Since last year, the Indian Army has been monitoring the following launch-pads used by the Pakistan Army to infiltrate its ‘Sarkari Jihadi’ detachments into Jammu & Kashmir: from Bhimber Gali towards Shopian and Anantnag; from Lipa towards Baramula; from Jura towards Sopore; from Athmuqam towards Kupwara; from Dudhnial, Tejian, Shardi, Rattapani and Kel towards Machhal; and from Saonar and Sardari towards Kupwara and Sopore.
The base camps or sanctuaries for the ‘Sarkari Jihadi’ detachments are located further into the rear within PoK and Khyber Paktunkhwa, as shown in the slide below.Finally, eight launch-pads spread over a linear 250km frontage and located at Lipa, Kel and Rattapani were chosen for targetted, surgical destruction lasting 7 hours (inclusive of cross ingress/egress) by the Indian Army’s 4 SF (Para) and 9 SF (Para) Battalions.
(Above) Launch-Pads Destroyed at Athmuqam, Dudhnial, Chalhana and Leepa
However, for retaining the element of surprise and initiative, an elaborate deception plan involving the Indian Army (IA) and Indian Air Force (IAF) was required. For, to be factored in was the high state of the operational readiness at that time of both the Pakistan Army (PA) and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) throughout the LoC. Following the meeting of India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) on September 21, and another meeting between the Indian PM and the two armed services chiefs on September 24, a deception plan jointly prepared by the IA’s Udhampur-based HQ Northern Command and the IAF’s Delhi-based HQ Western Command was put into effect.Both the IA and IAF decided to lull ther adversary into assuming that a powerful AirLand attack would be launched at a few locations in southern PoK, namely in the Bhimber sector’s areas like Tatta Pani/Hot Springs area. While the IA decided upon unleashing field artillery fire-assaults against Samahni, Bandala and Tatta Pani, the IAF commenced a series of supporting helicopter movements.
For starters, by September 24 night, the IAF began ferrying out four Mi-35P attack helicopters belonging to the Pathankot-based 125 ‘Gladiators’ Sqn Sqn (the other Sqn—104 ‘Pioneer Rotarians is at Suratgarh) and making them land at selected locations like Poonch, Rajouri, Bhimber Gali and Krishna Ghati along with in-ptheatre Mi-17V-5s. All these movements were carried out non-stop for the following four days in full view of the PAF’s Saab 2000 AEW & CS platforms that were flying out of Kamra and keeping an eye on almost all air-movements inside both northern Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.
Shortly after dusk on Sptember 28, the IA’s light field artillery and mortar strikes at locations inside PoK, like Bandala, Samahni and Tatta Pani, from locations like Mankote, Balnoi and Nangi Tekri in the Krishna Ghati sector, and from Richhmar Gali in Tangdhar sector.
The real insertion by foot of the IA’s SF (Para), however, took place in the Lipa, Shardi and Rattapani bulges (i.e. areas where Pakistan-controlled territory juts into J & K). Known as the JAW-HEAD tactic, this meant that the IA gave the impression of hitting the enemy’s jaws but in reality was aiming for the forehead in a totally surprising move.
The bulges were carefully selected so as to present favourable topography for the attacking forces. For, throughout the LoC where IA and PA observation posts and bunkers are located face-to-face, extensive anti-personnel minefields are laid to cover the frontal and flank (left and right) approaches, but the rear area is devoid of any mines so as to facilitate friendly movements. Consequently, a raiding party beginning its ingress into enemy territory from the baselines of any bulge can stealthily sneak in through the rear and attack from the least expected direction. Thus, the IA’s SF (Para) detachments had to penetrate up to a depth of only 700 metres from the LoC but, if calculated from the frontal tip of a bulge, the targetted launch-pads would appear to be up to 3km inside PoK.
Due to this common-sensical mission-planning, the SF (Para) detachments had not need for shoulder-fired LAWs like Carl Gustavs. Only NVDs and weapons like Instalaza C-90 LAW, IWI-built Tavor TAR-21 assault rifles fitted with T-40 40mm single-shot underbarrel grenade launchers (UBGL) supplied by Turkish Makina ve Kimya Endüstrisi Kurumu (MKEK, or Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corp) were used with devastating effect.
The diversionary laying of light field artillery and mortar strikes at locations inside PoK, like Bandala, Samahni and Tatta Pani sent the PA into a tizzy and it has yet to recover from this common-sensical shock-and-awe tactics.
Pakistan ISPR’s Counter-Narrative
When news of the IA’s cross-LoC raids reached the PA’s GHQ in Rawalpindi by 4.30am on January 29, it was wrongly assumed by GHQ that these raids took place only in the PA’s Bhimber and Tatta Pani sectors inside PoK, this being an indication of the successes of the IA’s and IAF’s diversionary tactics. Within the hour, the Pakistani Prime Minister and the PA’s Chief of the Army Staff were told about these raids as well, following which it was decided to contact US Secretary of State John Kerry. In the US, the matter was referred by Kerry to US NSA Dr Susan Rice, who in turn contacted her Indian counterpart Ajit Doval and sought clarifications. Upon receiving the necessary details, clarifications and assurances (that were repeated later in the day at a press-conference by the IA’s DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh), Dr Rice reverted back to Islamabad with the India-supplied updates.
The GHQ then went into a huddle to decide its next course of action. Retaliatory cross-LoC raids were immediately ruled out, since if they were to be conducted, then the PA would have been required to admit that a cross-LoC raid had been mounted by the IA, which in turn would have meant that there indeed were unacknowledged sanctuaries within PoK for accommodating both terrorists and irregular active combatants from proscribed ‘tanzeems’. Consequently, the GHQ decided on an elaborate counter-narrative based on outright denial.
