May 1999 News

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300-400 Pak infiltrators trapped in Drass-Kargil

19 May 1999
Daily Excelsior

From Ahmed Ali Fayaz

SRINAGAR, May 19: Corps Commander Lt Gen Krishen Pal today described the 11-day long border skirmishes between Indian troops and Pakistani infiltrators in Drass-Kargil sector as a local counter-insurgency operation which had no potential of turning into a regular war between India and Pakistan. He sought to clarify that none of the Indian Army posts had been captured by the infiltrators or Pakistani troops even as 33 persons had been killed and 125 injured in exchange of fire from both sides, since May 8 last.

Commander of the 15 Corps today held a Press conference ‘to set at rest the unnecessary speculations and false media reports’ while pleading that the army authorities had remained incommunicado ‘in the interest of security and operational reasons’. It was first time since EXCELSIOR broke the news of massive infiltration and the largest counter-insurgency operation near the Kargil LoC that a senior Army officer opted to make the details public through media.

Lt Gen Krishen Pal said that he had no knowledge of the deadline of 48 hours and asserted that it was a ‘time-consuming operation’ for which no specific time table could be given. He, however, claimed that the infiltrators had been removed from their high altitude ridges and the Indian troops were now holding vantage positions. Almost all the intruders, according to the Commander, had been trapped and the noose was being tightened to finish them completely. He said that the intruders’ supply lines with Pakistani troops had been cut off and they had now very little chance to escape. Earlier on Sunday last, Union Defence Minister George Fernandes had said at a Press conference in Dhanbad, that the operation would be concluded within 48 hours.

While confirming that the 300 to 400 infiltrators engaged in the battle were holding sophisticated weaponry, Gen Pal said that most of them were believed to be interacting in Pushtoo. He was hopeful that all the groups of the infiltrators would be eliminated in a few days as they were simply on a "suicidal mission". He said that the motive behind the unprecedented infiltration was "to revive the defeated proxy war, internationalisation of Kashmir situation and to build a war hysteria" besides occupying a portion of the strategically important Srinagar-Leh highway.

Gen Krishen Pal said that a total of 12 Indian soldiers had got killed and 47 injured in the operation from May 8 to May 17 while as the casualties from the other side were believed to be much more than spotted till the other day. He said that the death of 21 infiltrators was definitely confirmed while as 78 more had been found wounded. However, the details of this morning’s clash were not readily available as the Indian troops, according to Gen Pal, had achieved a major success. While repeating his claim that none of the Indian posts had been occupied by Pakistani troops or infiltrators anywhere in Kashmir or Ladakh, the army commander said that the infiltrators had occupied some spots of the inhospitable and inaccessible terrain which are held by Indian troops neither in summer nor in winter.

Gen Pal dispelled the impression that Army had been caught unawares by the infiltrators. He said that Indian troops reacted to the incursion with lightning alacrity as the infiltrators had been spotted within 48 hours and the offensive was launched against them. As for the infiltrators— who, according to the General, are "fully backed by Pak Army and ISI— the Army commander mentioned the number of 300 to 400 men. However, he refused to mention the total number of the troops engaged in the operation while pleading that it would not be in the interest of the country’s security.

Krishen Pal clarified that the reinforcements sent from the Valley had been drawn from the Army reserves and wherever some units had been lifted, fresh personnel had been sent immediately. He repeatedly stressed that the entire operation was "a local situation to be dealt with locally" and that there was no possibility of its escalating into an Indo-Pak war. He further clarified that no gunship helicopters or combat aircraft had been used by Indian Army. He, however, admitted that small Cheetah helicopters, with small arms mounted on them, had been engaged in the operation. Wide Area Surveillance Operation (WASO) pilots, he said, were maintaining close vigil on the area.

As for the Srinagar-Leh highway, Gen Pal said that it was completely safe and operational for the Army convoys. Having travelled himself on the road a few days back, Gen Pal said that it would take the Border Roads Organisation some more days to make it fit for the smooth operation of civil vehicular traffic near the snow-clad Zoji La.

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