Indian troops are being deployed in large numbers along the Finger 3 ridgeline on the north bank of Pangong Tso in Ladakh where the PLA build-up has increased significantly in the last 48 hours as the Chinese seek to move further west of Finger 4. The Chinese moves on the north bank — PLA troops have been on the Finger 4 ridgeline ever since May after coming in 8 km west of Finger 8 which India says marks the Line of Actual Control — is seen as an attempt to wrest the advantage after Indian troops occupied dominating heights on the stretch from the south bank of the lake to Rechin La near Rezang La on August 29-30.
Sources said the Chinese, who never vacated the Finger 4 ridgeline even after agreeing to total disengagement, massed close to 2,000 soldiers on the upper reaches of the ridge Tuesday night. Observing the Chinese troop movement, India also moved to mirror the deployment, sending almost the same number of troops to the Finger 3 ridgeline.
A government source said Thursday that the situation remains tense and less than 500 metres separate troops of the two sides.
“Forces on either side are armed. All are within shooting range and the line of sight is clear on the upper reaches. The weather too is harsh during the night. The challenge is to keep the troops calm,” the source said. A second official said the PLA has not brought extra troops to the region but gathered troops scattered across the mother ridge at Finger 4.
Troops of both sides are on the ridgeline that connects Fingers 3 and 4, or on the “knuckles” from where the finger-like spurs slope into the lake. The Finger 4 knuckle is called Green Top, and it is where the PLA troops are stationed. From this position, they have a dominant view of India’s Dhan Singh Thapa Post, just west of Finger 3, near the base.
About 1 km north of Green Top is another height called Pimple. The PLA has occupied this as well. The knuckle of Finger 3 is around 1 km northwest from Pimple, and this is the stretch where the situation is tense, according to sources in the security establishment.
Sources said Indian forces have been trying to get to the top of Finger 3, but are being prevented by the large number of PLA troops close to it. Indian troops, sources said, have made at least two attempts over the last few days to dominate the top of Finger 3, only to come up against a show of flags by PLA troops.
Army sources maintained that India is in a dominant position as it has occupied heights to the north and west of PLA positions.
A senior Army officer said, “some strength enhancement is obvious, because we are sitting on greater heights”. He said Chinese troops are occupying the Finger 4 ridgeline at four different heights, and that “we have also occupied multiple features and are dominating”.
A source said: “The assessment was that sooner than later, the Chinese would descend to cut off our access to Dhan Singh Thapa Post. We had to make sure they were blocked. Now along the entire Finger 3 ridge, Indian troop strength has been increased at different places to match the Chinese. Even on the mother ridge, we have increased our strength.”
“We are also holding some positions of great advantage above Finger 3. From some of these, we have a clear sight of Fingers 6 and 7 which are currently under Chinese control. Earlier, these fell in the shadow area for us,” the source said.
Another official said, “The situation needs concerted efforts at de-escalation, which are already being made. However, the commander-level and brigade-level talks are not producing results. Largely, the two sides keep repeating their stand and the PLA shows no intention of scaling down. If some headway is made in diplomatic talks, another Corps Commander-level meeting may be in the offing.”
There has been no progress on the ground in Ladakh since mid-July after some initial disengagement in Galwan Valley and distancing of troops in the Hot Springs-Gogra Post area. Since then, the PLA has increased its strength, both in terms of manpower and artillery, at all friction points.
There has also been considerable ingress in the Depsang Plains where the Chinese have cut off Indian access to traditional patrolling points.
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