Life along the LoC Part II: Bunker Bravado

. Some operational details have been withheld to maintain anonymity.

There’s a constant struggle for positional supremacy along the LoC. The Pakistanis try their best to destroy or disable our frontline bunkers and sometimes even try to take possession of one. We repay them in kind, shell for shell, bullet for bullet. One such incident in a northern district of Kashmir near the close of the last millennium threatened to spiral out of control and cause a larger conflagration.

This is the story of how we did not let that happen. One of the strategic posts manned by a detachment of 10 soldiers led by a Junior Commissioned Officer was practically on the LoC. It had a splendid view of the Pakistani side and enabled suppressive fire, meaning a rain of bullets on attempted infiltration. One day, the Pakistanis cut loose with all they had on these bunkers—sub-machine guns, rockets, mortars.

Wireless communication with this team went cold as soon as the firing began. We feared the worst even as return fire commenced. Later, when the firing calmed down, we got a radio message from one of our jawans. Their team leader had very wisely decided to relocate his men from the bunker to a temporary position as soon as the overwhelming Pakistani fire assault began.

This jawan had snaked back to retrieve the radio set and inform us of their situation. There was no casualty on our side; the boys were okay. The bunkers were, however, being shot to pieces and the first thing to do was smash them back. The troops reorganised themselves and occupied firing positions behind boulders. We opened up with all we had, a blizzard of bullets and rockets on the opposite Pakistani positions.

After the fire assault, the enemy fire continued to cover the bunker and the wide slope leading up to it which hampered our supply of ration, water and basic amenities to men who were cut off from the rest of the location. A possible Pakistani seizure of this post would have lit up the LoC up and down, but it had been averted for the time being by our massive return fire.

This meant we had to shift focus on the next, and most important, mission:  sustaining this post administratively and operationally, for we could not hope to sustain fire from the Pakistanis on open positions without casualties. We had a plan, a crazy plan. To our surprise, senior officers agreed immediately. We decided to create an ‘overhead tunnel’ all the way to the ravaged post, repair it stronger and occupy it again.

The track would be covered overhead with the hard composite U-shaped sheets that we use to make bunkers and fortified with sandbags on its sides and top. These composite readymades can withstand small arms fire and shrapnel from artillery shells; with the sandbags they would be impregnable to what the Pakistanis were laying down on us non-stop.

Every day after last light, a team of junior commissioned officers and I would analyse the pattern of persistent Pakistani fire and continue to build the ‘overhead tunnel’, working till first light. This task took us four weeks to accomplish. In keeping with Indian Army traditions, we leaders didn’t ask our men to do anything we wouldn’t do. We would be first into the exposed section of the growing tunnel.

We filled sandbags and sewed them close as Pakistani bullets whistled and ricocheted all around us. Over four weeks, the tunnel grew from isolated sections across the field of Pakistani fire into a giant dotted line till it finally coalesced into one bulletproof route to the bunkers. The task was completed without any injury to men and damage to property.

During the entire duration of operation, jawans were tasked on rotational basis whereas same set of leaders involved in operation continued to lead without any rest, operating through the night and preparing the next day for the coming night operation. Finally, we were in! We had braved the fire the Pakistanis thought we couldn’t, and pulled off the impossible. All the bunkers were fortified afresh and occupied again. Another Pakistani mischief along the LoC had been thwarted.

More Action from the LoC

Part I: Fire and Fury

Part III: Taking Them Out

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

LoC Part I

Life along the LoC Part I: Fire and Fury

. Some operational details have been withheld to maintain anonymity.

The Line of Control runs through mostly mountainous terrain, following natural features where it can. All that is good on a map, but on the ground it’s a living line over and around slivers of land—a ridge, a spur, a valley, a stream bed—where sudden death is a constant possibility. Indian and Pakistani troops face each other from crude but hardened sandbagged bunkers; somewhere they have the advantage of a superior firing position, and in other places it is us.

On the whole, it balances out.   Among the kind of battles fought on the LoC is what we men in Olive Green call a fire assault. A fire assault means bringing great firepower to bear for a pre-ordained span of time on a particular target to attain dominance. This story is about one such operation. I commanded a company somewhere in the northern part of the LoC in the late 90s.

A company of any infantry battalion of the Indian Army usually has a hundred-odd fighting men divided into sub-units. The usual rank of a company commander is Major. My company was in charge of a handful of bunkers at an average elevation of 10,000 feet. Opposite, about 800 to 1000 yards away and slightly higher than us were Pakistani bunkers and an adjacent supply dump, a situation that allowed them to shoot down on us, including a devastating cone of fire from company-level weapons like medium machine guns.

This would not do, so we devised a plan to launch a fire assault on the Pakistani position which we believed held up to a sizable number of troops. To cause maximum damage a 75 mm heavy gun, an old faithful, was the weapon of choice. Using this gun for such operations was a unique concept; this had never done before at such a high altitude. For this requirement, this gun can be broken down into parts and re-assembled quickly.

