May 1999 News


Tension heightens as Pak downs IAF Aircraft

27 May 1999
News Agencies

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee chaired a high level emergency meeting here this evening to review the situation after which Defence Minister George Fernandes said we have taken a decision but I cannot tell you about it at this point.

Shortly after the meeting, which was attended by Fernandes, Home Minister L K Advani and the three Service Chiefs, Vajpayee spent an hour with President K R Narayanan briefing him on the developments.

Pakistan was the first to announce that it had shot down two Indian Air Force fighter planes, a MiG-21 and MiG-27, near Chorbat-La, claiming that they were seven kilometers inside its territory.

Pakistani military officials said that one of the pilots, Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa, had been captured while another pilot, Squadron leader A Ahuja, had died.

Hours later, Air Vice Marshal S K Malik told reporters here that a MiG-27 warplane, engaged in the operation in Kargil sector at 1100 hrs, had engine failure and its pilot ejected after giving a distress call.

A MiG-21 jet, which received the call, flew low to locate the ejected pilot when a surface-to-air missile was fired at it from across the Line of Control (LoC) by the Pakistanis, he said, adding that its pilot also bailed out.

Air Vice Marshal Malik described the Pakistani action as a hostile and provocative act because the planes were operating within the Indian territory close to the LoC.

A senior Pakistani Army officer Maj Gen Anis Bajwa said in Islamabad tonight that the captured Indian pilot would be treated as a prisoner of war and the body of the other pilot, who was killed, would be returned to India.

Fernandes, when asked if it was war-like situation, dismissed the question saying nobody talks about war so lightly.

Meanwhile, waves of IAF combat jets continued to pound positions held by Pakistani infiltrators for the second day today in Kargil, Drass and Batalik sectors inflicting heavy casualties on the mercenaries and Pakistan army regulars.

Air Vice Marshal Malik and Brigadier Mohan Bhandari said two mountain ridges in Drass and one in Batalik had been cleared of infiltrators and over 200 of them have been killed since the anti-infiltration operations began on May 14.

Throughout last night and today, Pakistan army continued heavy artillery shelling in Mushkoh valley, Batalik, Turtok and Drass areas, Defence Ministry officials said, adding that Indian army gave a befitting reply.

Asserting that a large number of intruders were regular Pakistani troops in disguise, Brig Bhandari said quoting intelligence reports that over 400 Pakistan-backed mercenaries and army regulars were waiting in Gilgit in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to cross into India and assist the infiltrators.

Stating that the number of infiltrator casualties was much higher than the over 160 reported till yesterday, Brig Bhandari said the cleaning up operations were on and the intruders’ morale was rapidly sinking.

Indian troops, he said, had lost three more men today taking the toll to 20. So far, 14 personnel, including three officers, are missing and nearly 100 men have sustained injuries, including 20 who had been grievously injured.

Claiming that the operations had entered a new phase, Brig Bhandari said two important heights in Drass sub-sector and another in Kargil sector were completely cleared of the intruders after the air strikes.

Three wounded mercenaries and bodies of two others killed in Indian attack on an administrative camp in the Batalik sub-sector were lying within the visual range of Indian troops, he said.

Congress today said that Pakistani firing on IAF combat aircraft had escalated the situation dangerously and demanded that India give a fitting reply.

It is a very serious development, which escalates a dangerous situation further. We should meet the situation adequately .... A fitting reply must be given, senior party leader K Natwar Singh said when asked to comment on the developments.

BJP said it was almost war-like situation and the entire nation stood as one. The Vajpayee Government had a firm grip on the happenings and would defeat the evil design behind the intrusion by Islamabad-backed infiltrators, party spokesman J P Mathur said.

Denying an earlier statement by Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani that the situation was war-like, Air Vice Marshal Malik clarified, the air operations are in support of the Army and are being conducted on the Indian side of the LoC. IAF is a mature Air Force and we are fully aware of our constraints.

An IAF officer later said the surface-to-air missile used to shoot down the MiG-27 warplane was not in possession of the infiltrators, maintaining it had been fired by the Pakistan armed forces from across the border.

On the two rounds of air strikes in the forenoon, the officer said, the strikes have been successful and effective and would continue till the infiltrators are dislodged. It is not possible to lay down a time-frame of the operations. Until the objective is met, there is no intention of a let-up in the strikes.

