Tuesday, January 22

Kargil and casualties

I came across an interesting email on a list, it purported to contain an email from a Pakistani Army Officer commenting on the casualties in the Kargil War. Also see this link. I quote (my comments at the end):

Dear All,

I am so relieved to finally find somebody backing up my view point on the subject at hand. Some of us uniformed people who do not have the luxury to scoff at the civilian point of view are caught between the devil and the deep sea. But what pains us the most is the fact that information offered by us no matter how authentic is invariably met with the usual distrust. At least we have nothing to hide from our brothers in Mufti (short of the classified/sensitive information of course). Before I offer some points to ponder I would like to reiterate that independent analysts have a lot to gain through exaggeration of the facts and figures.

There is a lot of tactical mumbo jumbo involved in military analysis and gauging of casualties (if we are not ready to believe the official figures prima facie). Nevertheless, I shall try to explain in as layman terms as possible, the deployments vis-a-vis the terrain and the likely casualties:-

(a)   Whereas a number of brigades are/were deployed along the NAs segment of the LoC, only one brigade i.e. 80 Bde went into actual action.

(b)   At one time during the conflict five NLI battalions were part of the 80 Bde but not during the entire conflict. These five battalions never went into action simultaneously.

(c)   A standared three battalion brigade when deployed in defensive formation has generally two battalions in front if operating in a plain, in mountains the frontages shrink further. The forward battalions generally deploy two companies in the front. So when a standard brigade is taking up defence it has only 4 companies (400 men) at the receiving end of the onslaught. Air Comodore T will bear me out that 400 men is one hell of a strength to deploy in the mountains.

(d)   80 Bde with three battalion had a strength far lesser than a standard infantry brigade; Why? Because NLIs were light infantry battalions before the conclusion of the Kargil conflict and had 60% (approximately) strength of a normal infantry battalion( and infantry battalion may have 700-810 men depending upon its role and situation)

(e)   so the figure of 5000 troops engaged, included the forward deployed troops plus the long logistic tail extending back to Gilgit and beyond to Rwp.

(f)   Artillary doesn't come under direct enemy fire. Only one odd observer may, if at all. It generally operates well out of enemy field artillary range if possible. IAF rarely crossed into our side of the LoC so Artillary could have met any worthmentioning causualties.

(g)   It is next to impossible to wipe out entire battalions even if you carpet bomb in the mountains.

(h)   Artillary is an area weapon and it can cause damage to some extent. It is used generally to demoralize, soften up and/or pin down the enemy. If enemy could be wiped up with artillary and air force alone, there wouldn't be any need for the infantry.

(j)   Scouts and rangers etc (called civil armed forces in military parlance) are never employed on the front as a principle.Their role is restricted to defence of installations, bridges or kept in depth positions. No such forces saw actual action in Kargil.

Some Fact Regarding the Conduct of Battle

(a)   Not all 131 posts were invoved in pitch battle. Some located at the edge of our territory hardly met any casualties.

(b)   Tiger hills was the hottest spot and a matter of prestige for Indians, the reason why they pounded it so severely and sacrificed such a high number of their troops while attempting to clear it. However, only one NLI battalion (i.e. two companies) were deployed on tiger hills. One NLI battalion was uprooted initially but was retaken by the reinforcement battalion. If we check the war diaries of those battalions we don't come up with a very high figure so as to substantiate the claims of many analysts, Why? In infantry terms when forward company suffers the loss of one of its forward platoons (there are three in a company) it goes into counterpenetration position letting the reserve battalion to launch a counter attack which is exactly what happened in the case of tiger hills. (Refer to one of issues of the TIME magazine of that period to have an idea of the causalties suffered by the Indian forces in their failed repeated bids to retake Tiger hills with their infantry)

(c)   Tiger hills was never taken by Indians before the political decision of abortion of the operation and withdrawal from the captured localities. It was only during the withdrawal that the most casualties were met by our men. (this assertion is contradicted by Brigadier Qadir's account, but apparently junior officers in the army continue to believe that Tiger Hill was never taken by the Indians -omar)

(d)   An SSG company (approximately 100 men) was deployed on Tiger hills and was to fight till the last bullet and last man. It suffered heaviest of the casualties. This was the single biggest loss suffered by our troops. A few however still survived ( some of them our own very friends with whom we had intimate discussions afterwards).

(e)   The pitch battle (involving artillary and IAF) lasted only for a short duration, there is no way 2700 - 3000 casualties could've been inflicted in such a short battle. There simply weren't such a number present to be slaughtered.

(f)   No matter if the body of a soldier is found or not, no matter if his body lay buried in  a snow grave, a coffin to his name must be sent to his ancestral home to be buried with military honours. Not all the graves we located necessarily have the bodies of martyrs in them.

(g) Indians handed over 5 additional bodies after the battle. The would be more than glad to line up 2000 plus dead bodies for the whole world to see and gloat over their prize. It wouldn't be difficult for them to spot and collect the bodies from the Kagil Dras sector once our troops had withdrawn for the territory. In fact they would love to do this.

(h)   And lastly, more than 60 officers of various ranks were martyred during the operation making it the highest officer to men ration killed in the history of modern conflict. It is an internationally recognized ratio and in no way could be true if the actual fatalaties were as high as some analysts repeat ad nauseum.

Finally, some of us might be in a position to state the exact figures, but wouldn't be able to do so for the reason of restrictions laid upon us by the service. But I just want to say that six hundred is not a negligibe bodycount, it is greater than the 65 war, it is very high even by the standards of a fierce battle like Kargil. In the end, however, Kargil was an example of daring action, of ultimate sacrifice by officers and men alike. You may question the wisdom behind the launching of the operation, you can lament the inadequacies of the logistic support that presumably caused suffering to our men, you can curse the weak political will for not risking an all out war by using Air Force, that is immaterial to us soldiers fighting on the front. For, its not for us to question the logic behind the orders, we do or die.

Fascinating history from a Pakistani Army officer. Just a small point relating to the last line “For, its not for us to question the logic behind the orders, we do or die”. The very same defence was used at Nuremberg as well and unfortunately was not acceptable as a defence either. Given the fact that no civilian politician ever gave the order (I know it is debatable with Nawaz Sharif saying he had absolutely nothing to do with it), one wonders about which orders were legal and which were being followed? I am afraid Kargil was not an example of daring action; it was the most spectacularly stupid action possible but then, well, you would expect a Pakistani Army officer to disagree with me there! :)

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