Battle for Batalik

During the Kargil conflict, it was in Batalik that the Indian Army faced its toughest challenge. It was also here that it won its first and finest victories,
writes Vijay Mohan


Photo: Manoj Mahajan
Photo: Manoj Mahajan



The assault, led by Lieut Manoj Kumar Pandey of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, reversed the fortunes of the Indian Army in the battle for Batalik
The assault, led by Lieut Manoj Kumar Pandey of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, reversed the fortunes of the Indian Army in the battle for Batalik

ON the night of July 2, 1999, a platoon of 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, during its advance to Khalubar in the Batalik sub-sector, came under heavy enemy fire from the surrounding heights as it approached its objective after an arduous climb of several hours.

The platoon commander, Lieut Manoj Kumar Pandey, was tasked by his commanding officer to clear the enemy positions before daybreak. Still under heavy fire, he quickly moved his platoon to a better position and sent one section of the troops to clear the enemy positions from the right, while he himself proceeded to the left. The courageous commander boldly attacked the first enemy position; killing two enemy soldiers, and destroying the second position by killing two more.

He was injured in the shoulder and legs while clearing the third position. Undaunted, Lieutenant Pandey continued to lead the assault on the fourth position, urging and inspiring his men. He destroyed the last and fourth position with a grenade, even as he was hit fatally in the forehead.

This courageous but daredevil act of Lieutenant Pandey was helpful in giving a criucial and firm base to his battalion and other units, which finally led to the capture of Khalubar. The assault also reversed the fortunes of the Indian Army in the battle for Batalik. The officer, however, succumbed to his injuries, and was decorated posthumously with the Param Vir Chakra, the nationís highest award for gallantry.

This is just one of the numerous tales of gallantry that flowed from the treacherous heights of Kargil, as troops cleared areas occupied by Pakistani intruders. As grim battles raged across a 160-km stretch of ridges and peaks that comprises the Kargil sector, it was in Batalik that the Army faced its toughest challenge. It was also here that it won its first and finest victories.

Exactly 11 years on, the battle has again come under intense scrutiny by the judiciary, the service community and the media after the Armed Forces Tribunal ruled that a Lieutenant-General, who was the Armyís top commander in the sector, had showed a bias against the Brigade Commander responsible for the operations, and had also fudged some of the reports relating to operations in that sub-sector.

70 Infantry Brigade under 3 Infantry Division, conducted operations in Batalik, that lies to the east of Kargil. Situated between Srinagar and Leh on National Highway 1-A and in close proximity with the Line of Control, the Kargil sector comprises, from the west to the east, the Mushkoh, Dras, Kaksar, Batalik, Turtok and the Haneef sub-sectors.

Under Operation Badr, conceived by the Pakistani military, well-equipped regular soldiers from its Northern Light Infantry (NLI), dressed in civilian clothes, intruded across the LoC in large numbers and occupied un-held ridges and mountaintops. Pakistanís gameplan, which turned out to be a huge strategic blunder, was to sever NH-1A, thereby cutting off the lifeline to Ladakh and Siachen, while opening new infiltration routes into Jammu and Kashmir and provide an impetus to the flagging militancy in the state, besides focussing international attention on the region.

As the intrusions were detected in early May, 1999, and the Indian establishment lumbered to meet the threat, the Army initially found the going tough. Varying assessments by senior commanders presented a lopsided view of the situation, and serious shortcomings were revealed in operational preparedness and logistic support in that sector. It took about a month, according to some senior officers, to build up force levels, train and acclimatise troops and work out an appropriate strategy and develop tactics to conduct successful operations.

In Batalik, elements of the 5 and 8 NLI had intruded 8-10 km across the LoC and occupied four ridgelines ó Jubar, Kukarthang, Khalubar and Point 5203 at heights of 15,000-16,800 feet and having steep slopes and jagged peaks. The strength of the enemy in this sector was assessed to be between 600 and 800 intruders. In his book, Kargil: The Impregnable Conquered, Lieut-Gen Y. M. Bammi states that the operations of the brigade were conducted over quite a difficult terrain against stiff enemy opposition in an area totally devoid of any infrastructure. Narrow valleys and other flying constraints made air support in this sector impossible.

The initial task of the brigade, after moving in from Dras on May 8, was to identify the extent of the penetration and attempt to exploit gaps and flanks in the enemy defences. Due to the sheer dominance of the ridges, attempting to hit the enemy head-on and proceeding sequentially to the LoC would have resulted in heavy casualties and little results. Having identified the enemyís logistics supply routes ó one along Shangruti-Ganisabar and the other along Piun-Chorbat La ó it was decided to drive a wedge in the enemyís rear so as not to allow the two axes of supply to converge, and, thus, divide the intrusion into two management lodgements. The eastern lodgement of Chorbat La, being smaller, was cleared first and then both flanks of the remaining lodgement were secured.

