THE ARMY has lost nearly twice the number of soldiers in Jammu and Kashmir this year as compared to the annual toll in the last two years. While this is mainly due to increase in ceasefire violations, counter-infiltration and Pakistan Army’s Border Action Team (BAT) operations on the Line of Control (LoC), there has also been an increase in the number of soldiers killed in counter-terrorist operations in the state.
According to Defence Ministry sources, 60 soldiers were killed in J&K till December 15 this year — the toll was 33 soldiers in 2015 and 32 in 2014. Of the 60 soldiers who died this year, 23 were killed in operations at the LoC — ceasefire violations, counter-infiltration and BAT operations. In contrast, only four soldiers died on the LoC in 2015, and five in 2014.
Thirty-seven soldiers were killed in counter-terrorist operations in the hinterland, up from the 29 killed in 2015 and 27 in 2014. “The number of dead soldiers is higher this year due to two major terror incidents — one at Uri and another in Nagrota, where we unfortunately lost a total of 26 men,” said an Army official.
After the Uri attack, in which 19 soldiers were killed, the Army launched “surgical strikes” on six terror launch-pads across the LoC. This was followed by an increase in the number of ceasefire violations on the LoC, where both sides used heavy weaponry, including artillery guns, in ground fire.
During his visit to Northern Command headquarters at Udhampur last month, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was shown a four-minute-long video of the high intensity firing on Pakistani posts at the LoC. The Pakistan Army has also shared videos and photographs of heavy action on Indian posts on the LoC. There has, however, been a decline in the number of ceasefire violations in the past three weeks.
“Our posts on the LoC are better prepared than the Pakistanis. These posts are in much better shape and, despite their best attempts, our casualties have been limited. An active LoC will always have more chances of casualties than a non-active one,” said a top Army official from Udhampur.
As much as the top Army leadership understands the importance of the LoC ceasefire, it feels that there was no choice but to retaliate after the Uri attack. The only question raised, top Army sources said, was whether such retaliation “was part of a policy or just a one-off thing”.
Top Army sources admitted that there has been a rise in terror incidents in the Valley. Over 100 terrorists have been killed this year, sources said, and more infiltration attempts have been made at the LoC.
Meanwhile, all the top Army formations in J&K have seen a leadership change in recent months. Earlier this month, Lt General Devraj Anbu took over as the new GOC-in-C at Udhampur-headquartered Northern Command, which looks after the whole of J&K, following the retirement of Lt General D S Hooda.
Srinagar-based 15 Corps, which is responsible for areas in J&K north of Pir Panjal ranges, saw a change of command last month when Lt General J S Sandhu replaced Lt General Satish Dua. In October, Lt General A K Sharma took over the responsibility for areas south of Pir Panjal as 16 Corps Commander from Lt General R R Nimbhorkar.
“Our processes and systems are already institutionalised. Personalities definitely matter at that level, but only to a limited extent. We should not worry about so many senior-level changes in such a short period affecting the Army operations in J&K in any major way,” said sources.