India-Pakistan: July 11, 1999

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Leaders of the Pakistani militants in Kashmir state that they will probably withdraw from Indian territory in September, in recognition of how difficult it is to deal with Winter weather at that altitude. Meanwhile, senior Indian and Pakistani officers meet and agree to a "disengagement" of their forces along the Line of Control in Kashmir. India reports that some militants are withdrawing from Indian territory.

On July 10th, Pakistani prime minister Sharif pressed the militant factions in, and out, of his government to allow the Pakistanis fighting in Kashmir to withdraw from Indian territory.

By the second week of July, with the major peaks taken by Indian troops, most of the fighting shifted to Mushkoh Valley, especially around a peak called Rocky Knob. Pakistani troops were still 5-6 kilometers in Indian territory.

In early July, India continued the offensive against the remaining Pakistani militants on the Tiger Hills. But India was also energetically buying over 100,000 artillery shells to replace what has been fired This provides an indication of the intensity of the artillery action. India, however, has been firing two or three times as many shells as the Pakistanis. On July 2nd, some 140 Indian 155mm guns began bombarding the 4,950 meter high Tiger Hills region. About 200 Pakistani militants are believed entrenched on these heights, covering the Indian highway providing the best access to the area. The Indian assault force consists of three infantry battalions and several platoons of commandoes. India has brought some 60,000 additional troops into the region since early May.

On July 4th, Indian troops finally took the Tiger Hills. On the same day, Indian and Pakistani officials met U.S. officials in Washington DC for peace talks. The Pakistanis apparently agreed to try and get the militants out of Indian territory. The loss of the Tiger Hills and increasing Indian shelling and bombing led the Pakistan government to move away from it's insistence that it had no control over the militants. But Pakistani prime minister Sharif returned to Pakistan from Washington to face hard liners who refused to consider withdrawing the militants from Indian controlled Kashmir.

On July 7th, Indian troops captured the Jubar Hills positions. There were still hundreds of Pakistani militants on the Indian side of the Kashmir Line of Control, but the Indians had not recaptured the most crucial positions and made it more difficult for the Pakistanis to supply their troops.

One after effect of the Kashmir fighting is an Indian decision to maintain observation posts in the 4,000 meter to 6,000 meter peaks and ridges that are normally abandoned between September and April. Hurricane force winds, heavy snows and temperatures of 50 degrees below zero make supplying troops up there extremely difficult. For example, it takes engineers about a month to build a kilometer of mule track high in the mountains.

The border war in Kashmir between India and Pakistan raged throughout May and June. Casualties are in the hundreds and up to 50,000 local civilians have been displaced. The (officially denied) Pakistani force comprises less than a thousand militant fighters entrenched on 5,000 meter high mountain tops along the 720 kilometer "line of control" that has partitioned Kashmir between Pakistan and India for the last quarter century. Pakistan has provided logistic and artillery support for the militants, while India has sent in scores of combat aircraft, over a hundred artillery pieces and several thousand troops.

India discovered, on May 9th, that pro-Pakistani militants had occupied a 14,000 square kilometer Kargil region the Indians retreated from each year as the harsh Himalayan winter approached. Late in the Spring, the Indians would reoccupy the positions. But this year, the militants got there first, dug in on the high ground, and blocked the roads the Indians used to reach, and supply, their high country positions.

Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and the Pakistanis were reported, in May, to be developing a command and control system so that they could employ their nukes quickly. So this particular affair made many nervous.

Apparently the Pakistani government, intelligence officials and the army commanders were all working a cross purposes. The government was attempting to warm up relations with India, Pakistani intelligence officers were using Islamic militants eagerness to attack Indians in Kashmir as a means to gain some leverage over the government. The Army was caught in the middle, but agreed to provide artillery and logistical support for the Islamic fundamentalists who comprised most of the troops in the several hundred man force that took possession of the mountain positions.

