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Monday, 3 November 2014

From Today's Papers - 03 Nov 2014

 2-pronged Chinese incursion at Pangong

Leh/New Delhi, November 2
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently made a two-pronged incursion by sending its troops into the Indian territory both via land and water route, reports say.

Official sources today said Chinese boats entered the Indian waters at the lake nestled in the higher reaches of Ladakh on October 22. This was simultaneously backed by Chinese troops intruding 5 km into the Indian side via road built along on the northern bank of the lake, 168 km from Leh, the sources said.

But alert ITBP personnel noticed the PLA movement and intercepted them at an imaginary line, supposed to be the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in the lake.

The ITBP men also blocked the PLA troops mounted on mountain terrain vehicles as they tried to cross over into the Indian side by road.

Both sides waved banners claiming it to be their territory. This was followed by a face-off.

But the Chinese troops returned after the ITBP personnel prevented them from moving both their boats as well as ground troops forward, the sources said.

The Chinese troops, however, managed to enter up to Finger IV area in the region from where they were sent back. The area has been a bone of contention between the two sides as both claim it to be a part of their territory. — PTI
 Panel on veterans’ welfare set up
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 2
In a bold initiative towards mitigating the grievances of military veterans, the government has constituted a Standing Committee on Welfare of Ex-Servicemen. The committee would be chaired by the Minister of State for Defence and would be a forum for all the stake holders to discuss issues concerning them.

The committee, which came into being in October, has been set up on the lines similar to the Standing Committee on Voluntary Agencies (SCOVA) that functions under the aegis of the Department of Pension and Pensioners’ Welfare, which takes up matters concerning the welfare of retired civilian government employees.

The committee on welfare for ex-servicemen is expected to meet at least once in a quarter, and would have official members, including the Secretary, Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, Controller General of Defence Accounts, Director General Resettlement, Managing Director Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme and the Secretary, Kendriya Sainik Board.

Non-official members in the committee would include representatives of various ex-servicemen’s organisation, besides having provisions for special invitees and officials from the Veterans’ Cells of the three services.

Veterans claim that the major impediment in resolution and rationalisation of problems related to military veterans was that the stakeholders did not have a say in decision-making process and that senior bureaucrats and the political executive were isolated and insulated from the voice of the veteran community.

Welcoming the establishment of the committee, ex-servicemen said that issue concerning them would now be discussed openly and any anomalies and faulty inputs would be resolved before any policy is formulated, not only saving a lot of time and trouble later but also preventing protracted litigation.

Ex-servicemen have often expressed their unhappiness over the functioning of the Department of Ex-servicemen’s Welfare in the Ministry of Defence, pointing out that it is staffed entirely by civilians without any representation from the veterans, making it insensitive towards their requirements and grievances.

In the last SCOVA meeting held in September, chaided by the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Dr Jitendra Singh, the issue of redressal of ex-servicemen’s grievances had been strongly raised by veterans, including Col Hari Handa, the President of Disabled War Veterans, India (DIWAVE).

MoS Defence to chair committee

    The standing committee on welfare for ex-servicemen is would be chaired by the Minister of State for Defence and would be a forum for all the stakeholders to discuss issues concerning them.
    It would have official members, including the Secretary, Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare, Controller General of Defence Accounts, Director General Resettlement, Managing Director Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme and the Secretary, Kendriya Sainik Board.
    Non-official members would include representatives of various ex-servicemen’s organization
Afghanistan before and after the exit
After the last of the troops leave, the population left behind will be hoping that the West, facing a new conflict in Syria and Iraq, keeps its promises to Afghanistan
Kim Sengupta

Please don't call it our Dien Bien Phu,” Lieutenant Colonel Simon Winkworth, of the Royal Engineers, requested as we gazed out onto a desolate expanse of scrub and sand on which he was going to build Camp Bastion. There were reasons for optimism on that February day, eight years ago, that Britain's Helmand force would not suffer the same fate as the French in Vietnam when a prolonged siege of that base effectively brought their occupation of Vietnam to an end.

The British would not underestimate the enemy as the French had done, we were assured. And John Reid, the then Defence Secretary, stated, when the mission was announced by Tony Blair's government, that it would last no more than two years and end, he hoped, “without a shot being fired” in anger.

End to Britain’s Afghan war

On October 26, 2014, the Union flag was lowered for the last time in Camp Bastion, bringing an end to Britain’s Afghan war after 13 years, three weeks and five days. Although the invasion following 9/11 was in 2001, for the UK the war really started in 2006. Until then, five members of the forces had been killed in total, three from suicide, accidental firearms discharge and a homicide respectively. The death toll today is 453; meanwhile around eight million rounds had been fired in combat; and the financial cost of the mission is over £40bn. The US has supplanted the UK as the main combat force in Helmand over the past few years, and the main handover ceremony to the Afghan army's 215 corps was very much an American and Afghan affair. It was held at Camp Leatherneck, the US camp adjoining Bastion; the speech by Lieutenant-General Joseph Anderson, commander of Regional Command South West made only a passing reference to the UK's contribution in the conflict, focusing instead on those of the Afghan forces and the US Marines.

