July 26 marks the day of India’s victory against Pakistan in 1999 Kargil War. The enemy forces had infiltrated about 140 km along the LOC. The ‘Operation Vijay’ lasted for 50 days, during which 527 Indian soldiers died in the war, while over 1,300 were injured.
Analyst Group Captain TP Srivastava (Retd.), while speaking about the critical lapses of the conflict, said, “It [Kargil] happened because of a total lack of intelligence gathering, collation and transmission to frontline formations in spite of our dedicated defence satellites.” Capt. Srivastava called the war “The fiercest unwanted battle in the most inhospitable terrain that had to be fought and won at all costs”
The war is a recent example of high-altitude warfare in mountainous terrain. With very less preparation for the battle, the gallantry displayed by the Indian Forces was what led us to victory.
Air Marshal Narayan Menon (Retd.), who served as the Air Officer-in-Charge, Jammu and Kashmir, during the 1999 Kargil War and led the Indian Airforce’s Operation Safed Sagar, says, “The victory in Kargil operations resulted from the raw courage and indomitable will of the young leadership and soldiers of the Indian Army and the impetus, the trigger to prise out the Pakistani forces from the occupied heights of Kargil was provided by the accuracy and effectiveness of the Indian Air Force.”
The IAF and the Indian Army troops’ combined struggle in the extreme conditions was a major key factor in India’s victory. Air Marshal Narayan said, “During the conflict period there was an excellent understanding between IAF planners at Srinagar airfield and representatives of 15 Corps. Real time progress of the battle was conveyed to Air Force reps at Srinagar so that attack plans could be tailored accordingly.”
Lieutenant General Amarnath Aul (Retd.), who served as the Brigade Commander of the famed ‘56 Mountain Brigade (part of 8 Mountain Division),’ which oversaw major combat operations during the 1999 Kargil War, told, “The situation in the initial stages were as follows. The enemy and terrain information were sketchy. The deployment of subunits was in penny packets. Upon arrival, we were asked to launch operations without acclimatisation. Furthermore, our units were not equipped with proper clothes, weapons, and equipment. The troops deployed were not in physical contact with the enemy.”
“Limited or no patrolling was being carried out, and the intrusion was not taken seriously. In fact, it was felt that intruders would be evicted within 48 hours. The perception was that the intrusion was by Mujahideen. There was a tendency to break up the cohesivity of the units and to react to every situation. There was a lack of artillery support and porters, and animal transport was unavailable. Lastly, in the initial stages I had only one Battalion for offensive operations and five firing units which were utilised to clear the ridge lines leading to Tololing Top,” Lieutenant General Amarnath added.
The Tololing peak was a strategically important location in the war and was the first objective to be captured. The capturing of the Tololing paved the way for the Indian Force’s subsequent victory. Recalled by Lt. General Amarnath recalled this specific capture and said, “On 1 June 1999 we came under the command of 8 Mountain Division. Finally, having realised the strength of the enemy at various heights, we got into the process of building up our forces and firepower to almost 20 FUs. This took us almost 12 days to gear up. The first assault was launched on Tololing on 13 Jun by 2 Rajputana Rifles with 18 Grenadiers providing the firm base. The objective was captured by the morning of 14 June 1999.”
Captain Akhilesh Saxena (Retd), a young forward observation officer at the time recounted his experiences leading the Tololing assault, “We had written our final letters to our loved ones before we proceeded to attack the Tololing peak in what was basically a suicide charge. The enemy rained down continuous fire, artillery shelling and bombardment upon our advancing party.
“We had lost men and while others sustained serious injuries. Our supply lines were cut off by the enemy, the only things we carried to the assault were some bullets, hand grenades, rifles and rocket launchers, that is all. We had no rations, there was nothing to eat and nothing to drink. We had to budget our supplies; the aim was if we can carry a kilogram more than why not a kilogram of more ammunition?”
“Capt. Vijayant Thapar, who later went on to be posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra and I were the only two officers leading this attack and had seven to eight jawans with us who were grievously injured,” he elaborated.
The Navy’s contribution in war is almost overlooked by the masses. They fought a Silent War, i.e. Operation Talwar. “The operation involved the largest ever deployment of combatant ships in the Arabian Sea,” wrote Commodore Srikant Kesnur and Commander Digvijay Singh Sodha in an article published in the Asian Age. The operation commenced with the aim of identifying the position of the Pakistani naval forces The objective was to serve as a coercive counterbalance against the enemy further expanding the operations from the Kargil sector.
“This large-scale deployment…was close enough for Pakistan to notice and feel the presence, with the possibility of their supplies being choked. This forced her Navy to shift her assets from Karachi, fearing an Indian Naval strike on the harbour…The escort operations revealed that blockade of Karachi and interruption of oil supply from the Persian Gulf were serious vulnerabilities for Pakistan requiring an operational and strategic pause.
“By keeping Pakistan in a continued state of anxiety and alarm about our intentions, by forcing it to spread its assets thin and by conjoining with the other two services where required, one may affirm that the Navy’s role in the Kargil war was silent, understated but significant,” it was concluded.
Lt Gen Aul (Retd), summarised the reason for India’s as, “Detailed planning and execution of operation. Commanding Officers were given the independence in planning and execution of tasks after detailed recce and info on deployment of the enemy. Surprise and deception measures were the hallmark for executing these tasks to ensure enemy attention is diverted from the actual direction of assault.
“Artillery played a major role and was utilised to the maximum in pounding objectives. Bofors were also used extensively in the direct firing role. The motivation, the will to win, which the junior leadership displayed was par excellence. Enough time was given to the infantry units to recycle and reorganise for subsequent operations. Problems of logistics were overcome by commandeering porters and ponies from Amarnath Yatra.”