He denied Pakistani allegations that the fighter aircraft had technically violated the LoC by flying close to it.

Contending that considerable logistic activity was going on across the LoC, Air Vice Marshal Malik said Pakistan was using electronic counter-measure aircraft and its Army’s Special Services Group (SSG) to back up the infiltrators.

All this clearly indicated the involvement of the Pakistan’s armed forces in the operations to push in more militants.

Army and Air Force officials said as the air strikes continued, troops moved in to occupy key positions to isolate them.

Refuting the Pakistani charge that bombs had fallen on its territory, they said, since no bombs were used, there is absolutely no chance of any bombs having dropped in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The Pakistani allegations in this regard are absolutely baseless.

Defence sources said the MiG-21, MiG-23, MiG-27 and Mirage-2000 combat jets involved in the operation used sophisticated rockets to pulverise the targets at heights between 16,000 and 18,000 feet in Drass, Kargil and Batalik sectors.

Army officials said in most cases, the intruders’ positions had been isolated with troops occupying positions, effectively cutting off their supply lines.

All the attacks were in close coordination with the Army units in the area and were observed by our ground forces. Post-strike reconnaissance missions have confirmed the visual assessment of the damage caused to the infiltrators, they said.

Throughout the night, Pakistan Army continued heavy shelling in the Mushkoh Valley, Batalik, Turtok and Drass areas, Defence sources said, adding Indian Army gave a befitting reply to the artillery firing.

In the morning, the Air Force carried out more air strikes on icy positions occupied by intruders well South of the Line of Control in Indian territory.

The pre-dawn air attacks were taken out in the general area of Drass, Kargil and Batalik and there was no question of the aircraft going anywhere near the Line of Control (LoC), Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani, Director of Offensive Operations at air headquarters said at a briefing.

Air Cmde Bhojwani and Maj Gen J J Singh, Additional Director General of Military Operations, said the attacks achieved considerable success and were effective.

"This is war. Its not possible to lay down a time-frame. We make plans and the enemy makes plans", Air Cmde Bhojwani said when asked how long it would take to evict the infiltrators, who include Pakistan Army regulars and Afghan militants, from the Indian territory.

Asked what was the military reaction across the border and whether there was any buildup of forces, the officers said barring artillery fire and some movement ‘none of which was provocative’ there was no major action.

Regarding intelligence reports that some 400 men were waiting to infiltrate, Gen Singh said after the air strikes he did not think the mercenaries will be tempted to intrude into India.

"There will be no let up in the air attacks until we achieve our objective", Air Cmde Bhojwani said. He refused to divulge how many sorties were carried out or the weaponry used.

"I would like to reassure that if the other side does not escalate the matter, the situation will remain localised. They are the aggressors and we will use every means and take the appropriate military response on our side", he said when asked if the ongoing conflict could result in a war.

Whether there had been any contact between the Director Generals of Military Operations of India and Pakistan, Gen Singh said "this mechanism has been used". He said he could not divulge any details on the matter.

Gen Singh said as per estimates the casualties among the infiltrators were very high. Besides, several, who were injured, were not getting any medical aid, he said.

The air strikes, categorised as "successful and effective," were on targets like the tented accommodation, logistic stores and suspected hideouts of the infiltrators at heights of 14,000 feet and more.

Air Cmde Bhojwani said that there was total coordination between the Army and Air Force. The ground troops identified the targets and thereafter the air attacks were planned. "Our pilots did a meticulous and professional job despite operating in an inhospitable terrain", he said adding that post-strike reeks missions had confirmed the visual assessment.

Gen Singh said the effectiveness of the strikes were observed by both the ground troops and pilots who have to submit reports.

"Having analysed their plans, we have concentrated on targeting their weak points. In most cases, the rear positions of the intruders have been occupied by our troops. This way we can isolate them and interfere with their logistic maintenance routes and cutoff any reinforcements that are coming to them", Gen Singh said.

He said according to reliable information the infiltrators in many of their positions were finding it difficult to stay on and had suffered heavy casualties.

"In some of these positions we are hopeful that we will evict them in faster time-frame", the General said. "We have moved adequate forces to thwart this Pak misadventure". (Agencies)

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