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Kargil Vijay Diwas: Know the brief History of Kargil War

Kargil War or Kargil conflict happened between May and July 1999 within the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir. The war signifies an armed conflict between India and Pakistan. What was Kargil War 1999 was all about? What were the military and diplomatic challenges? Why the war took place? What is the history behind the Kargil War? Let us have a look!
Jul 26, 2020 01:39 IST
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 Kargil War
Kargil War

Kargil War: 26 July is observed as Kargil Vijay Diwas annually to commemorate the sacrifices made by the soldiers in the Kargil War. No doubt the war represents an example of high altitude warfare in mountainous terrain and constitutes significant logistical problems for the counter sides. 'Operation Vijay' an Indian Army mission achieved ultimate success for India and the Air Force called the mission as 'Operation Safed Sagar'.

Kargil War 1999: Conflict

The Kargil War took place in 1999 between 8 May, when Pakistani forces and Kashmiri militants were detected at top of the Kargil ridges. It is believed that Pakistan was planning for the operation by early as the autumn of 1998.

There were three major phases in the Kargil War: First, in the Indian-controlled section of Kashmir, Pakistan captured various strategic high points. Second, India responded by first capturing strategic transportation routes and third military pushing Pakistani forces back across the Line of Control.

Indian Forces were prepared by 30 June, 1999 for a major high-altitude offensive against Pakistani posts along the border in the disputed Kashmir region. Over the period of the previous six weeks, India had moved 5 infantry divisions, 5 independent brigades, and 44 battalions of paramilitary troops in Kashmir. Around 730,000 total Indian troop strength had reached in the region. Also, the build-up included the deployment of around 60 frontline aircraft.

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Occupation by Pakistan

After February Lahore Summit 1999 that took place between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Pakistani effort to take Kargil occurred. It was believed that this conference has de-escalated the tensions that had existed since May 1998. The main objective behind the operation was to help in internationalising the issue of Kashmir and for which global attention had been flagging for some time. It is said that the plan of intrusion was the brainchild of Pakistani's Chief of Army Staff Gen Pervez Musharraf and Lt. Gen Mohammed Aziz, the Chief of General Staff. Only an 'in principle' concurrence they obtained, without any specifics, from Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani Prime Minister.

The main objective of the Pakistani military for carrying out the intrusions was to rely on the exploitation of the large gaps that exist in the defences in the sector both on the Indian and Pakistani sides of the Line of Control (LoC).

Let us tell you that the terrain over there was extremely rugged with very few tracks leading from the main roads towards the LoC. And during, winter the area covered with snow due to heavy snowfall which makes movement almost impossible. The only mountain pass that was connecting the Kargil area to the Kashmir Valley, Zoji La, basically opens by the end of May or beginning of June. Therefore, moving reinforcements by surface via Srinagar would not have been possible till then. One more thing is that Pakistan Army calculated that even if the intrusions were discovered by the Indian's in early May, as they were, the action of the Indian Army would be slow and limited which provides more time and allow then to consolidate the intrusions more effectively.

Therefore, in early May only Zoji La was opened for the induction of troops. If the action of intruding were effective then it would allow Pakistani troops to secure some dominating heights from where the Srinagar-Leh National Highway 1A might be prohibited at a variety of places. And the intrusions would draw in and tie down the Indian Army reserves. Also, the intrusions have provided Pakistan control over substantial tracts of strategic acreage across the LoC, thereby allowing Islamabad to negotiate from strength position. And they decisively alter the status of the LoC.

Apart from keeping the plan top secret, the Pakistan Army also undertook certain steps to take care of a component of surprise and maximise deception. No new administrative bases for the intrusions were to be created, instead, they were to be catered for from those already within the existing defences. Along the ridgelines, there were the logistic lines of communication and therefore the nullahs were far away from the tracks, positions of the Indian Army troops were already in position.

After the finalisation, the plan was put into action towards the end of April. The main groups were broken into a number of smaller subgroups of 30 to 40 each for carrying out multiple intrusions along the ridgelines and occupy dominating heights.

The Pakistani army was hoping and trying to gain the upper hand in Kashmir and plunging the Indian subcontinent in brief and limited war and raising the specter of nuclear war.

