Kargil War: The Knock Out Punch to Op Badr

All guns fell silent on July 26 and India declared a unilateral ceasefire as the Indian Prime Minister announced on a live broadcast, “Our aim has been achieved and sanctity of LoC has been restored.” The fifth round of war between India and Pakistan ended with a heavy cost to both nations

By Col Alok Mathur

Indian Army

The operational responsibility of the entire Jammu & Kashmir state, now divided into two UTs (Including Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh) in 1999, was of Northern Army based in Udhampur and was divided between two corps. The area south of Pirpanjal till Ravi River was with the White Knight Corps and North of Pirpanjal covering Ladakh range was with Chinar Corps. Lt Gen H M Khanna was the Army commander and Lt Gen Krishan Pal was the Srinagar Corps commander.

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National Highway 1 A called NH 44 is a strategic road joining Pathankot, Jammu, Srinagar, Kargil, and Leh and is considered a lifeline for troops deployed in this difficult terrain. The area from Zoji La to the southern glacier was the responsibility of the 121 (I) Brigade group commanded by Brig Surender Singh.

The entire area has a height ranging from 12,000 to 18,000 feet above Sea level and remains snowbound almost nine months a year with inclement weather due to snow blizzards and landslides. The temperature goes down well below zero degrees Celsius. The deployment is generally thinned during winter months by both Indian and Pakistani sides as per unwritten mutual protocol since long keeping in view extreme conditions but patrolling continued. Zoji La Pass is generally closed from October to April every year due to heavy snow and avalanche threat.

The relations between the two countries were showing positive signs with the visit of then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee by bus to Lahore in February 1999 with a strong delegation. India never expected that Pakistan was still following Cloak and Dagger Policy and inducting troops deep across the LoC into Kargil Heights overlooking NH 1 Srinagar-Leh.

BSF troops in Chorbat La and a few local goatherds were the first to report the intrusion of infiltrators. 3 Punjab in the Batalik sector sent a few patrols. 4 JAT patrol led by Capt Saurabh Kalia was ambushed in the Old Bajrang post area in the Kaksar sub-sector and went missing. Lt Amit Bhardwaj’s patrol was also ambushed in the same area. By mid-May, the fog of war cleared and intrusions were identified in Mushkoh, Dras, Kaksar, Yaldor, Batalik and Chorbat La. The Indian Army carried out immediate mobilisation and inducted additional troops in Kargil War Zone.

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Dras Sector 

8 Mountain (Mtn) Division under Major General Mohinder Puri was made responsible from June 8, for the area between Zoji La and Kargil, including Zulu, Muskoh, and Dras sub-sectors. The Brigades allotted from West to East were 56 Mtn Brigade (bde), 192 Mtn bde, 79 Mtn bde and later 50 (I) Para bde. The units were being inducted at a rapid pace. Medium Regiments equipped with 155 mm Bofors were in the location.

The IAF joined the war on May 26. Enemy positions were now engaged by Air and Artillery. Infantry operations also commenced. Pakistan Artillery Observation Posts (Ops) on Kargil Heights were directing fire on convoys on highway Srinagar–Leh.

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Operation Tololing was the starting point of the Indian success story. Tololing top (Pt 4590) stands tall on the ridgeline and is 5 km from Dras town and Pak troops had occupied it in strength, National Highway was under observation of intruders. Pak Artillery Ops now could dominate the highway and were a constant hazard to Indian troops and vehicular movements as winter stocking of the entire Trishul division had to pass through this route.

Attack on Tololing was the first priority. 56 Mountain Brigade was given the task by the Division commander to clear the Tololing Ridgeline on May 20. Brig Amar Nath Aul planned the operation. He tasked 8 Sikh and 1 Naga to carry out preliminary actions. 8 Sikh headed for Pariyaon Ka Talab under Tiger Hill but could not go further due to heavy fire. I Naga also could achieve limited success towards Tololing but stalled under heavy fire. 18 Grenadiers was tasked to capture Tololing Top.

The entire area has a height ranging from 12,000 to 18,000 feet above Sea level and remains snowbound almost nine months a year with inclement weather due to snow blizzards and landslides. The temperature goes down well below zero degrees Celsius

The attack was launched on May 22 with the support of arty fire. Initially, it was said that it was held by a 10/15 Mujahedeen but when Grenadier leading company assaulted, it was strongly held supported Company minus with by HMGs, MMGs and AD Arty Guns. It was confirmed that Intruders were not militants but trained regular troops with military weapon systems. The attack stalled again. Air strikes were called on Tololing but had little effect. 1 Naga attack on Pt 5140 also could not proceed further due to heavy firing.

