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Archive for the ‘Siachen’ Category

I wonder how many people even know that this battle took place.  Are we doing a disservice to the nation by NOT telling these battles to our children and youngsters and our people ?

I will never forget Op Rajeev. It happened on my Birthday when my CO was toasting me in the Officers mess and we heard that the Pakis attacked.

The battle as told here in the article below is pretty accurate and it surprised me as to the details. Being privy to some of the intercepts and the situation reports that came through it appears to have been told by an officer who was involved in the battle….and he does say that in the writeup. What I did hear later was that there were some GR soldiers who had to be taken / coaxed at gunpoint by a junior officer to join the battle. Such was the toll it takes on the minds of the soldiers fighting at this altitude. It is too easy to think and feel the futility & the sheer waste in human lives on both sides.

But all said and done…this is our Motherland and not an inch will be given…

Hence the saying in Siachen ” Quartered in snow…Silent we Remain…When the bugle calls..we  will Stand up and fight again

Here goes …

SIACHEN GLACIER – 23 SEPTEMBER 1987

23rd September 1987 is an important day in the history of Siachen when Pakistan’s No. 1 & No. 3 Commando Battalions of the Special Service Group (SSG), along with No 2 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Battalion of the FCNA, attacked an Indian post, on the Northern shoulder of the Bilafond La pass. The post at an altitude of 19,000 feet, at the time of attack was occupied by only eight men. It was this section that successfully defeated an enemy brigade sized force, creating history of sorts in the annals of military warfare. The attack carried out from 23-25 September 1987, with temperatures dipping to a low of minus 30 degrees Celsius was repeatedly repulsed. The operation codenamed ‘OP QIADAT’ by the Pakistan Army and ‘OP VAJRASHAKTI’ by the Indian Army was a sequel to an earlier operation nicknamed ‘OP RAJIV’, launched three months earlier, when Pakistan lost their ‘Quaid Post’ located at the Southern shoulder of Bilafond La, at a height of 22,000 feet, to the troops of 8 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI) and the post was renamed ‘Bana Post’.

As per Pakistani reports and signal intercepts, the enemy suffered close to 300 soldiers dead. While Naib Subedar Bana Singh was awarded. the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) for ‘OP RAJIV’, Capt Iqbal of the Pakistan Army was awarded Hilal-i Jur’at (HJ), posthumously for ‘OP QIADAT’ There was wide media coverage of these operations in September and October 1987 but with the passage of time the sacrifices made have since been forgotten…

It was precisely at 5.55 a.m. on 23rd September, when the brave, young and courageous men of Pakistan’s elite SSG, launched their attack on the Indian posts of Ashok and U-Cut, referred to as Rana and Akbar Posts by the Pakistanis. They were appropriately welcomed by Nb Sub Lekh Raj along with seven other men. The numbers swelled, but brave Lekh Raj kept assuring that nothing would happen to the post as long as he was alive. It was not more than 15 minutes after he spoke to me over the radio set when a TOW missile fired from the enemy fire base established at ‘Rahber-II’ hit the bunker and killed the JCO instantaneously along with two other men. The situation became rather precarious with only five men left on the post but these brave men fought gallantly and the enemy wisely retraced their steps toward their Rahber and Tabish Posts in the rear. Capt Nazareth, the young Pakistani officer, who led the initial assault on the Indian post, was subsequently joined by Captains Rashid, Cheema, Akbar, Imran, Mohammad Iqbal seconded from the Army Service Corps to the Commando force and Naib Subedar Sher Bahadur. Captain Sartaj Wali, the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) was moved forward to attend to the casualties.

As expected, the Pakistanis resumed their misadventure after darkness on 23rd. Their Company Commander Maj Rana was in touch with his battalion commander over the radio set. It was pitch dark, yet the enemy movement was noticed and accurate fire was brought down on them from the only mortar deployed just behind Ashok post and the aerial bursts of rocket launchers fired from Sonam were extremely effective. The attack developed a crescendo by 3.00 a.m. and suddenly there was a pause and I intercepted a message from Captain Rashid to some senior officer in the rear “We are waiting for two hours and the ropes have not fetched up yet, we will be day lighted. Cheema is dead and many are injured badly, please send reinforcements.” Their morale was low and we knew that they would not pursue the attack any further till at least the following night. On the Indian side Maj Chatterjee along with a mixed command of JAK LI and GR troops moved about the whole night motivating his men under heavy and accurate artillery fire The white sheet of ice was blackened with shelling and our pub tents and parachutes, on the ice surface were shredded with shrapnel and the mini camp at Sonam and Bana Top, where I was located, had craters all around. The sight, though scary, was spectacular with the pot holes making a distinct design on the whiteness around our abode.

