Kargil Operations: In a strategic masterstroke, Pakistani troops moved into the unoccupied bunkers in the Kargil-Drass sector betraying an unwritten agreement between the two armies. The idea was simple…hold onto these high points which overlook the NH1A and make it extremely difficult for the Indians to supply Ladakh and Siachen, hence loosening their hold on those regions. Pakistanis had planned to remain discreet as long as they could, but were discovered in early May of 99. Initially the Indian bought into the Pakistani argument that these were just a few freedom fighter and would be cleared out within a week or so. Soon, they realized that the intruders were Army regulars mixed with Pakistan’s special force operators- the SSG. They were also equipped with some heavy hardware like Heavy machine guns…Stinger MANPADS(Man Portable Air Defense System or shoulder fired anti aircraft weapon)…mortars…and had built strong fortifications with well laid out supply lines and supply depots across and within the LOC. Indian Army realized soon that they had a long and deadly fight on their hands.
As the Northern Army Command launched its operations, Special Forces teams were sprinkled across different sectors to aid the regular infantry in its objective. Again the same issue plagued the special forces as they didn’t have their own command and control structure on the lines similar to British SAS or US Delta Force. US delta force got its own SOCOM (Special Ops Command) after the hugely embarrassing and devastating Operation in Iran to rescue American embassy officials. In case of UK, British SAS commander had direct access to the PM. But in case of India, how to use a special force team was a decision left with the Divisional and other local commander who would again make the mistake of using them as regular infantry units.
An important restriction was placed by the Vajpayee govt. of not crossing the LOC. This nullified whatever strategic advantage the special forces could have provided by raiding supply lines or depots across the line of control. A plan was made to hold the strategic point 5118 of Zulu ridge across the LOC, but was shelved due to the order.
Another plan was made to attack the Pakistan Army’s mother base at Gultari…three kilometers inside Indian territory. The objective was to capture surrounding high points overlooking Gultari and then direct the divisional artillery barrage onto the Gultari base. As you all may know, Long range artillery like the Bofors 155 mm gun has a range of 30-35 kms. But, it needs spotters who can pin-point the target’s location which will be used by the artillery commander to figure out the gun’s position, angle of inclination and other parameters which shall lead to greater precision in targeting.
There was a point called Sando Top where Indian Special Forces assault team met head on with the Pakistani SSG (who were heli-dropped earlier) and had to suffer substantial causalities. After some fierce fighting and battling both the enemy and weather (near white out conditions not allowing artillery support) Indian forces managed to root out the Pakistanis one by one from the many sangars (bunkers) . By now (mid July) Pakistanis had started abandoning their positions which did make the task of Indian forces slightly easier. Eventually the Special forces reached the point from where they could see the Gultari mother base. They noticed large Pakistani troop concentration and Pakistani helicopters flying around. While Gen. Musharraf was still claiming that these were freedom fighters and not regular troops.
In Batalik sector, the Desert Scorpions of 10 Para were used by the local commanders for frontal attack on a Pakistani position. Now Commando teams are much smaller than a regular infantry unit and the weapon mix is also different and not suitable for a frontal attack on an enemy sitting at a higher advantageous position. The results were far from satisfactory.
The absence of a distinct command structure similar to the SOCOM (Special Ops Command) of the USA or the UK was felt badly as all three para commando battalion’s lower leadership was left at the disposal of local infantry commanders. Despite all that, all three para commando battalions put their unit’s honor on the line and did their duty in the most effective manner. Apart from engaging in fierce gun fights, they also had to master mountaineering techniques, esp. for casualty evac.
Special Forces proved their mettle once again in the Kargil war, as was expected from them.
– Jai Hind.
Ref. India’s Special Forces by Lt. Gen. P C Katoch and Saikat Datta