On May 28, an IAF MI 17 Gunship was shot down by a stinger missile. Heavy fighting was in progress. The companies of 18 Gren under Major Adhikari, Captain Nimbalkar, Lt Balwan Singh launched an attack from several directions but stalled with heavy enemy resistance. Lt Col R Vishwanathan led himself to break the deadlock, with a column charged through Southern spur but was killed in action due to heavy MMG fire. 18 Grenadiers managed to isolate the objective. Assessing the critical situation Brig Aul decided to launch 2 Rajputana Rifles led by Lt Col M Rabindernath who assured the commander that 2 Raj Rifles will conquer Tololing come what may.

The attack was launched on June 12 from two directions. Charlie Company under Major Vivek Gupta advanced from the SE approach and Major Mohit Saksena assaulted from the SW direction with D Company. He established a foothold on Pt 4590. C company faced heavy firing and resorted to a close-quarter battle in the final stage. Major Vivek was hit by a volley of MMG fire but he led from the front and captured Tololing Top and collapsed after directing young FOO to inform CO and deploy to face any enemy counterattack. Capt Mridul Kumar, an Arty officer, took command and deployed a company on Tololing Top to face an enemy counterattack. Now, CO Lt Col Rabindernath launched reserve A and B companies to consolidate Tololing (Pt 4590).

On June 13, 2 Rajputana Rifles hoisted the Tricolour again on Tololing Top and gave a success signal to 56 Brigade cdr. Indian troops had achieved the first victory. Three officers, four JCOs and 16 Soldiers made supreme sacrifice and 41 troops were wounded. The enemy suffered 23 killed and 60 wounded. The entire Tololing complex was cleared on June 17. The victory march had begun.

Operation Point 5140 was another important action undertaken by the 56 Mtn Brigade. This feature is a dominating height 1500 metres north of Tololing. Two units were nominated – 13 Jammu Kashmir Rifles and 18 Grenadiers. The operation D day was June 15. The initial objective was Rocky Knob at the base of Pt 5140. Lt CoI Y K Joshi was appointed as officiating CO as CO had to be evacuated during heavy arty shelling. Major Jasrotia was the first casualty of 13 JAK at base camp only.

Rocky Knob was captured by 13 JAK after clearing 4 Sangars and hand-to-hand fighting after 4 hours of battle. The D-day for Pt 5140 was June 18. It was a three-direction brigade attack as Pt 5140 was strongly held. 18 Garhwal was to attack from the East. 1 Naga was to approach from South West and 13 JAK Rifles were allotted southern approach. Two companies of 13 JAK Rifles managed to surprise and reached very close to the objective. Captain Vikram Batra single-handedly killed four Pakistani soldiers and his team cleared four Sangars. Capt Jamwal also led his company bravely and cleared the rest of the Sangers in a close fight.

Point 5140 was fully cleared by 13 JAK Rifles. 1 Naga occupied the Black tooth and Rock area on the western slope of Pt 5140 on June 22 and took over Pt 5140 from 13 JAK. There was another feature on Tololing west Pt 4700, which was captured by 18 Garhwal on June 28. Pt 5100 and three pimples area were cleared by 2 Raj Rifles by June 29 after fierce fighting suffering casualties. Major P Acharya, Capt Vijyant Thapar and Capt N Kungrese were fatally wounded during the difficult operation. The entire Ridgeline in this sector was back in Indian hands.

Tiger Hill (Point 5062) is a majestic triangular snow-covered peak which can be viewed on a clear day from Dras War Memorial. It is about 10 km from Dras Town. It is much closer to LoC and has strategic importance. The task to capture was given to Brig MPS Bajwa, Commander 192 Brigade of 8 Mountain Division. The two units detailed were 8 Sikh and 18 Grenadiers. 8 Sikh was already in the vicinity of the area since mid-May 1999. It had tried an assault but due to heavy enemy strength, the attack was repulsed with heavy casualties. Since then, 8 Sikh had kept Tiger Hill under observation and now were ready for action again. 18 Grenadiers also had fought a tough battle at Tololing and now recouped. The enemy strength assessed was a strong Company of 12 Northern Light Infantry reinforced with mortars, MMGs and HMGs and AD missiles also. The final plans were made. Fire support for two full days would be given by IAF fighters, Bofors and MBRLs. TV channels also beamed it live.