With 11 battalions, the operations to recapture Batalik were conducted in five phases. In the absence of any indications as to the depth and extent of enemy intrusion, it was left to the brigade to assess and identify the ingress and take suitable action. Initially, 3 Div allotted 1/11 GR and 12 JAK LI, supported by two batteries of 15 Field Regiment, to the brigade. Later, 1 Bihar was inducted and Corps Headquarters deployed 10 Para on deep strike missions. Subsequently, fire support was built up with four regiments, including Bofors and multiple-barrel rocket launchers. As additional intrusions became evident, Ladakh Scouts, 5 Para, 17 Gharwal, 22 Grenadiers and 14 Sikh were also inducted.

The second phase involved defining the concept of operations and securing the enemy flanks. 10 Para (SF), along with a company of 5 Para, attempted to cut off enemy lines of communication by moving along the Gragra Bar and capture features on Tharu ridge from May 20-24. A corridor was established along Junk Lungpa by 12 JAK LI, while Point 5203 was captured on June 21 to secure the eastern flank.

After both the eastern and western flanks were secured, third-phase plans were made to exploit the tactical gains and cut off the supply routes to engineer the enemyís collapse. Between July 1 and July 8, troops from 17 Garhwal, Ladakh Scouts, 12 JAK LI and 1/11 GR attacked and captured features towards this extent.

Having eliminated enemy supply routes, the fourth phase was characterised by dislodging intruders from important heights and all troops in contact with the enemy were told to simultaneously push ahead to evict the enemy. Jubar Top was captured by 1 Bihar while Muntho Dhalo and Ganisabar were secured by 5 Para by July 11.

In the last phase of the operations from July 23 to July 28, important heights on the LoC were captured to gain advantageous defensive positions and effective domination over areas across the LoC.

In fact, almost all regular soldiers of Pakistani Northern Light Infantry battalions had been evicted from mountaintops well before Pakistanís negotiated withdrawal. It was on July 9 that Army Headquarters officially announced that 99 per cent of Batalik had been cleared. "70 Infantry Brigade recaptured the maximum of terrain features from Pakistan intruders, sustained the maximum number of casualties and recovered the largest number of weapons and huge quantities of ammunition. Six out of the eight Pakistani prisoners captured during Operation Vijay had been apprehended in Batalik," states Heroes of Kargil, a publication by the Army Headquarters. "By all accounts, it was a remarkable victory," the book adds.

The cost of the victory was 125 soldiers lost to enemy fire, with another 300 wounded. The brigade won one Param Vir Chakra, two Maha Vir Chakras, 24 Vir Chakras, four Yudh Seva Medals, 54 Sena Medals and one Vishist Seva Medal. Six battalions from the brigade were awarded Battle or Theatre Honour Batalik/Kargil for their exemplary performance, while six got the Unit Citation from Chief of the Army Staff.

CONFLICT CHRONOLOGY

May 3, 1999: First reports of Pakistani intrusions in Kargil come in from the locals

May 5: Army patrols sent up; Five Indian soldiers captured and tortured to death

May 9: Heavy shelling by Pakistan damages the AMO dump in Kargil

May 10: Infiltrations noticed in the Dras, Kaksar and the Mushkoh sectors

Mid-May: The Army moves in more troops from the Kashmir Valley to the Kargil sector

May 26: The Air Force launches air strikes against infiltrators

May 27: The Air Force loses two fighters; Flt Lt Nachiketa taken PoW

May 28: An IAF MI-17 shot down by Pakistan; Four of crew dead

June 1: Pakistan steps up attacks, bombs NH 1-A

June 5: The Indian Army releases documents recovered from three Pakistani soldiers indicating Pakistanís involvement

June 6: The Indian Army launches major offensive in Kargil and Dras

June 9: The Army re-captures two key positions in the Batalik sector

June 11: India releases intercepts of conversation between Gen Pervez Musharraf and Chief of Staff, Gen Aziz Khan, as proof of the Pakistanís Army involvement.

June 13: The Indian Army secures Tololing in Dras

June 15: US President Bill Clinton, in a telephonic conversation, asks Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to pull out from Kargil

June 29: The Army captures two vital posts, Point 5060 and Point 5100 near Tiger Hill

July 2: Indian Army launches three-pronged attack in Kargil

July 4: The Army recaptures Tiger Hill after an 11-hour battle

July 5: The Indian Army takes control of Dras. Clinton and Sharif issue a joint statement in the USA in which Pakistan agrees to withdraw from Kargil

July 7: India recaptures Jubar Heights in Batalik

July 11: Pakistan begins pullout; India captures key peaks in Batalik

July 14: Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declares Operation Vijay a success. The government sets condition for talks with Pakistan

July 26: The Kargil conflict officially comes to an end. The Army announces complete eviction of Pakistani intruders

CASUALTIES

India

Killed: 527

Wounded: 1,363

PoW: 1

Pakistan

Killed: 4,000 (stated by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif)

Wounded: 800 (estimate)

PoW: 8





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