The enemy resumed his attack on the night of 24th September, i.e. his third night of exposure. This time Captains Rashid and Iqbal led the assault and came very close to the top. The reinforcements promised by the Company and Battalion Commanders had not arrived and they had suffered very heavily and were tired and exhausted. It was close to midnight that I heard Rashid tell his superior officer, “Wherever I move the enemy fires at me” and prompt came the reply “The kafirs have got hold of our radio frequencies and are monitoring them, all troops switch to alternate frequencies.” There was a pause and then Rashid resumes his conversation, “Sir, we are not carrying our alternate frequencies and all are teams have left the base.” After a while there was another conversation intercepted “Rashid has been killed and the reinforcements have not reached, tell these seniors to come forward and see for them selves. They are safe in their bunkers and care little for us.” That was a good indicator, and we knew that the battle had been won.

Such was the story of the battle of Bilafond La, a battle of nerves and guts with no real winners but only losers. When will this fight end? The answer remains, till we shed our egos and ambitions.

Well fought red —Blue the winner.”

Note from Cosmicwarrior:

A few more interesting things about that battle:

a) the posts ran out of ammunition. The brave soldiers were actually throwing down emptied “dalda” (vegetable oil) cans filled with rock and ice on the enemy climbing the ropes.

b) Replenishment ammo came via a Mi-26 transport helicopter that landed in Base camp. This was a first for a helicopter of this size and weight to land there. Such was the power of this beast that most of the tents in a 300m vicinity were blown down. It couldn’t turn around within the Base, but had to fly to the widest part of the glacier to turn around and head back. Kudos to the pilots who even thought of flying this beast to 12,000 ft ASL.  It’s ceiling is 15,000 but it cant carry anything leave alone ammo.

c) Some of the soldiers were evacuated at night by AirOP pilots flying daring missions with floodlights attached to the front of the helicopters. So many of them survived to tell the tale.

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Why Siachen matters by Colonel Anil Athale (retd)

June 16, 2005

When the India-Pakistan secretary-level talks took place in Islamabad, the demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier was one of the issues on the agenda.

I had predicted there would be no breakthrough on the issue. The reason was Chief of the Army Staff General J J Singh’s categorical statement that any agreement would have to proceed from recognition of the Actual Ground Position Line.

Siachen talks inconclusive

Pakistan is loath to accept this since it would mean admitting it lost the Saltoro ridge and the Quaid Post (named after the founder of Pakistan) now renamed Bana Post after Param Vir Chakra winner Subedar Bana Singh who captured it.

Interestingly, the post was held by the much heralded Pakistani commandos and was captured by the India Army’s ‘ordinary’ infantry.

Having said all this, one must admit the utter futility of the fight over the Siachen Glacier. The area is over 22,000 feet high, offers no military advantage to either side, cannot be either a viable defence line or a launch pad and has no habitation and no economic significance.

Strategically, tactically, it is a useless piece of real estate.

The cost is horrendous, a chapatti delivered to a soldier there cost Rs 500. Even the excreta of soldiers manning these posts has to be lifted by helicopters and brought to base for disposal!

More soldiers have died there due to weather and accidents rather than enemy action.

In Siachen now weather the only enemy

Then why is the Indian Army insisting on recognition of a line on a map, and Pakistan resisting it?

World’s highest battlefield

First and foremost is the lack of trust between the two sides.

A discussion organised by the Observer Research Foundation on May 4 unanimously recommended that unless Pakistan recognised the existing positions, India should not agree to demilitarisation.

The story of Pakistani perfidy on Kashmir goes back to 1947. Then it claimed that tribals had invaded Kashmir, while the truth was that regular Pakistani soldiers and officers were part of the invading force, a fact later admitted.

Make Siachen a peace mountain: PM | Singh on Siachen

In 1965, it maintained a fiction that Kashmiri civilians had infiltrated.

In 1999, in Kargil it similarly claimed that ‘mujahids’ had crossed the Line of Control, when even tea shop owners on the Lahore-Islamabad highway knew the Northern Light Infantry was involved.