D-day nominated was July 3. The attack commenced at 1900 hours on D-day. 18 Grenadiers D Company under Capt Sachin Nibalkar approached from the east silently under darkness and cleared area collar in close quarter battle and gradually reached the top. C company with commando platoon following North Eastern axis also reached just 50 metres under Tiger Hill. The close-quarter battle started as the enemy woke up. CO launched immediately reserve companies to strengthen the assault companies which had a tough fight. They reached the top by 0400 hours on July 4.

The India-Pakistan ties were showing positive signs with the visit of then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee by bus to Lahore in February 1999. India never expected that Pakistan was still following Cloak and Dagger Policy and inducting troops into Kargil Heights

Grenadier Yoginder Singh Yadav who was part of Commando Platoon, displayed exceptional bravery. He climbed a vertical cliff and lobbed grenades in Sangars delaying advance and inflicting heavy casualties. He cleared 2 Sangars and killed all occupants. He suffered multiple bullet injuries. The entire Commando team was wiped out but he escaped badly wounded and reached base. Before, the evacuation he gave detailed information about the deployment and fainted due to loss of blood. 18 Grenadier finally captured Tiger Hill on July 4, another landmark victory. Captain Karnail Khan, the Pak company commander, was killed fighting bravely.

On the western side, some Sangars were still firing. 8 Sikh was assaulting from this side and Features India Gate and Helmets-based sangars were giving a tough fight. Two companies of 8 Sikh under Major Ravinder Singh and Lt S Sherawat assaulted these features and cleared the western ridge also. The capture of Tiger Hill on July 4 was conveyed by Army Chief to National Security Adviser. PM personally congratulated Indian Army. World News Channels beamed the battle of Tiger Hill and it became the headlines of the global press. Tiger Hill still had some pockets held. The operation was concluded on July 8. 18 Grenadiers and 8 Sikh were honoured with battle honour Tiger Hill. Indians troops had reached the LOC in Dras Area. Pak troops were now gradually abandoning the posts and started withdrawing.

Mashkoh Sector

The Mushkoh Valley provided a direct route of infiltration to the Doda- Bhadarwah areas of the Jammu Region bypassing the valley so the area need to be guarded by Indian forces but the region was unmanned before the Kargil War. Pak troops under Op Badr occupied a few heights in this area and threatened the National Highway near Mughalpura and Zoji La Pass.  Pt 4875 was the most important feature in this area and strategic observation point. The enemy Air Defence guns and missiles could engage low-flying helicopters and aircraft from Pt 4875.  It was earmarked as a high-priority target. The responsibility of the Mushkoh sector was given to Brig Ramesh Kakkar, commander of 79 Mountain bde. 9 Mahar had been operating in this area earlier and had carried out a few operations. It was withdrawn to Kaksar. The D-day decided was July 4. Heavy artillery bombardment was carried out to soften the objective at the last light. 13 Jak Rifles under Lt Col Y K Joshi was tasked to capture Point 4875. The unit had been moved from 192 bde and now to 79 Bde after the capture of Pt 5140.

Major Vijay Bhaskar-led company moved from the eastern slope of the southern spur and Major Gurpreet Singh with C Company assaulted from the western slope. Capt Vikram Batra was the firebase commander. As the leading troops were seen by the enemy, heavy and accurate firing from LMGs and MMGs was brought on and pinned down the own troops. FOOs with 13 JAK brought heavy own Arty fire and continued the attack. The area Flat top near Pt 4875 was captured with the help of conspicuous gallantry by Rifleman Sanjay Kumar who charged the enemy Sangar firing HMG and silenced it killing Pak troops manning it in hand-to-hand combat. He was severely wounded but refused to be evacuated. The flat top was captured by 1300 hours on July 5. Pt 4875 was still held in strength and had to be neutralised. Major Vikas Vohra and Captain Vikram Batra also joined up with reinforcement. There were few Sangars in the Northern portion preventing direct assault on Pt 4875. Capt Vikram Batra volunteered and took his team to silence the bunker from the flank. He jumped into the bunker and killed five enemy soldiers at point-blank range. The MMGs were silenced and but in close a battle. He was also fatally wounded and sustained many bullet injuries.

The other company captured Pt 4875 as the flanking fire had been silenced. 13 JAK Rifles finally hoisted the national flag on Pt 4875 on the early morning of July 7 and brave Capt Vikram Batra succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds. He was awarded Paramvir Chakra posthumously. Pt 4875 was renamed ‘Batra Top’ in his fond memory.

