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'Operation Turtuk'

Kargil Adventure: Destination was Siachen

Special Correspondent

Turtuk is the strategic underbelly of Siachen, being sandwiched between the Northern areas of PoK and Aksai Chin/Karakoram frontier on the east. Over two-thirds of the route to Turtuk is the same as that for Siachen. Any Pakistani advance down the Shyok valley would put pressure on the flanks of the Siachen route. Also, Pakistani pressures in the Turtuk sector could have them control over the high altitude Thoise airbase and open up the possibility of establishing  a direct axis to Batalik (via Chorbatla) and from there on to Kargil.

Turtuk was captured by the Indian Army in the 1971 war under the leadership of Col Chewang Rinchin. Under Simla agreement it was delineated with  India.

Kargil aggression by Pakistan was a grand design to incorporate Turtuk and its adjoining areas. This has been confirmed from the interrogation of the arrested militants, who revealed that Pakistan had planned to execute ‘Operation Turtuk’. By occupying Turtuk and its adjacent areas, Pakistan wanted to make India’s retention of Siachen untenable.

Pakistan has an obsession that occupation of Siachen by Indian troops threatens the Sino-Pak Karakoram Highway, which is actually at a distance of 180 km from the Siachen across severely broken terrain. In 1983 intelligence reports had warned India of Pak preparations to occupy the Siachen area.

This move was forestalled by Indian troops in April 1984. They swiftly occupied the dominating heights and important passes on the Saltoro ridgeline. India fears that occupation of Siachen by Pakistan would provide an opportunity to Pakistan and China to operate in collusion and threaten Northern Ladakh. It is in this context that some seasoned Indian military experts have been talking of Chinese collusion in the Kargil aggression by Pakistan.  "The airborne troop concentration and force accretion in Skardu point to a larger sinister design.. to grab a large area," said the Director-General of Military Operations at a press-briefing in early June.

Three-Phase Plan: Informed sources reveal that Pakistan’s Kargil game-plan was to be accomplished in three-phases.

In the first phase, it attempted to weaken Kashmir’s link with Ladakh. Its intrusion in Drass was aimed to cut Ladakh’s supply lines from the Kashmir valley through the Zojila pass. Simultaneously Pakistan was making concerted efforts to entrench itself along the fulcrum of Chorbatla and Turtuk, northeast of Kargil.

Pakistan was putting intense pressure on Battalik. Through its strategic hold on Battalik it could drive a wedge between north and south of the Indus. Pakistan would then have been in a position to delink the Kargil brigade, which looks after the area from two other brigades located to the north of the Indus. Chorbatla and Turtuk area, located north and north-east of the Indus, would be isolated.

Having isolated the Chorbatla-Turtuk alignment from Batalik, Pakistan wanted to mount pressure on the Indian brigade at Chalunka on the river Shyok.

Positioning of Pakistan’s forces along the Chorbatla-Turtuk sector also threatens India’s defence of Siachen Glacier on two counts. First, the pressure on the Chalunka brigade can mean the diversion of troops from the Siachen brigade headquarter at Partapur. This could result in lower concentration of forces for Siachen’s defence. Secondly, Pakistani troops at Chorbatla can hit the supply lines of the southern Siachen glacier. This can effect the Indian weapon and ammunition reserves for this segment.

The second phase of Pakistani gameplan was to follow once consolidation in the Chorbatla-Turtuk area was complete. Pakistan then would have a good chance of fighting their way along the descent of the Shyok valley, overrun Thoise and sit at Khalsar on the junction of the Nubra and Shyok rivers.

Any Pak consolidation at Khalsar would result in squeeze on the glacier since troops from Khalsar can be sent through the Nubra river, whose source lies in the Siachen glacier itself.

In the phase three Pakistan intended to build pressure on Leh after the takeover of Khalsar. Entrenchment in Khalsar would make the road link between Leh and Kargil quite vulnerable through a pincer movement. While one body of troops advances from the Khalsar side, another force cuts through the Batalik alignment. The Pakistani objective for threatening Leh was two-fold a) capture Siachen-Turtuk-Kargil tract b) bargain in overall Kashmir settlement.

Some arrested militants have as per media reports, revealed that Pakistan’s operation Turtuk was to be executed in four phases. In the Phase-I, the Pakistani Army had decided to infiltrate the area through militants in order to subvert the locals and initiate insurgency. This would be followed by the launching of operations to occupy critical areas around Turtuk and the adjacent areas.  The logistics would be maintained by helicopters, with temporary helipads built across the LoC. An Army spokesman claimed that in the third phase Pakistan Army was to launch heliborne operations in the rear areas, to facilitate operations of the advancing ground forces. The last phase was to declare Turtuk and its adjacent areas, as part of their Northern areas.

