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June 30, 1999
Infantryman puts Indian toll in Batalik at 600Chindu Sreedharan in Kargil
Let's call him Soldier X.
Some 48 hours ago, he returned from a forward post in Batalik sector. A post that gave an unobstructed view of the Indian Army operations against intruders holding a ridgeline -- it has been sanitised now -- a few kilometers away.
''It is open terrain there. No cover, no trees, no shrubs, nothing but rocks,'' he says, ''you can see miles around.''
The soldier, who belongs to central India, was at the post for two months. In other words, an observer right from day one of the operations. He has now finished his stint at the border and is off to more pleasant climes.
''There were a few Pakistani posts opposite us. Our assignment was to engage them and prevent them from supporting the intruders,'' he details, ''We were firing at them all day and night.''
Still there was plenty of opportunity for Soldier X to watch his colleagues trying to take the ridgeline (one of the four that the intruders occupied in Batalik), see them shooting and being shot at, killing and being killed. He could also see clearly artillery shells from both sides bursting all around.
''How many does the army say have been killed in Balalik? 78? That's not true. We have lost much more than that,'' he claims.
The soldier's estimate of the casualties is pretty steep -- around 600 dead -- but may not be necessarily accurate. And he has more controversial information: nine Indian troops, including an officer, were captured by the intruders. The official version, however, is that no one has been taken by the enemy.
''Most of the snow in the area has melted. Now it's only rocks with snow at the top,'' Soldier X continues. ''It's hot in the day there, but the nights are cold.''
He blames the high casualty figures on the terrain more than bullets. The area of operation provides very few opportunities for medical evacuation. The injured have to be carried down, out of firing range, before helicopters can take them out.
''You can't walk at those heights (over 4,500 meters) without panting,'' he explains, 'T'he stretcher party has a very tough job. They can only come in the night. They have to carry the wounded down very narrow paths -- Just about wide for one person -- in darkness. It can take two to six hours before they reach them to the helipad.
''It's a tough battle. We will clear the area. But it will take time and we'll lose more men,'' he says, winding up a conversation that the army brass actively discourages and calls sarcastically 'a worm's view'. ''In my opinion declaring war would be a better option than fighting like this.'' And with that Soldier X gets up. Reminds us our promise not to identify him and walks off.
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