Monday, May 31, 2010

As I Saw It - Kargil recalled

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The recent judgment of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) concerning the happenings of Kargil War sent sensational messages to the general public, and armed forces personnel in particular. Compliments to Brig Devender Singh who fought this battle for 10 years to bring the facts of that time to limelite.
I have written in great detail on Kargil many years back under the title:
“As I Saw it”
Adventure for Pak
Blunder for India
Victory for those Who Perished

Some relevant para’s are reproduced

Kargil -99 caused the biggest flutter in the Indian subcontinent. This brought the two neighbors close to the nuclear holocaust inspite of the fact that we were far away from a full fledged declared war of the yester years (1965-1971).

Much has been written about the historical and military perspective of the Kashmir issue since independence. So I shall confine my self to Kargil as “I Saw it”, from the closest quarter.

The biggest players of this event were:-
(a) The Govt. the highest echelon of the Political Leadership.
(b) The top rug of the military leadership – The Army Chief, GOC-in-C Northern Command,15 Corps Cdr , and the 3 Div Cdr.
(c) The intelligence agencies primarily the IB & RAW.
(d) The role of Air Power.
(e) And the role played by the dedicated and committed soldiers and the junior level leaders. Who saved the situation of the fiasco created by our senior (Political & Military) leaders?

It is a well known fact that Srinagar Leh axis runs closest to the LOC in Dras –Kargil Sector. Not only that the terrain on the Indian side is hostile to defend, where as the terrain on Pakistan side is favorable to launch an offensive. Strategically Pakistan always intended to block/ disrupt or permanently dislocate the “Srinagar Leh Highway” in Dras Kargil Sector.

After being commissioned in the year 1963 first posting was to Jammu in No. 43 Sqn. (A Dakota operational Sqn). The main task was to operate to Kargil and Thoise to provide logistic support to the troops deployed in forward areas. I was fortunate to be deputed to be the base Cdr of AF clement at Kargil from Feb to May 1964, working along with 121 (Ind) infantry brigade was all education. Brig Cdr Brig Chopra (an armd corps officer) always used to mention that Dras-Kargil Sector is the most sensitive sector because of its close proximity to the LOC and terrain factors. Being a transport pilot interaction with the Army remained a part of service life. I was once again with the Army’s most prestigious Institutions College of Combat “MHOW” (Now renamed Army War College). This was during 1980-81 to undergo the “Higher Command Course”. Fortunately Gen Sunderjee was the commandant. Who always believed in real time situations to be part of “sand model discussion”. Dras-Kargil sector was one such situation discussed during the course Not only that he had planned a similar offensive during 1987-88 during his tenure as the Army Chief. I was a privy to that plan along with Gen BC Nanda Army Cdr Northern Command, Air Marshal MM Singh AOC-in-C WAC and some other officers. The plan was conceived, articulated discussed at 15 corps HQ for weeks. The same was presented at Army HQ, however was not found feasible due to nearly whole of the IAF being deployed for the air defence. One has to visualize how senior commanders of the Army, could remain so insensitive to this sensitivity of Dras-Kargil Sector.

After Oct 1998 it was only on 07 May 1999 that DGMI from Army HQ had called up Billi Bedi (Director ARC) to provide Air Reccece Mission in Dras-Kargil sector. When the info was filtered down to the air operation it was surprising and astonishing to decipher that the area to be covered was our own territory. Immediately mission was planned and launched the next day. However we did not succeed due to inclement weather. First six days that is upto 13 May 99 inclement weather did not allow the success of our missions. By, this time ground situation was becoming explosive and the media was very active in projecting the scenario as a war like situation. Most of the civilian pilots were reluctant to fly in the war like zone. Since I was fully qualified and operational on Gulf Stream type of aircraft fitted with MCRS ( Multi Camera Reconnaissance System), first three successful missions were flown by me personally. The PR mission flown on 18 May indicated 6 MI-17 helicopter of Pak Army parked in Mushok Valley area of our territory. These photographs were shown to the honourable RM he was aghast. This could not have happened with few weeks preparation this plan & preparation must have taken months of planning and preparation.

