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10 years after Kargil
Army focuses on mountain warfare
Ajay Banerjee writes from Drass (on the LOC)

A soldier practising a difficult drill to bring down a colleague on his shoulder at the Kargil Battle School on the Drass-Zojila Highway.
A soldier practising a difficult drill to bring down a colleague on his shoulder at the Kargil Battle School on the Drass-Zojila Highway. Tribune photograph Mukesh Aggarwal

Standing at the base of an imposing mountain on the Drass-Zojila highway, the leader of a group of Army men looks up at soldiers perched high on the mountain and shouts, “Okay boys, do the flying fox (a highly dangerous mountaineering skill)”.

This is just one part of the training followed by the Indian Army as part of its plan to dominate the Himalayas not just along the Line of Control but also along the Line of Actual Control.

Within seconds of the command, a soldier performs the death-defying “flying fox” act that could put stuntmen to shame. Holding a rope in hand, he lets go off his foothold on the mountain and dives down with his face turned downwards. Just as he is about to hit the ground, he arrests his free fall using the rope.

The drop of about 50-60 metres is covered in three seconds flat. A split-second error in judgement, and he would have fatally smashed himself against the rocks.

Ten years ago, while trying to evict Pakistanis from these icy heights, India had learnt a bitter lesson when it did not have enough troops trained in mountain warfare.

Senior commanders of the Army believe that deployment of troops in the Himalayas bordering Pakistan and China is not likely to decrease. Keeping this is mind, the Indian defence establishment has already okayed the setting up of two new mountain divisions. Maj Gen Suresh Khajuria, General Officer Commanding of the 8th Mountain Division near Kargil, says: “Mountain warfare will be very important in the immediate future”. Besides manpower, equipment like snow scooters have now been added to the Drass-Kargil-Batalik sector.

The Army now trains all troops in mountain warfare in these ridges, which are as high as 21,000 feet. Scaling mountains, crossing glaciers and fast-flowing streams is part of the curriculum at Kargil Battle School, which was established after the 1999 conflict. All Indian troops on the Drass-Kargil-Batalik axis spend the first few weeks at the school.

It is here that US troops had a training session with the Indian Army in the middle of the Afghanistan conflict some six years ago. The bald, rocky and sharp mountains ridges in this area are similar to those in Afghanistan and in the North Western Frontier Province in Pakistan — both dominated by the Taliban.

A young Major at the battle school explains that the “flying fox” skill is just one part of the training. A crucial part of the training is directed towards ensuring the survival of the injured. To send an injured soldier across a stream, troops are trained in setting up a rope line that can carry a stretcher. Within minutes, a stream can be crossed. It can take hours otherwise. In another form of evacuation, an injured soldier can be carried on shoulder and the climb down the mountain is made with the help of ropes. The Army also runs another specialised mountain training school near Gulmarg.

As the jawans practise their skills, two Israeli tourists approach the officer at the base of the mountain, asking if they could also climb. The request is politely turned down.

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