All of this came as quite a surprise to the Indians, especially in light of the warming relations between India and Pakistan. It was also obvious that the militants needed months to plan and carry out their occupation of the mountain positions. In early May the mountains are still covered with three or four feet of snow. The initial actions were when Indian patrols were ambushed by the militants. Counterattacks were not successful, because the militants had the high ground, were well supplied and dug in. Indian aircraft flew hundreds of bombing missions throughout May, and Army artillery fired thousands of shells. The first air strikes on the mountain positions took place on May 26th, preceded by several weeks of artillery fire and infantry patrolling.

By the end of May, India had lost two bombers and a helicopter to the Pakistani militants. Troops losses were more difficult, to determine as no one was releasing official numbers. But it appears that each side has 100-200 dead and many more wounded. Many of these losses are due to artillery strikes against each sides supply routes, and not the militants in their mountain positions. There are villages along these routes and the shelling has caused some civilian losses as well.

By now, India had moved nearly 17,000 troops into the area. India also discovered that the militant force contained Afghan mercenaries and Pakistani soldiers and was equipped with anti-aircraft missiles, radar, snowmobiles and powerful communications equipment.

Fighting continued through June. The Pakistani government wanted to make peace, but the powerful Islamic militant politicians were gaining enormous popular support for continued fighting. Indian politicians, under similar nationalist pressure, are unwilling to observe a cease fire until the Pakistanis retreat behind their side of the Line of Control. On June 4th India announced that their losses to date were 48 dead, 185 wounded and 13 missing. India claims to have killed over 400 militants so far, but the actual number is more likely a hundred or so. The tempo of the actual ground fighting is slow, mainly because of the difficult terrain. Each side is suffering fifty or so casualties a week. At this rate, the Indians admit that it might take the next winter to force the militants, for it is extremely difficult to survive in those mountains during the winter. India sent several of it's Mirage 2000 fighters to the Kashmir battle, but mainly to use their advanced ECM to jam Pakistani radars.

On June 8th, India and Pakistan agreed to hold talks over the Kashmir situation. On June 9th India announced that it had lost 70 men, but had killed 232 Pakistanis. The Pakistanis announced they had lost only twenty men. Reports indicate American diplomats are urging Pakistan to withdraw its troops. But given the rabid patriotism being stirred up, this would be difficult to do.

On June 10th, Pakistan reported that thus far the Indian artillery had killed 44 and injured 127 civilians. On June 12th, negotiations collapsed as Pakistan denied it had any control over the militants on the mountain, even though India presented tapes of radio communications from the militants indicating that they were Pakistani troops. During mid-June India sent in commandoes and paratroopers, which increased their progress a bit and increased casualties somewhat more. One 4,500 meter peak (Toloing Heights) was captured and another Indian helicopter was downed. On June 15th Indian troops cut off the supply lines to the militants on the Tiger Hills (5,400 meters.) But this does not completely isolate the militants, as they have been depending on some 2,000 porters to move material and this can still be done, although more slowly, at night. But India has begun using it's artillery and aircraft to attack the supply routes and base camps. The Indian artillery is more modern than many of the Pakistani guns, some of which are 5.5 inch pieces of World War II vintage. On June 17th the Indians took an abandoned village in the Drass district, losing two men in the process and killing eight militants. India now admits to 106 dead and 250 wounded. The Pakistani losses are probably a bit less. India now claims to have captured nine of the 29 contested peaks and ridge lines. Control of these positions is vital to keep the 400 kilometer long Indian road that supplies their forces in the region. On June 21st Indian troops seized peak 5140 (5,140 meters high) at a cost of three Indian and 13 militants dead. By the 16th the Indian casualties were 163 dead, 322 wounded and nine missing. On the 25th India claimed they had pushed the militants back four kilometers along 120 kilometer front, but that the militants were still four kilometers inside Indian territory.

By June 28th, Indian troops had surrounded one of the militant's base camps in the Batalik sector. Laser guided bombs were used to destroy most of the camp as Indian infantry carefully made their way up the rugged terrain for a final assault. The Indians have lost 175 dead so far in the campaign to expel the militants.

The month ended with India capturing the last of five peaks overlooking a key highway supply line. This produced the highest one day's casualties (25 dead and 40 wounded.) Total Indian dead to date are 201. The next objective is the Tiger Hills, the key Pakistani held position in the region.

 

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