June 1999 News

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Key peak taken, noose around Tiger Hill Tightens

29 June 1999
Indian Express
By Gaurav C Sawant

DRASS, JUNE 29: Twenty-five Indian soldiers, including three officers, were killed in the fiercest battle yet to evict infiltrators in the Drass sub-sector this morning. Their aim - to recover the crucial Peak 4700 - was achieved after a night-long artillery battle with the infiltrators. Forty intruders, most of them Pakistani soldiers, are said to have been killed in the operation.

Though Peak 4700, crucial for the recovery of Tiger Hill, was captured this morning, the battle is still on to clear the spur and the ridgeline.

Throughout last night, artillery guns pounded the peak. Among the 40 injured, are some who are critical, said an officer. The injured include a doctor who had climbed the peak to provide medical aid to the soldiers there.

The atmosphere in Drass was grim as Cheetah helicopters flew frequent sorties to Srinagar transporting the injured. Both officers and jawans at Drass were trying to come to terms with the tragedy. "When we planned the operation, we knew there would be somecasualties but we were not prepared for this many," another officer said, fighting back tears.

Peak 4700 is a naked rock face, the control of which was essential to recover Tiger Hill. Taking this peak was essential but ever since the infiltrators were ousted from Tololing and Point 5140, they had fortified their defences on 4700 very effectively. "The infiltrators would fire on any soldier trying to climb the Tiger Hill, and all operations to recover it were infructuous without occupying Peak 4700," the officer said.

Though the operations to recover the peak were on for some time, the final assault was launched late last night. Officers and men who participated in the operation knew its challenges. They climbed the naked rock face on a moonlit night with only their faith and bravery as cover.

The artillery gave some cover but the Pakistani artillery launched a counter-offensive. Bofors guns and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers kept changing flanks setting and re-setting their targets and firing. Thesoldiers climbed for seven hours, stopped only for a sip of water, and well into the night, launched the attack.

"The well-entrenched enemy probably anticipated the offensive and put up a stiff resistance. Even though we suffered adversities, our troops kept climbing," an officer said.

A young Major was the first to reach the top and hurled a grenade at the enemy. He fired bravely, killing at least three intruders before being hit in the chest. What followed was a fierce bunker-to-bunker battle in which two more officers and at least 22 jawans were killed. The enemy too suffered heavy casualties. They then panicked and fled.

Around 5 am, the peak was recovered but hours later, Pakistani artillery mounted a counter-offensive on the post so that their soldiers could climb again. A handful of Indian soldiers held fort till reinforcemnts reached around 10.30 this morning.

The Army had had a spectacular success but it was laced with grief as officers and jawans remembered their course-mates, juniors andfriends with tears in their eyes.

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