Monday, May 11, 2009


The helicopter shuddered as a sudden gust of wind threatened to slam it against the sheer rockface. The pilots, both young officers of the Indian Air Force were trying to land at a small helipad carved out of the jagged peaks at 13,000 feet in north Kashmir.

With the rotors still whirring one of the pilots leaned back and opened the door signalling for us - my camera man and I - to jump out and run straight towards the officers waiting for us. Do not run towards the rear - the tail rotor is almost invisible, he had cautioned earlier. We jumped out as a gust of icy wind almost took my breath away.
But this was an exclusive we were not going to miss. Access to the `conflict zone,' in north Kashmir. Intelligence agencies had warned about ``mass infiltration.'' Early warning posts were talking about increased movement or `hulchul' in military parlance across the line of control. Sources were talking about terrorists having assembled across the line of control north of Pir Panjal planning section and platoon level (groups betweeen 10 and 30) infiltration.

And the second fortnight of March had been terrible. Two major infiltrations in Gurez and Drangyari Kupwara areas. What was worse, one officer Major Mohit Sharma and seven other ranks of the elite one para special forces had been killed in the encounter with terrorists.

Not just any soldiers. These were special forces. And that too 1 Para. Army Commander's own. Our aim was to show to our viewers the area where the operations were taking place. Also to see how terrorists had infiltrated and that too in such large numbers - 120 in all, the army admitted but only 31 combatants. the rest the army claimed were porters and guides.

On the army's grid map Sadhna pass did not look all that menacing nor did the entire Shamsabari range. But on ground this was as bad if not worse than Kargil, where I had covered the conflict in 1999.

Now the army is well deployed here in north Kashmir. But like in Kargil it were the nullahs and passes where ambushes were laid, traditional infiltration routes guarded and patrolled. The terrorists used the treacherous high altitude avalanche prone mountains to infiltrate.

Caught off guard again ? Initially yes! 120 men cannot sneak across the line of control undetected. Somewhere the systems failed completely. Foot patrolling, anti infiltration obstacle system (the 12 feet high fence was completely buried in snow), sensors, helicopter reconaissance all failed. But sources say there was intelligence available and ambushes were laid. So what happened ?

Apparently, the Lashkar-e-Taiba guide sent by Abu Saad, the Rajwar lashkar commander to get the new group and reinforcements lost his way. This was a blessing in disguise for the terrorists. They evaded the army's elaborate trap. But the army tracked them. At Drang Yari `contact' happened just before dawn. The army `let them have it'. But under cover of darkness the group split and melted. This was on March 20. The same night special forces commandoes including the team led by Major Mohit Sharma of the 1 Para SF were helidropped `behind enemy lines.'

But unknown to the army, the terrorists were watching the entire helidrop operations. The brave major and his team were hunting the terrorists. The terrorists had the advantage of height. They were well hidden behind rocks. Suddenly the hunter was the hunted. The brave major and his team are learnt to have put up a fierce firefight. But the terrorists had the advantage of height, element of surprise and cover.

The next morning over a dozen army teams fanned out. They hunted the terrorists, killing 25 in all over a period of the next 10 days. Six terrorists were killed in an avalanche but so were eight soldiers.

The recoveries were huge - 13,000 rounds of AK ammunition, one RPG, 25 AK-47 rifles, hundreds of grenades, 32 kgs of explosives. The terrorists were extremely `well kitted' and trained to fight and survive in high altitudes. Multi layered high altitude clothing, snow boots, detailed six grid maps, GPS, satellite phones, radio sets...the works. All pointing towards the direct involvement of Pakistani security forces.

But there are very important lessons here for the army. While it is good, troops are now heli-dropped to deal with terrorists at high altitudes (imagine climbing for 9 hours at 12,000 feet and then fighting) it has to be back to the basics. High altitude jungle warfare training, tracking and evasive tactics - the basics need to be second nature. We cannot afford to lose even a single soldier in this war against terror. We cannot afford to be trapped in terror's Chakra Vyuh.

The army also needs to ensure better back up. Heliborne fire power is a must. It is nobody's point that the army is not looking after its soldiers. But the army needs to do much more. The Generals are Generals because they are now meant to fight battles in South Block and ensure the fighting force gets the best back up money can buy.

It is a war out there. It will only get worse as the snows melt. For the army it is hunting season. But the hunter must not become the hunted. EVER!


  1. Hi Gaurav,
    U know me we just spoke remember the single malt???? Its a nice start in ur blog world, few things need to be put in the right prespective.
    Like u said its a war going on, a war which never ended and one doesnt see an end to it too, guys will come and go Mohit and his boys will die and be replaced, but this shall not end. Its a slugging match, a war of the dirtiest kind but like u said a war indeed.
    What does everyone want in "k"??? Just a word of recognition a look of compassion, a term of endearment for the likes of Mohit and his boys who r with God today.
    What we need to be is active but not reactive! A kill there a death of own boys here is not the resolution of the conflict, it needs the will, the courage and the desire to take hard decisions at each level of the nation's security, boys like Mohit and his Team are just the pawns in this conflict, we need a larger vision and not myopic cataract.
    Thanx to guys like u who bring out in their very subtle manner to the country what it is and how it is.
    You may not agree but I am an admirer of ur work not but since 2002, u have grown in strength in maturity and knowledge and wisdom, Keep it up and may we break the seal of another single malt in better times and conditions. CHEERS

  2. Wow...I was not in india and i missed the entire action
    I guess kargil lessons have been learnt by the indian army