Indian Army detected intruders

Intruders are detected by Indian Army Patrols atop Kargil ridges during the period 8-15 May, 1999. The infiltration pattern clearly entrenched the participation of trained Mujahideen and Pakistani Army regulars in these operations in areas east of Batalik and north of Dras.

In general areas of Kargil and Dras, Pakistan resorted to artillery firing from across the border. Some operations were launched by the Indian army which succeeded in cutting off the infiltrators in Drass sector. Also, the infiltrators were pushed back in Batalik sector.

On the heights, the intruders were both professional soldiers and mercenaries including the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 12th battalions of the Pakistan Army's Northern Light Infantry (NLI). Among them, there were the members of Pakistan's Special Services Group (SSG) and several Mujaheddin. Initially, it was estimated that there were about 500 to 1000 intruders were there occupying the heights but later it was estimated that the actual strength may have been around 5000. The intrusion area extended in an area of 160 Km. In fact, the Army of Pakistan had set up a complex logistical network so that the intruders across the LoC would be well supplied from the bases in POK. Intruders were well armed with AK 47 and 56 mortars, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and Stinger missiles.

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Now, let us have a look at the Indian Army Operations

The intrusions were detected by the Indian Army between 3 May-12 May. And from 15 May-25 May, 1999, military operations were planned, to their attack locations troops moved, artillery and other equipment were also moved in and the equipments that were necessary are purchased also. In May, 1999, an operation was launched by the Indian Army named 'Operation Vijay'. Now, the Indian troops moved towards the occupied Pakistani positions with air cover provided by aircraft and helicopters.

The Indian Army Operation Vijay of 1999 was a joint Infantry-Artillery endeavour to evict regular Pakistani soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) who had intruded across the LoC into Indian territory and had engrossed un-held mountain peaks at high-altitude and ridgelines. Soon it became clear that only massive and sustain firepower could destroy the intruders' sangars. Therefore, a unique saga in the history of the employment of Artillery firepower in battle began.

On 13 June, 1999, the first major ridgeline to fall was Tololing in the Drass sub-sector which was captured after several weeks of fighting. The attacks were lead up to by sustained fire assaults from over one hundred Artillery guns, mortars, and rocket launchers. Thousands of shells, bombs, and rocket warheads wreaked havoc and prevented the enemy from interfering with the assault. In the direct firing were the 155 mm Bofors medium guns and 105 mm Indian field guns destroyed all visible enemy sangars and forced them to abandon various positions.

Tololing complex capture paved the way for successive assaults to be launched on the Tiger Hill complex from various directions. On 4-5 July, 1999, Tiger Hill was re-captured and Point 4875. To the west of Tiger Hill was another dominating feature of Tiger Hill and on 7 July, 1999, Mashkoh Valley was recaptured. Point 4875 was re-named as "Gun Hill" in honour of the astounding performance of the Gunners in the Drass and Mashkoh sub-sectors.

Do you know around 12,000 rounds of high explosive rained down on Tiger Hill and caused large scale devastation and death? In the direct fighting 122mm Grad multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) were employed.

The terrain in the Batalik Sector was much tougher and the enemy was far more strongly entrenched. Almost a month took by the containment battle. Artillery observation posts (OPs) were instituted on dominating heights and sustained Artillery fire was brought down on the enemy continuously by day and night allowing them no rest. On 21 June, 1999, point 5203 was recaptured and on 6 July, 1999, Khalubar was also recaptured. Within the next few weeks, further attacks were pressed against the remaining Pakistani posts in the Batalik sub-sector. Once again, Artillery played a crucial role in destroying the enemy's battalion and logistics infrastructure.

It is said that during the Kargil conflict the Indian Artillery fired over 250,000 shells, bombs, and rockets? Daily from 300 guns mortars and MBRLs approximately 5,000 Artillery shells, mortar bombs, and rockets were fired. It is also said that such type of high rates of fire over long periods had not witnessed anywhere in the world since the Second World War.

Now let us have a look at Air Operations

Ground troops were supported by the Air Force from 11 May to 25 May and tried to contain the threat, judge the positions of the enemy dispositions, and carried out several preparatory actions. On 26 May, entry of Air Force into combat action represented an exemplar shift on the nature and prognosis of the conflict. Do you know that in Air Force Operation Safed Sagar, Air Force carried out about 5000 sorties of all types over 50-odd days of operations?

