By the third week of May 1999 Indian agencies had realized the scale of intrusions in Dras, Kargil and Batalik sectors. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) now met to decide on future course of action. CCS is comprised of Prime Minister, Home,Foreign,Finance and Defense Ministers and their Joint Secretaries, NSA and the three service chiefs. This committee provides both the political arm and military arm of our government to make decisions after taking into account each other’s perspectives and constraints.
One thing was clear. Both the Military and political leadership wanted the intruders to be thrown out of Indian territory. Political leadership though put a rather binding constraint on both the Army and Air force of this country to not cross the LOC. If the air and land forces of India were allowed to cross the LOC, they could have cut off the intruder’s supply lines and would have forced a quicker end to the war.
The Build Up- On Land, Air and Sea
Despite all the constraints, Indian armed forces began their operations. Now, the plan was not only to fight the war in Kargil, but also to exert pressure on Pakistan on the international border and even in the seas. Indian Army, Air Force and Navy, all the services operationlized their war plans. The idea was to ensure Pakistanis are not allowed to focus only on Kargil, but also feel pressure across all the fronts.
Indian Navy started moving select assets from Eastern Command to the Arabian sea. Destroyers were deployed on patrolling duty along side Gujarat’s western coast. Pakistanis got scared and started providing Naval escorts to their oil tankers steaming into Karachi. At one time, Indian Naval activity was so aggressive that Army chief had to write to the Navy chief to bring it down a notch.
Air Force also started to identify and arm helicopter like the Mi-17 with rocket pods, machine guns and SAM countermeasures. IAF’s designated attack choppers like the Mi-25 or Mi-35 were incapable of operating with full weapons load at the altitudes where the Pakistani bunkers were situated.
Locked and loaded Mi-17 with rocket pods.
Army’s Northern command took over the Kargil operations. Most of the army formation in Kashmir was indulged in counter-insurgency, fighting the terrorists. They were removed from that role and were assigned to the relevant sectors. More units were sent in from the hinterland to provide the necessary reserves for offensive operations.
Apart from Kargil, Army’s Strike corps (1, 2, 21 Corps etc.) were asked to move out some of their elements onto forward deployment along the International border and the LOC, in order to exert pressure on the Pakistani military. Army’s holding or pivot formations (defensive units) (10, 11, 12 corps etc) were instructed in a similar fashion. All Army formations have already existing and practiced, order of battles and they know when/where/how they are supposed to react when the need arises. Indian Army’s organizational gears started moving….ammunition from depots located in south and central india, food stocks, fuel stocks, transport assets, armor…all started moving towards the Pakistan border all along the western front. There were around 450 special trains to facilitate this logistical requirement.
All the Army commands were instructed to be ready for offensive or defensive operations within a week’s notice, in case the war spills out of Kashmir.
Once the assigned army units were in place, the operations to dislodge intruder began after careful assessment of enemy’s location and capabilities.
From late May to mid of June, situation was desperate for the Indians. There was slow and costly progress. No clear victories over the enemy. Air force had lost three assets and many good men. Army had lost a lot more…even senior commanders who staked their lives for regimental honor and pride.
Pakistanis were able to direct very accurate artillery on Indian positions and other target of interests like ammo dumps and convoys. It was next to impossible to move during the day time. Most of the operations were conducted once darkness had fallen.
Indians also felt the need for a gun locating radar, badly.
Gun locating radar-
After learning some harsh lessons, Indian commanders started using artillery on a much larger scale. This also threw open logistical challenges for moving the guns into position and the ammunition etc. accordingly, but all such challenges were met with adept planning and zeal.
Bofors 155 mm Howitzer.
First major battle won by the Indian side was on Tololing Top. This was deepest of all intrusions made by the Pakistanis on the Indian side of LOC. A few days later the highest feature in that region, point 5140 was also won under the able leadership of Capt. Vikram Batra.
Field Artillery regiments of the Army now started making its presence felt in a big way. The 155 mm Bofors howitzer, 122mm field guns, 102mm mortars all rained death on the enemy with uncanny accuracy.
Infantry troops attacking a Pakistani held position always hada FAO or a Field Artillery Officer attached to their unit. This person’s job was to get near the target and then guide the artillery to fire more accurately on the target. The FAOs were so efficient, many of the Pakistani bunkers were blown to smithereens by direct hit from a 45 KG. HE (High Explosive) shell from a Bofors gun, located 10-15 kms away.
