Srinagar: It was on June 13, more than a month after the detection of intrusion in Kargil in 1999, that the first physical evidence came about the intruders being Pakistan Army personnel and not the “30-40 mercenaries” as thought earlier.
This is what Lt General (retd) Amar Aul, the then Brigade Commander of 8 Mountain Division, recalled while talking about the war in which he led operations to clear Tololing, Tiger Hill and Pt 5140 which had been occupied by the Pakistani troops.
“On May 12, 1999, we were ordered to move to Drass (in Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir) from our station in Wussan village in Ganderbal district in Kashmir,” the veteran soldier said in an interview to IANS.
“Initially, I was told there are just 30 to 40 mercenaries. I was given the task of Drass and Maskoh sectors,” he said.
A battalion-strong force with him established a camp adjacent to Drass town “where we were under shelling from enemy artillery”.
He said he was asked to start the operation straight away but he told his command that acclimatisation and reconnaissance would take some time before the troops could go for the assault.
“I just had one battalion with me as the other battalions had already been deployed. We took six days to acclimatise,” Aul recalled.
On May 22, 18 Grenadiers were asked to clear the ridge lines of Tololing top.
“We proceeded slowly and by May 31, we took over all the ridge lines of Tololing top. The enemy still had the top in sufficient strength,” he said, adding, “we had no porters, civilians or animals to carry the heavy weapons. We brought in porters from Baltal to help us”.
The then Brigade Commander said that fresh troops and artillery support arrived on June 6. Bofors guns arrived on June 10.
“Our first priority was to take Tololing top because the enemy fire guided from that top would hit the movement on the (Srinagar-Leh) national highway directly,” Aul said.
“On June 13, we launched the final assault on Tololing and we took the top. That was the first time we had physical evidence that it were not the mercenaries, but regulars of Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry that had held Tololing,” the former Army officer said.
“This was the first victory in the sector which turned the tide of the battle after which our troops did not have to look back,” he added.
Next was the operation launched to capture Pt 5140 for which 13 JAKRIF was deployed to move through the ‘Hump and Rocky Knob’ ridge.
“We took Pt 5140 on the morning of June 21 by surprise and deception,” the official said.
Sharing details of this operation, he said 2 Nagas were deployed to move up from the western ridge and 18 Garhwal from the northern ridge.
“The enemy first thought the attack was coming from the western ridge, then they thought it was also happening from the northern ridge.
“18 Garhwal were launched at 8.30 p.m. while 2 Nagas were launched at 9.30 p.m. The enemy was confused. At 10.30 p.m., the final assault of Tololing was carried out by 13 JAKRIF which took the top by total surprise,” Aul said.
By this time, he said 18 Grenadiers had “re-organised and refitted” and “on July 4, we launched the operation to capture Tiger Hill from the northern face which was the most difficult approach.”
An Indian commando platoon had hand-to-hand fight with the Pakistani soldiers at the Tiger Hill and they were reinforced by more troops climbing up.
“The operation to re-capture Tiger Hill was the fiercest battle during the Kargil operation,” Aul recalled.
“We also suffered some casualties and the Tiger Hill was taken during the intervening night of July 5 and July 6,” he added.
The battle ended on July 11 and the ceasefire was announced on July 26, 1999, said the former Lt General, who retired as Chief of Staff, Western Command, in 2009.