Thursday, 26 May 2011

Kargil-II When Pakistani Intruder Tasted The Might Of IAF


The year 2002 was witness to a full mobilisation by the Indian Army post the high profile terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on 13th Dec 2001. Pakistan Army also mobilised in response. Amidst these tensions the two forces regularly attacked each at the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Most of these firings were minor skirmishes resulting in no loss of life; indeed artillery and small arms fire had been regular occurrence for several years. However, in one event the Indian Air Force (IAF) was called upon to bombard Pakistani troops. The battle leading to eviction of Pakistani intruders was euphemistically called “Kargil-II” in the popular media owing to the outward similarities of the operation to the Kargil War in 1999.

Pakistan Army Intrusion

The incident was covered in some detail by Praveen Swami of the “The Hindu” newspaper. According to Swami, Pakistan occupied four sangarhs (improvised bunkers made of stone) and forward trenches that had been built by Indian troops over the years at Loonda Post which is in the Machhal (or Macchil) Sector. Reportedly unexpected whiteout conditions due to rain and fog provided cover to the Pakistani troops.

The area was the responsibility of a battalion of the Sikh Light Infantry under the 53 Infantry Brigade. The overall command of the LoC in the area fell with the 15 Corps.

Loonda Post has strategic value because it overlooks Kel town in the Neelam Valley on the Pakistani side of the LoC. It is not known how long the Pakistani troops were occupying the feature.

However, the official statement by the Indian government released later denies that Loonda Post was captured by the Pakistan Army:

“It is not factually correct that the Pakistan troops had occupied a strategic post on our side of the Line of Control which necessitated a massive attack by Indian troops & air force on Loonda post in Machal sector. However, in the last week of July 2002, there was minor Pakistan intrusion, approximately 800 meters on our side of the Line of Control in the area of Point 3260, which is 1800 meters East of Loonda post.”

As to why the feature was lost to Pakistani troops;

“Point 3260 is not considered tactically important and viable for physical occupation by our own troops. Being in close proximity of the Line of Control and the area not being physically occupied, Pakistan troops had intruded into this area. However, since the area is regularly patrolled by our own troops, they observed presence of some Pakistan troops in the area of Point 3260 on July 26, 2002”.

The Operation

The intrusion was detected on 26th July when a patrol by Sikh LI was ambushed leading to 3 deaths. Per other reports the intrusion was detected by a UAV. The Indian Army responded with 155 mm fire FH-77B ‘Bofors’ howitzers and mortars on the feature from three sides. Mi-17s flew in special forces. In the counter bombardment from Pakistani artillery 11 Indian soldiers belonging to Sikh LI and attached Ladakh Scouts troops lost their lives. Post the initial clashes the Army raised a request to the IAF for support. The IAF in turn sought prior approval from the Defence Minister.

On 2nd August, a multi ship formation of Mirage-2000s from the 7 Sqn “Battleaxes” went airborne with precision guided munitions on board. Time on Target: 1315 hrs.

As many as 8-12 Mirage-2000s were involved in the mission, which was led by the CO 7 Squadron - Wg Cdr Rajesh Kumar with four arriving on the target. Wg Cdr Kumar dropped the first 1000 pound bomb followed by other aircraft. The air attack was defended against by SAMs.

The Indian Army was able to recapture the post after the attack destroyed Pakistani positions. To recognition of his actions Wg Cdr Rajesh Kumar was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry) in 2003. The CO of the Sikh LI Bn, Colonel V.K. Malhotra was removed from command but was cleared of all charges in the following inquiry.

Pakistan losses added to 28 deaths in the operation.

Battle in Gultari(Pakistani Lies)?

In a press conference on 23rd August 2002, PA public relations officer Major General Rashid Quereshi, known for dishonest statements since the Kargil War, alledged that the IAF had attacked forward Pakistani posts in Gultari area in support of the Indian Army on night of 22nd/23rd. It was claimed that the PA had retaliated in defence leading to death of Indian troops. The Indian Army completely denied the whole affair and furnished that no casualties had occurred in that timeframe. The claim coincided with the visit of a senior American diplomat Richard Armitage to Pakistan, and hence is thought to be fabricated and not related to the Loonda post incident. Possibly the bogey was raised to pre-empt any such plans by the Indian armed forces?

It is not clear as to why there was no such claim from the Pakistani side during the actual battle in Machal. It can be speculated that since it would mean admission of defeat, Pakistani sources did not reveal it. Secondly, the Pakistani claim would have been untenable given the sanctity the marked LoC boundary enjoys since the Kargil War in international circles.

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