What is to prevent Pakistan in future from claiming similarly that it has withdrawn the military from Siachen, but ‘mujahids’ or freedom fighters have occupied it?

But the real unsaid reason for the Indian Army’s reluctance lies elsewhere: The lack of trust in our civil leadership on military issues.

This may seem a harsh comment, but what has been the past record?

Kargil and Post Point 13620 offers a classic case study in decision making.

This post overlooks Kargil town and the Srinagar-Leh road, for long the sole lifeline to Ladakh. Artillery observers from this post used to bring down accurate fire on the town and the highway at will.

In May 1965, while the attention of the Pakistanis was focussed on fighting in the Rann of Kutch, a Rajput battalion in a daring daytime attack on May 17, 1965 captured the post and made the highway secure for the first time since 1947.

But under UN pressure, it was handed back to Pakistan.

When infiltration in the Kashmir valley began on August 9, 1965, the Indian Army again attacked Post Point 13620 and captured it. But then came the Tashkent agreement of January 10, 1965, and along with the strategic Haji Pir pass, the Kargil post was again handed back to Pakistan.

Finally in 1971, the Ladakh Scouts under the inspiring leadership of Colonel Rinchan captured not only Point 13620, but the entire ridge during the December war.

It is difficult to find a parallel in world history of an army capturing a mountain post at great human cost and giving it back to the enemy not once, but twice!

The strategic importance of the Kargil heights is self evident even to an amateur but that was never an input in political decision making in India.

In 1971 when Indira Gandhi had all the aces up her sleeves, she still bargained away the advantage and did not secure binding Pakistani commitment on Kashmir. To her credit, like Lal Bahadur Shastri, she at least did not give back territory won in Kashmir.

The errors of Simla

Closer to our times, in the Kargil conflict of 1999, we unilaterally declared that we would not cross the LoC.

The argument that India’s restraint won it global support holds no water. The West (meaning the hyperpower, the United States) changed its stance not because the justice of the Indian case on Kashmir had suddenly dawned on it, but because it was a part of its re-assessment of the world in the post Cold War era.

By our lack of understanding and timidity, we have now established a ‘rule of the game’ that while Pakistan can cross the LoC we will not, even when it is tactically unsound. Thus, the duo of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then defence minister George Fernandes forced our soldiers to adopt virtually suicidal tactics to re-capture the Kargil heights.

Lack of geo-political vision

India never understood the vital strategic importance of the Northern Areas of Kashmir (comprising Gilgit and Hunza). This is an area where India, China and Central Asia meet.

The British, well schooled in the art, engineered a revolt in Gilgit (led by Major Brown and Captain Matheson) and unfurled the Pakistani flag there on November 3, 1947. Lieutenant Colonel Sher Jung Thapa then defended the Skardu fort for nearly eight months. But without ammunition and supplies, he finally surrendered on August 14, 1948.

Major Brown’s action were not in isolation. A year earlier, a freelance explorer, Sir Francis Tillman, had undertaken the arduous trek from Urumachi in Chinese Sinkiang to Chitral. Right from the early days Britain saw Pakistan as an imperial outpost of the West in Asia (V K Krishna Menon in Michael Breacher’s Krishna Menon’s View of the World).

In 1971, we had a golden opportunity to concentrate our military efforts in the direction of Northern Areas, if the military was told in advance about the intention to keep territory captured in Kashmir.

It appears that no such directive was given and retention of land captured in Kashmir was an afterthought at Simla. The success achieved in capturing Turtuk and various peaks in the Partapur sector was a ‘freelance’ operation by the great Colonel Rinchan, almost a solo effort.

A solution for Siachen

Imagine the strategic situation today if we could have cut off land/airlinks between China and Pakistan, and had a direct land link to Central Asia and Afghanistan (the Panjsher Valley). Could the Pakistan-China nexus have flourished if the contact between the two was through the long sea route?

Pakistan China to sign fighter jet deal

It is this dismal history of lack of strategic thought in India that sends shivers down the spine of any serious soldier when our politicos enter into ‘peacenik’ competition (the latest entrant into this is L K Advani of Secular Jinnah fame.

What is the guarantee that some future Pakistani general/president will not re-occupy Siachen with ‘freedom fighters’? And a future Indian government will not ask the armed forces to take back the Soltoro ridge?

This factor is a bigger obstacle in solving the Siachen issue than even Pakistani untrustworthiness.

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is a former joint director, War History Division, Ministry of Defence.

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