The senior British officer present, Brigadier Rob Thompson, spoke of the allies helping “Afghanistan get itself back on its feet” and the creation of the “opportunity now for the Afghan leadership to get into the fast lane and move ahead”. He stressed that “we need to get the story into 2014 space and not 2006 space. Don't see Helmand in a lens shaped by 2006. In Lashkar Gar today, you could easily go down the street. I have seen children playing chicken in the street. I have seen policemen at checkpoints.”

In reality all those things could be done and seen in Lashkar Gar, the Helmand capital, in 2006 — before the arrival of the UK task force. At the time, my colleagues and I stayed in a guest house in the city, shopped and drank chai in the bazaar: I accompanied the British commander running a small team, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley, as he went in "soft-skin" Land-Rovers to meet imams and elders in village shuras without body armour and helmets.

The suicide attack

Then came the first suicide attack in Lashkar Gar. The American private security company, DynCorp, had started carrying out poppy eradication in Helmand, and their contractors took to visiting their former colleagues in the US military at the Lashkar Gar base. A car packed with explosives followed them and drove into the main gate.

One of the reasons for making Helmand the location of the UK force, the Government said, was to tackle the poppy harvest: 90 per cent of the heroin on the streets of Britain came from the province, which was responsible for 25 per cent of Afghanistan's opium crop. Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, the governor, was one of the main druglords; the British insisted on his removal, much to President Hamid Karzai's chagrin. Helmand now produces 52 per cent of the Afghan crop. The British military were extremely wary about getting involved in creating another tier of enemy among farmers whose livelihood depended on the crop. As I was leaving Lashkar Gar to fly up to Kabul that February, Lt Col Worsley asked: “Are you going to the British embassy in Kabul? If you are, can you ask them what exactly is the HMG policy on poppy eradication? No one has told us.”

By the summer of 2006, the British had more than poppies to worry about. Helmand was aflame, pitted with lots of mini Dien Bien Phus where small UK units were besieged in their bases by the Taliban.

General David Richards (now Lord Richards), then British commander of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan in Kabul, wrote in his diary for 3 July: “Every UK position except the main base came under fire last night, but because, mercifully, there were no casualties, it did not merit a mention in the press.

The situation down there is serious and we need to bring it home to people”. There were subsequent recriminations. General Richards had wanted to implement an "inkspot" policy in which centres of population would be defended and governance slowly extended. Instead, Brigadier Ed Butler, head of 16 Air Assault Brigade, had sent his troops off to challenge the Taliban in remote areas; but he himself was under pressure to do so from Whitehall after President Karzai's complaint that the insurgents had been gaining ground in Helmand after the removal of Governor Akhundzada.

Arrival of the Americans

There were never enough troops on the ground. In Kajaki, I accompanied British forces who fought hard to capture an enemy position and then had to withdraw because it was simply not possible to keep it occupied; within a day, rocket and mortar fire resumed from that position. In Kajaki, we also came across poignant reminders of previous foreign adventures in Afghanistan in a trench: a book by Pushkin and a letter home from a Russian soldier.

It took the arrival of the Americans with huge numbers to change this. I went with several thousand US Marines to recapture Naw Zad, along with air support and Leopard tanks from a Danish contingent. A similar-size force retook Garmsir, then Marjah, a long-standing Taliban stronghold.

But both British and American casualties continued to mount; the great game-changer was improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, lethal and cheap to produce, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the casualties. In 2010 at Babaji, company Sergeant Major Steve Taylor, of the Coldstream Guards, said when I arrived: “Out of 130 men, we have had four deaths and 35 casualties, four of them have been double amputees, two single amputees. I have had young lads pleading that they didn't want to go out on patrol, but you say, ‘Son, you have to go through with this, this is what we do’. They have gone out and done the job. I could have asked for no more”.

Weariness about the war

I soon got a taste of what they faced. During one patrol, Sergeant John Amer was injured by a booby trap as he rushed to help an injured soldier. As we returned with the stretcher party, another IED, placed on a route cleared just a few hours previously, exploded, causing more severe injuries.

But, progress was being made, places which had been battlegrounds begun to get forms of governance, schools reopened and businesses began to take root in traditional commercial centres like Gereshk. Afghans would complain of bribes demanded by officials, deaths caused in air strikes by international forces, but very few wanted the Taliban to come back.

