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May 30, 1999
15,000 troops moved to Kargil sector
Chindu Sreedharan in Srinagar
Some 15,000 Indian troops are on their way to areas along the breached Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir's Drass-Kargil-Batalik region.
Army sources said a whole division, posted in central India, is being moved there. It is expected to take up positions "within a few days."
This would take the troop-presence in the area to over 27,000 men. Just over a week earlier, three brigades -- about 9,000 personnel -- had moved in to reinforce the single brigade that had been present there.
"The main task of the fresh troops will be to plug the vast unguarded stretches on the border from the Gurais sector all the way to Leh," the sources told Rediff On The NeT. They added that additional artillery -- including Bofors guns, the most powerful gun that India has -- has already been moved in.
The latest troop movement follows fresh intrusions in the Leh district, between Turtuk and Charbatla. Lieutenant General H M Khanna, GoC-in-C, Northern Command, said on Saturday that Pakistani troops were, even as war raged on in Batalik and Drass, pushing in near Charbatla, and it was quite possible that it would try to open fresh attacks in other "unheld areas"
All along, the Indian army had maintained that the intrusion was only in areas along the LoC that were not held by either Pakistan or India, and that no forward posts have been lost.
From the Gurais sector to Leh, there is about 200 km of the LoC, which have very few Indian pickets. The area has very few Indian pickets and was, till the trouble erupted, defended by just one brigade -- about 3,500 personnel.
The stretch, characterised by inhospitable terrain comprising hills and small glaciers, was not considered of tactical importance by the Indian army. Unlike the well-guarded border from the Tangdar sector to Gurais, which the army defends with several rings of personnel, the affected region had huge gaps on the LoC.
The enormity of these gaps and the looseness of defence can be understood when you consider that while there is one entire division -- and this was one with six brigades instead of the usual three or four -- in the 150-odd-km border between Tangdar and Gurais, the Drass-Kargil-Batalik area merited just one brigade.
In fact, it was these gaps that made Pakistan choose the area for their attack, army officers point out.
The troop movement has also to be considered in the light of the army's claim that there are only 500 to 600 intruders in the entire Batalik-Drass area. This figure, placed against the lack of success that the army has achieved till now ("no change in the ground situation"), looks conservative. In Drass, for instance, an army officer told Rediff On The NeT that all his fire -- and there was plenty of it -- was not directed across the border but at the intruders, who were ''well placed and of good strength."
The army's estimate that there were "another 500 to 600 people" coming in, too, seems pretty toned down. This view, sources reveal, is supported by intelligence agencies that reported not 600 but about "2,000 more men" on the other side waiting to cross over.
Meanwhile, here is the latest casualty figure on the Indian side: 28 killed and 137 injured, 12 missing including three officers. Of the injured, 25 per cent are in serious condition. Of the missing 12, four, including an officer, are reported dead -- their bodies can be seen on the snow, but has not yet been retrieved due to heavy firing from the intruders.
Most of the injured, mostly soldiers, are being treated in the base hospital, Srinagar. Some have been admitted in Leh while others have been taken to Udhampur. The army, as of now, is not letting the media meet these men.
Meanwhile, army officials repeated that the conflict in Batalik-Drass may be a long one.
"We are not talking about hours or days, but months," they said, "The ground troops will advance (further) only after artillery and air-strikes have weakened the enemy considerably. We don't want excessive casualties."
Incidentally, the reopening of the Srinagar airport seems to be more due to pressure from Delhi than an improvement in the ground situation or a pause in air-strikes. The airport had been closed down mainly for air management -- so that fighter planes need not vie with commercial flights for air space.
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