Meanwhile, 17 JAT and 2 Naga were dealing with other heights of Mushkoh. The areas of Pimple and Whaleback were cleared by 17 JAT on July 5 and 2 Naga captured Twin Bumps on July 6. Rifleman Imli Akum Ao displayed exemplary gallantry on a daring raid on an enemy mortar position on July 8. 79 Brigade units carried out operations till July 12 and Eastern Mushkoh was cleared. 50 (I) Para brigade was inducted in Muskoh Valley on June 20 and operated in the gen area of Kaobal Gali and Kirdhi Heights. Point 4745 was captured by 6 Para and a team of 1 Para (SF) on July 7 in the first operation.

The next objective given to 7 Para was to clear Bhakarwal Ridge. They captured heavily defended Point 4700 where 4 Sangars were located, on July 11. Large amounts of weapons and ammunition were recovered with the enemy dead. Para brigade operations were suspended due to cease fire. The enemy continued holding Zulu Spur in the Muskoh sector till July 22. 192 brigade cdr detailed 3/3 GR to accomplish the final task. Tri Junction post and Zulu base were cleared by July 24. The area was heavily mined which was cleared by the engineering team under fire from Zulu top. Finally, the 9 Para (SF) Team under Major Sudhir Kumar in a daring operation reached the Zulu top. The last bastion was captured by mid-day of July 25.

Kaksar Sector

Kaksar area lies between Dras and Batalik sectors. It is almost north of Kargil town. The area remains glaciated and the average height was about 15000 feet. The main ridgeline comprised Point 5608, Point 5605, and Point 5280, which were on the watershed. The area was now the responsibility of the 121 Infantry Brigade. The movement could be observed from dominating heights miles away. 4 JAT was manning a few posts along with Bajrang Post which dominated the entire area. The post was vacated due to heavy snowfall on local orders and was occupied by the enemy along with Point 5299 spur in April. On May 14, a five men patrol led by Lt Saurabh Kalia of 4 Jat was ambushed and barbarically killed by Pak troops. Another patrol led by Lt Amit Bhardwaj was also ambushed. He and his buddy were killed. Yet another column led by Major Vikram Singh Shekhawat was launched by 4 JAT. The troops fought bravely but suffered heavy casualties. The new commander Brig O P Nandrajog was appointed and additional troops were given to the 121 Brigade. 14 JAK and 28 RR were allotted. Operations were planned to clear the watershed on July 5, but as an unofficial ceasefire had been announced, operations were stalled. Kakasar sector was first to be vacated by Pak troops by July 12 and occupied by July 15.

Batalik Sector

The Indus River flowing from Leh crosses LoC between Batalik and Marol and goes towards Skardu. The Batalik sector extends from Chorbat La in the east to Shangurti in the west. The heights in this region vary from 15,000 to 18,000 feet with extreme cold conditions. 12 NLI troops intruded 8-10 km south of LoC in Jan/Feb 1999 and occupied summer mode defences west of Chorbat La which were vacated during winter months. There were four ridgelines extending from north to south like fingers from knuckles. They are named Jubar, Kukarthang, Kalubhar and Churubar. The area was under the operation responsibility of Trishul Division and the 70 Infantry brigade commanded by Brigadier Devender Singh was moved in to clear the intrusion in the Batalik Yaldor sector. The units allotted were 1 Bihar, 12 JAK and 1/11 GR.

The first operation was conducted by 1 Bihar to capture Pt 4268, which was retaken by NLI on May 29. On June 6, 12 JAK was detailed to recapture Point 5203. Capt Amol Kalia led his troops to the objective which was captured but the enemy counter-attacked and 13 soldiers were killed in battle. The fierce fight continued for 12 days. Finally, on June 21 in a multi-directional attack 12 JAK, 5 Para and Ladakh Scouts captured the objective. Seven Pak soldiers were killed and a large amount of weapons and ammunition were recovered.

The nation has to be vigilant and prepared for a two-front hybrid war. The entire nation is indebted to 22 gallant officers, 21 JCOS and 452 brave soldiers of the Indian Army who made supreme sacrifices to protect and regain the Kargil Heights 24 years ago

The next ridgeline was Stangba–Khalubhar, which was heavily defended. It had enemy positions at Pt 5229, Padma Go, Pt 5287, and Pt 4812 in the Kalubhar complex. 1/11 GR had been inducted from Siachen and waiting for peace tenure. Col Lalit Rai, Vrc was ordered to move to Kargil and report to 70 Infantry Brigade HQ. They were directed to go to Chorten Dah in the Yaldor sub-sector. Yaldor was on the confluence of two Nala Gargo AND Junk Lumpa and 6 km from Dah.  On June 2, 1/11 GR was given the task clear Kukarthang, Jubar and Kalubhar Ridge supported by 22 Grenadiers. The battle of the Kalubhar complex was the most ferocious. July 2 was the D-day. B and C Company led the assault.