Before Kargil, the Western Air Command conducted the three-week-long exercise Trishul. During Trishul, the Indian Air Force flew 5,000 sorties with 300 aircraft using around 35,000 personnel and engaged targets at high elevation in the Himalayas. It was claimed by IAF that they have flown around 550 sorties in Kargil, though just about 80 were on or close to the target.

The threat of shoulder-fired missile was ubiquitous and there was no doubt about this. Pakistani Stinger damaged an IAF Canberra recce aircraft possibly from across the LoC. Operation, second and third day, the IAF lost one MiG-21 fighter and one Mi-17 helicopter to shoulder-fired missiles by the enemy. Also, one MiG-27 was lost on the second day due to engine failure just after the pilot had carried out successful attacks on one of the enemy's supply dumps. These events went to reinforce the tactics of the IAF in carrying out attacks from outside the Stinger SAM envelope and avoid the use of helicopters for attack purposes. Under relatively benign conditions attack helicopters have a certain utility in operations but are extremely at risk in an intense battlefield. Let us tell you that the enemy had fired more than 100 shoulder-fired SAMs against IAF aircraft which one side indicates the strength of the enemy air defences in the area but on the other side shows the success of the IAF tactics, mainly after the first three days of the war as not a single aircraft then received even a scratch.

In the Kargil area, the terrain is around 16,000 to 18,000 feet above the sea level. And it was required by the aircraft to fly at about 20,000 feet. At these heights, the density of the air is 30% less than at sea level.

This resulted in the reduction in weight that can be carried and also reduces the ability to manoeuvre as the radius of a turn is more than what is at lower levels. The turn's largest radius reduces the mobility in the restricted width of the valley. The performance of the engine also deteriorates due to the lesser mass of the air which is going into the jet engine of the fighter or helicopter. The trajectory of weapons was also gets affected by the non-standard air density. Hence, the firing may not be accurate. The targets are relatively small in the mountains, they spread-out and also difficult in spotting visually mainly by pilots in high-speed jets.

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Srinagar and Avantipur were the Indian airfields nearest to Kargil. Also, Adampur near Jalandhar was also close enough to support air operations. Therefore, IAF operated from these three bases. For ground attack, the planes used were namely MiG-2Is, MiG-23s, MiG-27s, Jaguars, and the Mirage-2000. Mainly, for air interception with a secondary role of ground attack, MiG-21 was built. Therefore, it was capable of operating in restricted spaces that were important in the Kargil terrain.

To attack the targets on the ground, MiG-23s and 27s were optimised. They can carry a load of 4 tonnes each and could be a mix of weapons including cannon, rocket pods, free-fall, and retarded bombs, and smart weapons. It also has a computerised bombsight that enables accurate weapon delivery. These planes were ideal to use at such types of terrain.

Flight Lt. Nachiketa was flowing MiG-27 on May 27 and while attacking a target in the Batalik sector, developed engine trouble and he had to bailout. To locate the downed pilot, Sqn Ldr Ajay Ahuja in a MiG-21, went out and so in this process, he was hit by a Pakistani surface to surface air missile (SAM). He came out safely but his body had gun-wounds was returned subsequently. For electronic warfare, reconnaissance and ground attack, the state-of-the-art Mirage-2000s were used.

With pinpoint accuracy, this fighter delivers its weapons. Also carried free-fall bombs and laser-guided bomb with deadly effects. In fact, due to this weapon, sizeable devastation was caused to the Pakistani bunkers on the ridges at Tiger Hill and Muntho Dhalo. On Muntho Dhalo in the Mirage attack, it is said that Pakistani troops suffered around 180 casualties.

To engage the Pakistani targets in the valleys and on ridges, the slower helicopter gunship became an important requirement. Also, Mi-17 was modified to carry 4 rocket pods with air-to-ground rockets and proved effective engaging Pakistani bunkers and troops.

While attacking Point 5140 on 28 May in the Tololing sector, one helicopter and its crew were lost to a counter heat-seeking missile.