This then led to the Inter Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR) organising a press-trip to only those two sectors (Bhimber and Tatta Pani) where the IA had resorted to only cross-LoC shelling.
On October 1, the press-corps from Islamabad was helilifted first to the Bhimber helipad and from there another Mi-171 ferried the press-corps first to Baghsar, and then to Mandhole village in the PA’s Tatta Pani sector, where it was revealed that the IA’s Sepoy Chandu Babulal Chavan of 37 Rashtriya Rifles was being kept under detention at the Garrison HQ at Nakyal.
So what comes next? It will be logical to assume that before the onset of winter, the Pakistan Army (PA) will try its level-best to facilitate the infiltration of several ‘sarkari jihadis’ into the Kashmir Valley through multiple infiltration routes along the LoC and even through the ‘Working Boundary’ or WB (i.e. Pakistan’s international border with Jammu that includes the Chicken’s Neck area and which India insists is part of the International Boundary or IB and therefore should not be referred to as the WB) under the cover of deliberate field artillery skirmishes. India, on the other hand, by officially stating that it considers the whole of PoK as an integral part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K), has therefore declared that she will regard any Pakistani support/facilitation for armed insurrection by its ‘sarkari jihadis’ inside J & K who have been launched from their sanctuaries inside PoK as a direct and deliberate act-of-war. Consequently, India therefore has signalled her determination to not only target such sanctuaries through repetitive, preventive cross-LoC special operations, but more significantly, has for all intents and purposes declared her intent to climb the escalatory ladder both horizontally (by expanding the lateral frontage required for offensive ground operations) and vertically by bringing in offensive airpower (like the Jaguar IS armed with CBU-105 SFW) to target all PA field artillery gun emplacement sites, regardless of whether they are located within PoK or to the west of the WB in the northeaster portion of Pakistan’s Punjab state.
This explains the PA’s initiation of mortar fire against Nowshera's Salal and Baba Khor areas Akhnoor's Pallanwalla area and in the Balnoie area of Mendhar sector on September 27, followed by the Sabzian area in Poonch on September 28, 2016. Concurrently, India on September 27 started the process of evacuating nearly 1,000 villages in the six border districts of Punjab state that are within 10km of the India-Pakistan international boundary (around the Shakargarh Salient)—these being the districts of Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Fazilka and Ferozepur. In addition, as a defensive measure the Indian Army (IA) has begun laying anti-tank mines along the Shakargarh Salient and has also begun deploying medium field artillery regiments on both flanks of the Uri-Poonch Bulge as well as around the Shakargarh Salient and Chicken’s Neck area. Through this action, India is signalling that while it has no intention of unleashing its Strike Corps through the IB, she retains the option of unleashing the unrestricted use of her offensive airpower and the IA’s combined armoured and mechanised warfare formations (integrated battle groups) ably supported by field artillery fire-assaults inside both PoK and the Chicken’s Neck area in order to compel the PA to acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a WB and thus its sanctity should be accepted and respected in the same way as the IB.
To further drive home this point, the Indian Air Force (IAF), barely a week after concluding its annual ‘Talon’ series of air exercises (which are normally held at the same time as the Pakistan Air Force’s annual Highmark series of annual air exercises), activated all 18 of the principal and subordinate air bases of the Western Air Command and Southwestern Air Command on September 26, and began a four-day wargaming exercise that included synchronised air dominance, battlefield air-interdiction and tactical air-interdiction sorties being flown in support of areas of responsibility of the IA’s Southwestern Command (HQed Jaipur, Rajasthan), Western Command (HQed Chandimandir, Chandigarh) and Northern Command (HQed in Udhampur, J & K). Incidentally, the Pakistan Air Force’s EX Highmark had concluded on September 24.
IB, WB, LoC Explained
It is now important to understand the various territorial boundary/frontier references. The State of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) has 734km of LoC running through Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions from Kargil to Malu (Akhnoor) in Jammu district, while it has 190km of IB from Malu to Punjab belt running through Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts. The International Boundary (IB) between India and Pakistan spans 2,175km. The Working Boundary (WB) spans 202km, the Line of Control (LoC) spans 797km, and the Line of Actual Contact (LAC)—which India calls the AGPL— from map-grid reference NJ-9842 till Indra Kol—spans 108km. The LoC runs from a place called Sangam close to Chhamb (which lies on the west bank of the Munnawar Tawi River) all the way up north to NJ-9842 in Ladakh, following which the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) takes over. The WB lies in Jammu Division between Boundary Pillar 19 and Sangam i.e. between Jammu and Sialkot), which was part of the erstwhile princely state of J & K. It is this stretch that is known in India as the International Boundary (IB), while Pakistan refers to it as the WB, since it maintains that the border agreement (the so-called standstill agreement) was inked between the princely state of J & K and Pakistan, and not between India and Pakistan. Given the fact that India maintains a near-foolproof anti-infiltration grid along the LoC, Pakistan has since mid-2013 focussed its terrorist infiltration efforts along the WB. Shakargarh Bulge (which is Pakistani territory) is running adjoining the IB, is 45km x 45km, and is held by the PA. The bulge joins Indian territory with a 40km distance in between both countries and touches India’s National Highway-1, which is the lifeline of the entire Kashmir Valley. If PA troops manage to get effectively operational in three to four days at the tip of the bulge, the NH-1 could be cut of totally, rendering the entire north of India paralysed, as all supplies and winter stocking in the Valley is done by this route, for Indian troops.
(To Be Concluded)