Some of the observations of Subramaniam Committee are relevant:-

“However, it acknowledges that the Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB) did convey certain inputs on activities in areas under Gilgit-based FCNA (Force Commander Northern Areas) of Pakistan to the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Cabinet Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Director-General Military Operations (DGMO).

There is a general lack of awareness of the critical importance of and the need for assessed intelligence at all levels. JIC reports do not receive the attention they deserve at the political and higher bureaucratic levels. Of the 45 intelligence inputs generated between May 1998 and April 1999, only 25 percent went through the JIC.

A Kargil-type situation could perhaps have been avoided had the Indian Army followed a policy of Siachenisation to plug unheld gaps along the 168 km stretch from Kaobal Gali to Chorbat La- Such a dispersal of forces to hold uninhabited territory of no strategic value would have dissipated considerable military strength and effort and would not have at all been cost effective. The alternative should be a credible declaratory policy of swiftly punishing wanton and willful violation of the sanctity of the LOC."

There is much evidence available to suggest the agencies concerned with intelligence gathering, RAW and IB, had in fact provided their political masters and military commanders with ample warning about Pakistani intentions and activities. RAW went as far as telling the government that the Pakistanis were getting ready to launch a major operation in Kargil.

Lack of strategic intelligence could have been made up by the observation on the ground through scouts and patrol’s. Let us not forget that two shepherds observed the Pakistanis first and reported their presence to the forces. They had one pair of binoculars between them. Purposeful and planned patrolling would certainly have revealed the presence of 1500/2000 troops spread over an area of about 1400 square kilometers even if their ingress was not contemporaneously detected much earlier. The aggression across the LOC in Kargil clearly indicated a well planned military operation with a view to capture territory across the LOC, which would provide a springboard for further offensive operation inside Indian Kashmir. An operation of this magnitude could only be planned at the highest level in Pakistan with complete approval of the government.

We have to accept that our political leaders did not show enough foresight, they neglected, “National Interest” (of security) to gain political advantage. At the same time senior military leadership cannot escape the responsibilities of dereliction of duty in safe guarding the “National Frontiers”. Those who should have been censured were awarded and decorated. We have to come out of that shell of a “holy cow” attitude.

India’s decision to limit the scope of operations in Kargil by not crossing the LOC despite suffering greater losses in the process was calculated not to enlarge the conflict or provide an excuse to Pakistan to seek UN intervention. The Army and the Air Force took this restriction in its stride and forged ahead. We saved the situation because of our highly professional, committed troops, junior leaders (JCO’S) and officers who were fighting in the field. The commitment and sacrifice of those who perished is commendable and “Nation Salutes” them.

Undoubtedly the damaged caused not only to Brig Devender Singh and some others can not be undone. If the observations and assessments of people like Brig Devender Singh and others had been taken into account at the right time may be we wouldn’t have lost 527 dedicated soldiers and officers. But for the folly of our Sr Commanders. I reiterate this point the generals who should have been sacked were awarded highest of gallantry awards, can we undo all that.

Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd.) served the Indian Air Force for 40 years. He has more than 10,000 hours of flying on 13 types of aircrafts. He has operated at airfields, like Dumduma, (6000 feet length, Thoise (when airfield was less than 6000 feet) and many so called difficult air fields. The aircraft operated were Boeing 707, IL76 and Gulf Stream. His last appointment in IAF was Director General Flight Safety and Inspection, IAF.

Air Marshal was on deputation the RAW. He was operational head of the Air Wing of the ARC during the year Feb1997 till 31 December 99. During the period of Kargil War, Air Marshal visited Sri Nagar, Dras, Kargil, Mashkahvalley, Leh, and Thoise extensively. He also flew Intelligence Mission many a times during the Kargil War. All observation are based as first hand account.

You can visit his blooger firstly - open the and than type Air Marshal Ashok Goel and find my blooger

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