"Operation Turtuk": Pakistan began implementing its ‘Operation Turtuk’ plan in 1994, when it hooked Ibrahim, a native of Turtuk. Ibrahim had been working as an undercover agent for the Intelligence Bureau. He crossed over to Pok with his family and got arms training at Hizbul Mujahideen centre in Skardu. ISI made him HM chief in Turtuk. In 1996, he is reported to have sent six local boys for arms training. Intelligence reports say that most of Turtuk population got training through Ibraham. He has now turned out to be a major conduit of arms and ammunition in Turtuk. Ibraham had stored these arms and sophisticated communication equipment stealthily at hill tops and in walls of houses and some religious places, to be used when Pakistan would give a go ahead signal.

It was come to light that Pakistan had planned a major "mass" insurgency in the villages along the LoC, with Ibrahim running the show. Earlier intelligence reports had said that several young men of the border villages had crossed over to Skardu in PoK for arms training spread over several weeks.

The arrest of 24 people hailing from the border villages of Thang, Tyakshi, Pachathang and Turtuk in the first fortnight of June by Leh police virtually created a sensation. It revealed much than was known about the ramifications of Pak subversion in Ladakh. The conspiracy came to light with the arrest of Ibrahim’s brother, Ali Bhutto. The police also seized a large cache of sophisticated arms and ammunition, including 25 AK-47 and 56 rifles, one LMG, one MMG, plastic explosive, one rocket launcher, three rockets, 15 hand grenades, three batteries, fuse wire and a sniper rifle. Most of the subversives arrested were in the age group 20-25, while a few were in their 40s. Significantly all the arrested people used to act as porters of Army and they were paid fake Indian currency between Rs 2000 to Rs 5000 by Pakistan.

What is alarming is that these young men after receiving arms training in PoK would infiltrate the ranks of the armed forces, state police and other civilian agencies. Leh police arrested two constables-Mohammed Ali and Ahmed Shah from Thang village. The two are said to have been involved in hiding some of the arms and ammunition brought in by Ibrahim. According to police, Mohd Ali had been to PoK for training in 1997 before joining the force.

Ibrahim would be in constant touch, as per reports, with his relatives and friends in Turtuk and other villages. He came often to the Indian side to meet them and supply them with arms. Among the arrested people were also an employee of Food and Supplies department-Abdul Hamid.

The busting of this subversive group is significant. How did Ibrahim manage to infiltrate so much arms, ammunition and sophisticated communication equipment onto the Indian side without catching the eye of security forces? Why did people in Turtuk fall in Pakistan’s trap? People of Turtuk have the highest literacy among the surrounding villages. It has the maximum percentage of State government jobs in the entire Nubra valley. Turtuk always received the best attention of the State government. Whenever the Chief Minister visited Leh or Nubra, he made it a point to visit Turtuk.

Obviously there was no scope of any alienation. And surprisingly, it were the illiterate Turtuk shepherds who were the first to report the presence of Pak intruders in the mountains.

Also arrests in Turtuk have brought to attention the presence of "double agents" in the border areas of Ladakh district. Earlier, in Drass, radio intercepts made at the Army’s ‘Tropo Radio Intercepting Station’ ascertained the presence of torchmen. In Drass a mysterious torch light would be switched on and off from a remote village to direct Pakistan shelling on targets on Indian side.

In Kargil also the Army and the police were baffled by the Pakistani shelling knocking out vital targets frequently and so accurately. Targets chosen were also significant-underground ammunition dump on Baru hills, residence of SP, and DC, office of SP, offices of ration and clothing depot, fuel dump of Border Roads Organisation (BRO) at Khurbatang Plateau. It was so badly damaged that it had to be shifted to Kargil. The shells also hit the office of ITBP.

After the police launched an investigation, it found 20 local spies were directing the Pakistani firing from this side of the border. And most of them turned out to be Observation Posts (OPs) sources for various Indian intelligence outfits, double crossing the Indian agencies. The porters involved in the game would gather information about locations and in turn supplied it to Pakistan enabling it to go for its targets accurately. A special police team nabbed Ghulam Mohammad, a school teacher and Hassan, an army labourer on charges of spying in Batalik along with eight bundles of dynamite and two metres of special detonator wire, called cordex. A mole in the local telephone exchange was found directing the Pakistani shelling.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel

Pakistan's Role

Kargil 1999



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