Bofors 155mm HE shell
Many of these field officers even took charge of the attacking unit if the original infantry commander was martyred or rendered incapable of leading the troops. During many of the battles like point 4875, tiger hill etc. Indian guns engaged the enemy with ‘Direct Firing’. This means the gun crew could see the target they were firing at. They could see the shells explode against the mountainside.
Accurate and devastating artillery support proved to be rather damaging to the Pakistani defense and their morale too.
Indian Air Force also started using its most advanced asset, the Mirage 2000, with state of the art GPS and targeting pods to strike targets located on razor thin ridge lines of the Kargil mountains.
A Litening Targeting pod, procured from Israel.
IAF Mirage 2000
In a normal battle scenario, it is assumed that a advantage in men in 3:1 ratio provides a good chance for the attacking forces to overcome the defending forces. But, when you are fighting the battles at 15000 feet above sea level with enemy sitting on top of bare mountains…no cover…razor thin ridge-lines leading to the top and all approaches well covered by automatic weapons…a ratio of even 9:1 is not enough to ensure victory.
This fact led the Divisional commanders, who were in-charge of day to day operational planning, to come up with the idea of simultaneous multi-pronged attack to divide the enemy’s focus. All the major features were attacked from three or more sides at the same time. 13 JAK Rifles, 1 Bihar, 2 Naga, 4 Jat, 1 Rajput and many other regimental units were involved in these multi pronged attacks.
Chain of Victories-
Once the highest points in a sector was cleared of the enemy, it facilitated the approach to all other nearby points. Indian FAO could direct accurate fire on any nearby Pakistani held position, from his higher vantage point.
Indian Army discovered many documents like Pakistan Army pay books, personal letters, diaries etc. which totally destroyed the Pakistani facade that these were Mujahedins and not regular Pakistan army soldiers.
During all this action, Pakistani political leadership kept on sabre-rattling about a nuclear response from their end. Indian leadership called their bluff, but just as precautionary measure, some of Indian missile units were dispersed and alerted.
Ceasefire and withdrawal-
Pakistan, now under pressure from the US and other countries and suffering multiple losses, realized that in order to save face, they must request for withdrawal of their troops. They did so by 8-9July and asked for a ceasefire across all the sectors. Indian army leadership was of the firm opinion that in this war thrust upon them by the enemy, they shall be the one who will decide how it ends. But the causalities were mounting on Indian side too. Also, the political aim of isolating Pakistan had been achieved. A ceasefire was agreed on 12 July and Pakistanis started withdrawing.
Based on their past experience with the enemy, Indian Army knew better than to take Pakistan’s words for granted. As expected, many of the high features were not vacated by the Pakistani troops even a week after the ceasefire. So, the Indian army began operations to clear them out one by one and the last shots were fired on 26 July 1999.
Kargil war eventually came to an end with clear victory for India. Pakistan was not able to achieve its goal of redrawing of the LOC line and threatening the NH1A.
Many lessons were learned on the Indian side to ensure such situations won’t arise in future. Rest of the world took a sigh of relief after tentatively watching two nuclear armed countries indulge in a limited conventional war.
Indian Army’s junior leadership (the lieutenants, the captains, the majors, JCOs) showed awe inspiring bravery and heart to win seemingly impossible battles…fighting a well entrenched enemy on higher ground…in bitter cold…leading their men to glory . Many of them also made the supreme sacrifice while upholding their nation’s and their regiment’s pride and honor.
Capt. Anuj Nayyar- Shaheed on Point 4875, near Tiger Hill.
Capt Vijayant Thapar- Shaheed on the Knoll, Tololing ridge, Dras.
Capt. Haneef Ud Deen, Shaheed in Sub Sector West (renamed to sub sector Haneef or SSH. Batalik sector)
Capt. Manoj Kumar Pandey- Shaheed at Khalubar, Batalik Sector
Major Rajesh Adhikari, shaheed at Tololing.
Capt Vikram Batra. Shaheed at point 4875.
There are many other soldier and officers who paid the price for our freedom with their life or limb. We should never forget.
- Ref. Kargil- From Surprise to Victory – Gen V P Malik