operations, said.
In gallant combat on the ground in the Batalik sector, the intruders were evicted from a post on Saturday. The troops, commanded by Major M Sarvanan of 1 Bihar, got behind their position and attacked. The major died in the fighting after killing four of the infiltrators, Major General Singh told journalists in Delhi this morning.
He said the post had about 15 to 20 intruders; at least six of them were killed in the fighting.
With the troops closing in on the hideouts of the Pakistan infiltrators, more hand to hand combat is expected in the days to come.
General Singh denied reports from Islamabad quoting the Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist group as saying it had control over parts of the Srinagar-Kargil highway. Indian troops, he said, had total control of the highway and were using it regularly. It is, however, closed to civilian traffic for security reasons.
He said there was no truth in the reports that the infiltrators were moving east towards Ladakh. ''There is no question of that happening. All their intrusions have been contained. They have been pushed back in all sectors,'' the general said.
Meanwhile, Srinagar airport reopened for commercial flights after five days. An Indian Airlines Airbus from Delhi landed at the airport much to the relief of thousands of foreign and Indian tourists who have been stranded in the state capital.
AVM Malik said the operations were limited to within the Indian side of the Line of Control.
Since the terrain where the infiltrators are holed up is very difficult and the air force was not resorting to interdicting the targets, he said the results of the operations will be in phases.
While the IAF may resort to carpet bombing of the targets, the AVM said it would not use any weapons that would endanger the safety of Indian troops. IAF pilots had reported that Stinger missiles are still being fired against their aircraft.
General Singh said two officers were among the 28 Indian soldiers killed in action since May 8. Two other officers are missing.
He said the intruders were now finding it very difficult to hold out at some places where they had been isolated. The army has deployed suitable reserves in various locations for contingency tasks. ''The situation is firmly under the control of the armed forces. We will regain all the positions in a phased manner,'' he said, admitting that in some positions the infiltrators could still be getting supplies from Pakistan.
Some positions which offer more resistance will be dealt with appropriately, he said.
The general said whoever had infiltrated had to have acclimatisation as they were at heights of 14,000 to 18,000 feet. It would not be possible to operate without acclimatisation, he added.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister George Fernandes and army chief General Ved Prakash Malik, who flew to Srinagar on Saturday for an assessment of the situation, flew to Kargil this morning. Sources said the duo were briefed about the successes achieved in the ongoing air strikes against the Pakistani infiltrators.
Soon after their arrival in Srinagar yesterday, they visited the base hospital at Badami Bagh cantonment to meet soldiers injured in the fighting.
The duo later visited the Corps headquarters where he was given a detailed briefing about the ongoing operations in the Batalik, Drass, Kargil and Mushko Valley areas. They later reviewed the situation at Kargil with senior army officers. Present at the meeting was the GOC-in-C, Northern Command, Lieutenant General H M Khanna, and Corps Commander Lieutenant General Krishan Pal.
Mukhtar Ahmed, UNI
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