The shell it fires is of large calibre and causes great damage—it can easily blow up an ordinary house with a few well-placed shots. Besides, we had High Explosive (HE) shells. The heavy gun was broken down by a couple of engineering technicians commandeered specifically for this operation. Special mules that the Indian army uses for exactly this kind of work were not used in order to keep things quiet and maintain surprise.

We got the non-combatants from our rear administrative location—cooks, laundrymen and assorted others—to carry the pieces of the gun during dark hours to a ridge at 13,000 feet that looked down on the Pakistani position. Big gun assembled, HE ammo stacked, we waited for dusk because that’s when there was a lull in the Pakistani fire and because it would be difficult for them to pinpoint us and retaliate.

We pointed the gun straight at the Pakistani bunkers rather than using the conventional mode of firing the shells in a lobbing arc, making it like a giant pistol rather than the light artillery piece it is meant to be. Fire! I ordered, and the shells began to smash into the Pakistani bunkers. We fired 30-odd big rounds into them in a matter of minutes.

That group of bunkers took a lot of punishment; a dead silence reigned through the night. The silence lasted two weeks; the Pakistanis didn’t fire at us. Our fire assault had worked: devastating firepower had cowed them down into a temporary peace.

More Action from the LoC

Part II: Bunker Bravado

Part III: Taking Them Out

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

LoC Part III

Life along the LoC Part III: Taking Them Out

. Some operational details have been withheld to maintain anonymity.

Infiltration by terrorists is a fact of life on the LoC. Most of those who cross over to execute specific terror missions are hardened, trained and ready to die. This makes them deadly opponents indeed. Infantrymen along or near the LoC are often tasked to hunt down and eliminate such infiltrators. This is one such story, an operation I led almost two decades ago close to the LoC in the Valley, and was later honoured with a gallantry award for.

One of our informers told us of a group of four Lashkar-e-Toiba men holed up in a small village in our operational area. These men had moved from village to village deeper into Indian territory every night since infiltrating three or four days ago, we were reliably told. Despite what one hears on the TV, the Indian Army takes all the care it can to keep civilians out of such encounters.

We cordoned off the house and its adjacent dwelling units first with a small number of soldiers. I was leading and had with me a Quick Reaction Team, or QRT, lightly armed—assault rifles and grenades—and highly mobile troops. The entire village, some 300 people living in 70-odd houses were moved out of the area.

An outer wider cordon of the rest of the company was then put in place to intercept any terrorist if the first cordon was breached. By then the four fidayeen in the target house had realised they were surrounded and they began pouring fire at us from the windows. The way they controlled their fire indicated they were no amateurs.

Most of these Pakistan-trained terrorists don’t use flash eliminators on their AKs, and their firing has a distinctly different sound that every soldier who has experienced their fire can tell. First, we ‘softened’ them up with a barrage of small arms fire and shoulder-fired rockets. Their firing continued, though it had become markedly sporadic, indicating one or more of the terrorists had been wounded or, hopefully, got ‘taken out’.

We seized the opportunity during one such lull in the firing from the house and ran quickly the few open yards to one of the windows that appeared to be the source of much fire. Time seemed to have slowed as I along with my buddy reached the window unscathed even though I could hear firing continue. Without a moment’s delay I broke the window pane with the butt of my rifle and lobbed in a couple of grenades.

Seconds later the house shook with twin explosions. Both of us stood up and our eyes focussed on two moving shapes in the gloomy interior of the house. Our reaction was immediate: We blazed away at the terrorists, spraying them both with long bursts from our AK-47s, whose rounds cause much damage to the human body from short ranges because they tend to splinter on impact.

Before remaining terrorists could react, I reorganised my group and charged into the house. My team members were very quick; our hearts were calm and our feet pounding on the floor, and both fidayeens were flushed out and eliminated with crisp action.

Killing these terrorists saved an incalculable number of lives as they were planning to carry out multiple attacks on security forces which we discovered from documents recovered in the house. The mission was completed in 12 hours without any casualty in my troops or the civilian population.

More Action from the LoC

Part I: Fire and Fury

Part II: Bunker Bravado

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

Army commandos cross LoC, kill 3 Pak soldiers

Pakistan rejects claims, says 3 soldiers died in ceasefire violation

The sources said the action was taken around 6 p.m. on Monday after some Pakistani military personnel tried to cross over apparently to plant IEDs on the Indian side of the border. They said Pakistani forces belonging to 59 Baloch Regiment had set up a temporary post close to the LoC in Rukh Chakri sector of Rawalakot and “at least three Pakistani soldiers were killed while one was injured”. They said it was possible that the casualty figure may be higher. The incident took place along the LoC in Pooch. The sources, however, didn’t term the action a surgical strike — like the one conducted on September 29, 2016, when Indian army commandos crossed the Line of Control (LoC) to target terror launch pads inside Pakistan-controlled territory, killing dozens of terrorists and their sympathisers. Since the 2016 Surgical Strike, this is the first publicised incident of Indian soldiers crossing the LoC, though sources said from time to time Indian troops do cross the de facto border to target Pakistani forces. Pakistan Army confirmed the death of three soldiers in an “unprovoked heavy cross-border shelling by Indian forces” at Rukh Chakri sector. (IANS) // ]]>