One thing here to be noted is that there were restrictions for the Air Force of not crossing the Line of Control (LoC) to the Pakistan side. Otherwise, the Indian Air Force would have destroyed or would get the liberty to destroy the supply lines of Pakistani and also splinter the logistic bases across the LoC. However, these attacks were done on Pakistani facilities on the Indian side of the Line of Control. Supply lines, logistic bases, and enemy strong points were smashed. As a result, the Indian Army pursued its operations at a faster rate and with fewer losses.

In Operation Vijay, it is estimated that approximately 700 intruders were killed by air action alone. The Indian Air Force has intercepted a variety of enemy wireless transmissions that reveal the effectiveness of IAF attacks.

Therefore, we can say that in the recent past no war has been won without control of the air space in which operations are conducted.

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Now at the end, let us have a look at the Naval Operations.

As Indian Air Force and The Army prepared themselves for the battle on the heights of Kargil and the Indian Navy began to draw out its plan. The Indian aim was that all efforts must be made to deter Pakistan from escalating the conflict into a full-scale war. From 20 May on wards, therefore, the Indian Navy was put on a full alert, a few days prior to the launch of the Indian retaliatory offensive. Naval and Coast Guard aircraft were placed on endless surveillance and therefore the units are ready for meeting any challenge at sea.

Now the time came to put pressure on Pakistan and it was necessary that the right message went down to the masterminds in that country. From Visakhapatnam, strike elements from the Eastern Fleet were sailed on the East Coast to take part in a major naval exercise called 'SUMMEREX' in the North Atlantic Sea. This was envisaged as the largest ever-amassing of naval ships in the region. This message was driven home and in a defensive mood, Pakistan Navy directed all its units to keep clear of Indian Naval ships. The exercise was shifted closer to the Makran Coast, Pakistan moved all its major combatants out of Karachi. It also shifted its focus to protect its oil trade from the Gulf in the prospect of attacks by Indian ships.

As the retaliation from the Indian Army and the Air Force gathered momentum and defeat of Pakistan seemed a close possibility then naval focus now shifted to the Gulf of Oman. In the North Arabian Sea various rapid reaction missile-carrying units and ships from the fleet were deployed for carrying missile firing, anti-submarine, and electronic warfare exercises. The Navy also readied itself for implementing a blockade of the Pakistani ports, should the necessity arise. Also further, the Naval forces moved to the western sea-board from the Andaman group of islands.

Under 'Operation Talwar', the 'Eastern Fleet' joined the 'Western Naval Fleet' and blocked the Arabian Sea routes of Pakistan. The blockade was so powerful that was created by the Indian Navy that the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif disclosed that Pakistan was left with just six days of fuel (POL) to sustain itself if a full-fledged war had broken out. This is how the Indian Navy played a pivotal role and helped the Indian Army and Air Force during the Kargil War.

Therefore, on 26 July, Kargil Vijay Diwas is celebrated every year to commemorate the victory in the war against Pakistan.

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FAQ

Which point has been renamed as "Gun Hill" in honour of the stupendous performance of the Gunners in the Drass and Mashkoh sub-sectors during Kargil conflict?

Tiger Hill was recaptured on July 5, 1999, and Point 4875. On July 7, 1999, Mashkoh Valley, was recaptured. Point 4875 has since been re-named as "Gun Hill" in honour of the stupendous performance of the Gunners within the Drass and Mashkoh sub-sectors.

Under which operation the Indian Navy made plans to block the Arabian sea routes of Pakistan?

Under 'Operation Talwar' the Indian Navy made plans in which the ‘Eastern Fleet’ joined the ‘Western Naval Fleet’ and blocked the Arabian sea routes of Pakistan.

During Kargil conflict, which operation was launched by the Indian Air Force?

Operation Safed Sagar was launched by the Indian Air Force during the Kargil conflict.

During the Kargil conflict, the Indian artillery fired how many shells, bombs, and rockets?

During the Kargil conflict, the Indian artillery fired over 2,50,000 shells, bombs, and rockets. Approximately 5,000 artillery shells, mortar bombs, and rockets were fired daily from 300 guns, mortars, and MBRLs. On the day when Tiger Hill was recaptured around 9,000 shells were fired.

Name the first ever Indian war that was fought under media coverage?

Kargil War was fought during May-July, 1999 between India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir, along the Line of Control (LoC). Kargil was the first-ever Indian war that was fought under media coverage.

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