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HomeDEFENCEThe inside story: Mashkoh– Kargil as I saw it # 16

The inside story: Mashkoh– Kargil as I saw it # 16

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The task of ‘A’ company of 17 Jat was to capture Pimple 1. Pimple 1 consisted of a long spur consisting of Hump, Thumb, A1, A2, A3 and Pimple 1 top. The extent of Pimple 1 was 600 meters by 50 meters. It was likely to be held by a section strength (ten soldiers) with a listening post (LP) located at Hump. It was appreciated that one company (approx.  80 men) would be required to capture it.

‘A’ company was to climb the spur leading to Pimple 1 from the base. Hump and Thumb were two small bumps dominating the route being undertaken by the company, which were 200 meters apart. It was considered necessary to secure these two bumps as preliminary operations from a different direction, to ensure that the attacking columns were not interfered by the enemy fire while climbing up the spur to A1, A2, A3, leading to Pimple 1. The distance between A1, A2 and A3 was separated by 100 meters each. Distance from A3 to Pimple 1 was approximately 500 meters.

Accordingly, ‘A’ company commander ordered one platoon under Subedar Om Prakash to eliminate enemy listening post at Hump by silent action by 0400 hours on 03 Jul and after that, secure Thumb by 2100 hours on 04 Jul 99. As planned, the commando section ex ‘A’ company successfully eliminated the listening post at Hump without firing a single bullet, thus achieving complete surprise. As planned, the commando section kept Thumb under observation and reported no move of enemy troops in the area. Commando section kept lying doggo the entire day and after last light secured Thumb by 2100 hours on 04 Jul. Hence, both Hump and Thumb were held as planned without much effort. These were features dominating the axis of assault of ‘A’ company, therefore securing them was essential for progressing the assault.

‘A’ company commander ordered one platoon to eliminate enemy listening post

‘A’ company under Maj RK Singh left the staging area at 2100 hours on 04 Jul and advanced towards Thumb which had already been secured by the commando section of the company. At about 0100 hours on 05 Jul 99, the leading Platoon of ‘A’ company under Nb Sub Gurdial Singh linked up with Sub Omprakash at Thumb and further secured A1, A2 and A3 and established a firm base for the company’s assault on Pimple1. Having secured A3, the company commander made the company firebase at that location and commenced engaging Pimple 1. Simultaneously, Pimple 2 and Whaleback were being engaged by the battalion firebase in close coordination with the assaulting company commanders. Pimple 1 was addressed from two different directions simultaneously by a platoon each under Capt Rajesh Venugopal and Sub Om Prakash. But by now, the enemy was aware that something was afoot, which was a little late for him to realise. The enemy opened fire at the firm base at A3. After that, Major RK Singh called for artillery and mortar fire on the Pimple 1 as per fire plan and also the enemy was engaged from the battalion firebase with heavy weapons. The enemy was unaware of the direction of assault. He probably thought that attack was building up from the battalion firebase direction, while the assault was building up from A 3 approach.

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The night sky suddenly lit up like laser light show as Pimple 1 was attacked. The fire support group of the company fired a massive barrage of machine guns, sending their streak of red tracers at the enemy positions. We could hear the boom of machine-gun fire mixed with intermittent explosions of artillery shells on the objective. As the assault went in, some enemy pulled back to Pimple 2 under heavy pressure. Pimple 1 was captured after hand to hand fight for two bunkers by 0500 hours 05 Jul as per plan. Four enemy dead bodies and two UMGs was recovered from the position. The company commander informed me on the radio set about the capture of Pimple1.

However, when the company was reorganising itself after first light, it was subjected to heavy artillery/mortar shelling by the enemy. The fire was in the form of air burst over the objective. Also, the enemy engaged with a small arms fire from Pimple 2. The casualties of the company started to rise slowly. At about 0800 hours the company commander started yelling on the radio set that own friendly mortars have started firing at them. I checked with my mortar platoon commander if his mortars were firing at Pimple 1, to which he denied. Enemy mortars were engaging his troops on Pimple 1. In the thick of battle, it is challenging to differentiate friendly fire from enemy fire. They started taking cover near the captured sangars/ stones. The troops were very vulnerable to enemy fire all through the day. One of the soldiers was hit by an enemy sniper round. He lost his eye and took substantial damage to his face. He was at once evacuated to the hospital. Three weeks later, we heard that he had lost his eyesight. This news was crushing.

Now was another administrative task of getting the sleeping bags for the troops after the capture of the objective. I asked the company commander to organise the forward dumping of sleeping bags by sending one platoon strength for collecting the baggage left behind by the company at the battalion firebase area, before the assault. He sent one JCO and 20 soldiers for the same. When this platoon returned in the evening, the company commander a JCO reported that one soldier was missing from the group which had gone for collection of sleeping bags. The company commander informed me that he may be lagging and would probably join the company after some time.

When this platoon reported back in the evening, the company commander reported that one soldier was missing from the group which had gone to collect the sleeping bags.

But the missing soldier could not be traced since next day also, and the company probably thought that he might have got injured and reported to the regimental aid post (RAP) for treatment, but he could not be found there either. After the operations ended on 08 Jul, one of the patrols saw a soldier hiding behind a stone boulder, and trying to raise his hands to say something. The patrol thought that it was an injured enemy soldier asking for surrender and help. The patrol asked the soldier to raise his hands and come out in the open. The soldier was wearing Indian combat dress but seemed very scared and could barely talk. He was starring continuously at a distant object without any reaction. It appeared that he did not have any food or water since last three days. On further interrogation, it was revealed that he belonged to ‘A’ company and had lost his way. He was the same soldier who was declared missing by ‘A’ company.

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This soldier was utterly disoriented, shell shocked and had lost his mental balance, under deep psychological stress. Seeing his mental condition, one could realise that he was under profound pressure and required medical help. If you see your friend die in front of your eyes, I am sure you can imagine what kind of effect it will have on your mental stability. He was fatigued; his reactions were slow and was disconnected from his surroundings. It seemed that continuous sounds of artillery bombardment were haunting him and he was thus traumatised. The soldiers have to risk not only their physical health but also mental health.

Things soldiers do for the country doesn’t only take physical strength, but they need to be mentally healthy too, and they sacrifice more than we can ever imagine. But they do, and they fight it every single day. That takes a lot of courage and strength. I want to raise awareness about this topic because these things are still not considered very serious by the majority of the people even though this happens more often than people know about this.

He was referred to the hospital for further treatment. My detailed talk with one of the doctors treating him put the condition of this soldier in the right perspective. He explained that this is caused due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) one of the ironies of war. Provision of early treatment close to the battlefront can ensure early recovery from this disorder. The cost of traumatic war disorder extended beyond PTSD, to increased risk of depression, personality disorders, suicide and alcohol abuse. There has been an increased rate of psychiatric disorder due to combat exposure.

PTSD develops when we experience a traumatic event that is very personal such as the death of a loved one. It is much more than depression or anxiety. Any person with PTSD is more likely to commit suicide than the person having any other mental disorder.

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To know more about the Kargil war, read the book “Mashkoh: Kargil as I saw it”.

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Brig Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM
Brig Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM
Umesh Singh Bawa Vrc, SM a PhD in Public Administration retired from the Indian Army as Brigadier. He is an infantry officer and author of a book called Mashkoh: Kargil as I saw it. He was awarded Vir Chakra during the Kargil conflict in 1999.


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