Lt Manoj Pandey was commanding a Platoon of B company commanded by Major Christopher Correya. Lt Pandey took his platoon ahead to identify the Sangars. It was 0300h on July 3. He detected 6 Sangars and decided to go himself. He had Hav Bhim Bahadur as his buddy. Both of them crawled silently and cleared two sangars each. Now, UMG opened up as surprise was lost. Lt Manoj Pandey was hit with UMG bursts. Hav Bhim Bahadhur came to recover him. He was also fatally wounded. Lt Pandey lobbed grenades in the other two Sangars and cleared them. B Company also fetched up and found both braves dead and they cleared the other Sangars.

The battle of Kaubhar South was over at 1700 hours on July 3. C Company had a tough fight at Kalubhar North and cleared it by July 7. Kalubhar was handed over to 12 JAK on July 8. 1/11 GR two companies launched an attack on Kukarthang. A commando platoon also joined the battle. The objective was cleared at 0400h and handed over to 1 Bihar. Point 5190 and Point 5300 in Kalubhar–Jubhar were cleared on July 10, Later, Ladakh Scouts and Paras cleared the Ring Contour and Pt 5289 by July 26. The enemy started withdrawing and the sanctity of LoC was restored in the Batalik Yaldor sector. 70 Brigade completed the task of clearing all four ridgelines. Lt Manoj Pandey 1/11 GR was awarded Paramvir Chakra posthumously. The cost of victory at Jubar Kalubhar was high.

Sub Sector West

This was the northernmost area of the Kargil War where LoC meets AGPL near Southern Glacier. The area is generally known as Sub Sector West and includes Turtuk and Chalunka hamlets. This area was under the responsibility of the 102 Mtn Brigade. There were minor intrusions and Brig PC Katoch initiated operations to clear them. The new defences were occupied on Turtuk Lungpa till Chorbat La as preventive measures. 9 Mahar and Ladakh scouts took defences at Turtuk Lunpa, Tyakshi Spur and Ramdan Lungpa. Point 5220, a dominating height, was captured by Ladakh scouts. 11 Rajputana Rifles was inducted at the end of May. Point 5590 had to be cleared. Capt Hannef-ud-ddin was tasked with his team to launch an assault. There was heavy volume of fire. He daringly led the troops and after fierce close-quarter combat, he captured the objective. The brave young officer was severely wounded by a volley of automatic fire and made the ultimate sacrifice. The new subsector was named Sub Sector Haneef (SSH) in his memory. On intelligence inputs, Turtuk was raided and a heavy amount of weapons and ammunition were recovered.

The next objective was Chulung La (Point 5770). Earlier attempts had failed in June, it was decided to take over Pt 5770. A specialised team under Major Navdeep Singh Cheema launched an operation on June 27 at 0700 hours. After seven hours of almost vertical climb reached the top. The fog covered their move. They surprised the top occupied by 11 Pak troops, totally unaware that an Indian patrol had stealthily crept up from an unexpected direction. They were erecting a pre-fabricated shelter. The team killed all of them in a daring action. There was heavy shelling by hostile guns but Pt 5770 was safe and secured. This operation was as daring and difficult as was undertaken for the capture of Bana Top in Northern Glacier. The bodies of Capt Timur Malik, the post cdr, and others were handed over to Pak Army. The operation continued in Sub-Sector Haneef. 13 Kumaon also was inducted and captured Point 5810, Point 5685 and Pt 5990. The entire sub-sector was cleared of all intrusions by July 20.

All Guns fell silent and all operations ceased as India declared a unilateral ceasefire on July 26 as the Indian Prime Minister announced on a live broadcast, “Our aim has been achieved and sanctity of LoC has been restored.” The fifth round of war between the two nations ended with a heavy cost to both nations. Himalayas once again witnessed the devotion and valour of Indian soldiers and shed a few tears for unsung heroes who made supreme sacrifices for the honour of the motherland.

The Kargil Review Committee was appointed after the war to study the causes, which resulted in the surprise war and remedies. 14 Corps was raised to cover the Ladakh War zone. The theaterisation concept has been initiated. The nation has to be vigilant and prepared for a two-front hybrid War. The entire nation is indebted to 22 gallant officers, 21 JCOS and 452 brave soldiers of the Indian Army who made supreme sacrifices to protect and regain the Kargil Heights 24 years ago.

-The writer is an Indian Army veteran and a defence analyst. He has keen interest in Geo-strategic affairs and writes regularly on internal and external affairs issues related to India and neighbours. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda