From the Valley to Kargil

The 8 Mountain Division fulfilled its role brilliantly during both CI operations and conventional warfare

Lt. Gen. Mohinder Puri (retd)Lt. Gen. Mohinder Puri (retd)

A decade and a half has passed since Pakistan surprised us in Kargil by violating the Line of Control (LC) with deep incursions into our territory. It took the better part of 50 days for us to push back the Pakistan Army and restore the sanctity of the LC. Many a battle was fought in perhaps one of the world’s most inhospitable terrains with extreme high altitude and inclement weather, at times in sub-zero temperatures. The fact that despite these adversities we came out victorious was due to acts of bravery, courage of our young officers and men, who many a times went beyond the call of military duty.

I had the privilege and honour to command 8 Mountain Division in the Valley where it was deployed in counter insurgency (CI) operations and later during the Kargil war. This article gives my experience of commanding a formation the size of a division in both insurgency-inflicted areas and in conventional war; and the problems one is faced with in switching roles from one form of warfare to another.

Vijay Diwas celebrations in Kargil
Vijay Diwas celebrations in Kargil

CI operations and conventional warfare are like chalk and cheese. Whereas CI operations require immediate and expeditious response with rapid planning lest militants run havoc, conventional warfare requires deliberation and unwavering co-ordination of not only amongst those assaulting, but also with the array of supporting arms and services, including the air force. Therefore, to change to the conventional warfare configuration in equipment and psyche within the short time available at that time speaks creditably of the response continuum that is inbuilt in the training and equipment transformation flexibility of the Indian Army.

Candidly, since the army was preoccupied with militancy and it was after 1971 that a conventional war was thrust on India, there was sombre scepticism whether the change could be effected early enough to match the timeframe expected by the nation to ‘drive’ the Pakistan Army back to from where they came. That the army delivered most creditably is indeed a salute to all concerned in uniform — from the top rung to the soldier. There was no inadequacy in any sphere, except perhaps with the vintage of equipment. That, too, was overcome to a great degree as the battle progressed.

CI operations take a heavy toll on troops as perhaps in all cases the army is undertaking operations with one hand tied behind its back. The aim of successful termination of CI operations is to open the doors for a lasting political solution and bring back the misguided population into the country’s political, economic and cultural mainstream. While conventional operations follow a kill or capture strategy against the enemy, in CI environment, you have to reject this policy and base your concept of operations on winning the hearts and minds of the local population (WHAM).

Killing or capturing insurgents becomes counter-productive and may at times result in a backlash and further alienate the population and add support to the insurgents. The army is, therefore, always under constant scrutiny from the local administration and government, the population and human right organisations, and of course, its own superior headquarters. The centre of gravity consequently shifts from conventional style military operations to WHAM which involves a complete gamut of activities ranging from deliberate psychological operations to a whole lot of initiatives which facilitate the lifestyle of the population. Every operation or contact with militants, therefore, has to be tightly controlled at the sub-unit and unit level, lest troops go trigger happy and inflict uncalled for collateral damage.

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