May 27, 1999
NEW DELHI, MAY 26: The Indian Air Force today rewrote its operational doctrine when it launched “Operation Vijay” by conducting two rounds of combat air strikes in support of the Army’s counter-infiltration operations in the high-altitude Drass and Kargil sectors. Mig-23s, MiG-27s and helicopters from Srinagar are believed to have taken part in the strikes. The Srinagar airport has been closed down and taken over by the IAF.
This is the first time that air power has been used in internal security operations and also the first time since 1971 that combat aircraft took part in actions in areas contiguous to Pakistan.
South Block sources said the wait for the right opportunity was justified, since it was only after “contingency plans for all eventualities were in place” was government sanction sought. The decision to use air power was then referred to and cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
The CCS was also briefed, said the sources, by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Tipnis, who is believed to have undertaken a visit to the operational area under a fictitious name and rank. While this could not be confirmed from Air Headquarters, a South Block official declared that “to ensure that the action went as per plan, the highest Air Force officials were in the area of operations to make on-the-spot assessment prior to the launching of operations”.
The Army today confirmed the presence of elements of the Pakistan army special forces, the Special Services Group, in Kargil.
IAF officials, meanwhile, confirmed that a Canberra was fired at last Friday with a surface-to-air missile while on a photo-reconnaissance mission in the Kargil infiltration area. Though it suffered some damage in one engine, the aircraft landed safely, said South Block sources.
The Director General of Military Operations is also known to have spoken to his Pakistani counterpart yesterday at noon, according to the weekly schedule. Details of the conversation were not available. “According to the bilateral agreement we are not allowed to divulge what was discussed in the conversation to other parties,” said Army Headquarter sources. Later in the afternoon, military attaches from various diplomatic missions were briefed in South Block by Army and Air Force officials on the progress of the counter-infiltration operations. The Pakistani military mission was not invited to the briefing, said the sources
When asked about the Pakistani military spokesman’s claim that bombs had fallen in areas of Kashmir under the occupation of Islamabad, South Block sources said “it was impossible since we did not use any bombs in this operation. All aircraft were equipped with very accurate navigational systems, flown by specially selected and highly-trained pilots, who fired only missiles and rockets with no error in their target acquisition”.
Describing the success rate of the first two rounds of air strikes as “very high”, Army and Air Force officials declared that “this is the start of operations and they will continue till our defence forces reoccupy our territory”.
Addressing reporters, Brigadier M C Bhandari, Deputy Director General Military Operations, said that more areas occupied by the Pakistan army-supported militants have been encircled and the “escape routes from the Batalik sub-sector cut off”.
While the Army casualties remained the same as they were yesterday, the number of infiltrators dead is now reliably learnt to be 160. “And this includes Pakistan Army regulars. They have now been ordered by their masters across to abandon the dead and wounded,” he added.
His IAF counterpart, Air Commodore S Bhojwani, said “this action was forced on India because the infiltrators are in considerable strength and consist of a large number of well-trained mercenaries. They are not only supported directly by the Pakistan army, but their army regulars are also believed to be participating along with them.”
Declaring that combat air action was initiated today because Pakistan would otherwise “have been encouraged to extend its operations further…and the alignment of the Line of Control could well be altered to our disadvantage”, Air Commodore Bhojwani stated that “any escalation in this conflict will be entirely the responsibility of Pakistan”. Additional troops are being airlifted to Kargil from Srinagar airport.
Union Home Minister L K Advani said here India was determined to “smash” the latest operation by Pakistan and its Army as this had added a “totally new and disturbing dimension” to militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.
Replying to a question, Advani said although the Army and the ISI in Pakistan act independent of the political leadership, “in this particular case, it seems the decision of this level could not have been taken, if it didn’t have the political endorsement.”