May 28, 1999
NEW DELHI, MAY 27: The Indian military continued its airstrikes on positions held by infiltrators in the Kargil sector on Thursday, but suffered a heavy blow when it lost two aircraft and had two `missing’ airmen.
While jointmanship dominated the military’s briefing today, the loss of the two aircraft came as a shock to a top brass reasonably satisfied by the impact of its precision guided munitions on the positions occupied by Pakistani soldiers and supported militants. The downing of one aircraft by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has been described by Air Headquarters as a `hostile act’.
Confirming the loss of the aircraft, Air Vice-Marshal SK Malik said that during the air attacks a MiG-27, flown by Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa, had an engine failure which forced him to eject. A MiG-21, flown in the formation as his buddy by Squadron Leader A Ahuja, remained over the area to identify where the parachute was going to land. A buddy is a combat mate in Air Forceparlance. While circling over the area, the MiG-21 was shot down by a SAM. Air HQ confirmed that the SAM was fired from the Pakistan side of the Line of Control (LC), even as the aircraft was over Indian airspace. AVM Malik called this an “escalation of the situation by Pakistan”.
While the Pakistanis claimed that one pilot had been killed and one taken prisoner of war, Indian officials said that search operations were on for both.
This loss, however, did not mean that air attacks would cease. “Until all military objectives of dislodging the infiltrators from the positions occupied by them are achieved airstrikes will continue”, said AVM Malik. In reply to a question about effective counter-measures in future, “appropriate action will be undertaken”, he added.
Even as reliable reports confirmed substantial losses for Pakistani soldiers and supported militants from the air attacks on Wednesday, Army Headquarters today declared that the “intruders are regular Pakistani troops in disguise”. Whilethe air attacks were concentrating on targetting the “weak points” of the infiltrators, some of the positions were finding it difficult to continue staying on the heights, said Army officials. “The Army is hopeful of evicting the infiltrators from some of the positions in a timeframe shorter than anticipated”, said Maj-Gen JJ Singh, Additional Director-General Military Operations.
Briefing the media on ongoing operations, Brig MC Bhandari, Deputy Director-General Military Operations, said that a new phase had been entered. “The infiltrators had almost been dislodged from two sites in the Drass sub-sector, while sustenance routes to these heights had been closed.”
In the Batalik sub-sector, the Army has succeded in clearing one of the heights, he added. Even as the Pakistan Army artillery continues to provide supporting fire, “suitable precautionary measures have been instituted” to counter any Pakistani build-up on the other side of the LC, he said.
Considerable movement of transport andelectronic warfare aircraft, as well as of troops, has been detected in POK, Brig Bhandari said, adding that the Pakistan Army and its Special Services Group were trying to push in ammunition and other stores. There was another 400 waiting in Gilgit to cross over, he said.
While the Army lost three more soldiers, with seven wounded, casualties on the infiltrator side have been mounting on account of the air attacks and accurate artillery fire. This, said South Block sources, could be on account of the Air Force aircraft using PGMs and laser-designated rockets. While the former uses grid coordinates from the maps, the latter follows laser beams to the target area. Brig Bhandari today gave the first indication that the Army was now engaging the infiltrators at closer ranges in some of the positions when he declared that “clearing up operations were underway and firefights were going on”.
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