“It's not just what the Taliban did, it's what they can't do,” Gulab Mangal, a very able governor of Helmand pointed out. “They can't build roads, factories, provide jobs.” But there was rising weariness about the war in America and Britain, not the anger which surfaced over the lies told to justify the Iraq invasion, but questioning of just when it will end. Accounts of rapacious corruption in the Karzai administration added to the disenchantment.

Putting Afghan govt on notice

The early announcement of the date for the end of mission by Barack Obama was meant to put the Afghan government on notice to get its act together.

But it also meant that the West had shown its hand to the Taliban and their backers in the Pakistani military and secret police.

The rush to raise the strength of the Afghan security forces to 352,000 resulted in training courses being curtailed and, on occasions, these forces being thrown into battle before they were fully prepared; the losses among the country's army and police have been horrendously high in the past year.

The uncertainty about the future after the international forces leave has also led to businesses moving funds abroad and foreign aid workers leaving.

Promises to new government

According to the new mantra in Washington and London, Najibullah, the Afghan President left behind by the Russians, was not just a Kremlin stooge, as the West had previously declared, but an astute leader who had kept the insurgency at bay for some time until the collapse of the Soviet Union meant the money tap was turned off.

That is something, we are assured, which will not happen with the new Afghan government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah who will continue to get the required funding.

After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, Tony Blair declared: “This time we will not walk away” — as the international community had done after the Russians withdrew in 1989. But that is precisely what happened when troops and resources were moved to Iraq two years later, allowing the Taliban to return.

As tumbleweed blows through Bastion, and the last of the kit is packed away, we will have to wait and see whether the West, facing a new conflict in Iraq and Syria, keeps its promises to Afghanistan.

End of Afghan tryst

    The Afghan war began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
    Now most of the fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency would be left to the Afghan army and police.
    After the withdrawal, the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps will be headquartered at the 6,500-acre base, leaving almost no foreign military presence in Helmand.
    Helmand produces 80-90 per cent of the opium that helps finance the Taliban’s insurgency. Helmand was a major focus of the 2010 troops surge to wrest control back from the Taliban insurgency.
    The surge saw international forces in Afghanistan swell to about 140,000. By January 1, that number will be about 12,500 of mostly trainers and advisers.
    A total of 453 British troops and 2,349 Americans have died in the fighting in Afghanistan.
 Wagah blast: Red alert in Amritsar
No retreat ceremony for three days High alert along Indo-Pak border in Punjab
Perneet Singh/PK Jaiswar/Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Amritsar/Chandigarh, November 2
Following a suicide bomb attack on the Pakistani side near the Wagah border, the BSF has stepped up security along the Indo-Pak gates in Attari and the retreat ceremony has been called off for the next three days.

Sources said that Pakistan has informed Indian authorities about the suspension of the ceremony as their side of the border at Wagah was in a complete mess.

Indian security agencies said that only the lowering of flags would be held but the parade — being a mutual exercise — could only be conducted together.

Meanwhile, Indian intelligence agencies sources said the target seemed to be the Indian side of the border.

Talking to The Tribune, BSF Punjab Frontier IG Ashok Kumar said, “We have strengthened security in the retreat area in Attari after the blast on the Pakistani side. We have also sounded a high alert along the Indo-Pak border in Punjab.”

He said the decision not to hold the retreat ceremony was reached in consultation with the Pakistan Rangers tonight.

“Usually, there is an atmosphere of revelry at the retreat ceremony. We think it now would not be appropriate in view of the large number of casualties that the suicide bomb attack has caused on the Pakistani side. Therefore, we decided not to hold it for at least three days.”

When The Tribune team visited the Attari border at night, alert BSF jawans were keeping an eye on each and every movement on the road leading to the Zero Line on the Attari border.

The movement of vehicles was restricted and even mediapersons had a tough time reaching the retreat area. Extra jawans had been deployed along the Indo-Pak gates in the retreat area.

Though there was no official to comment on the prevailing scenario, some jawans deployed there said they heard the loud noise of the blast around 6.15 pm, just after the retreat ceremony concluded.

At that time, spectators on the Indian side had already started leaving. They also noticed smoke billowing out on the other side of the border.

Meanwhile, a red alert has been sounded in the entire Amritsar district. Police Commissioner Jatinder Singh Aulakh said the police have beefed up security at key installations like the railway station and the inter-state bus terminus.

They have beefed up patrolling and set up ‘nakas’ at different points in the city. He said search operations have been conducted in city hotels and ‘sarais’ (inns), particularly around the Golden Temple.

The retreat ceremony is a big draw among tourists visiting Amritsar and their number mounts up to even 20,000 on Sundays. It was no different today and there was a huge rush of tourists at the retreat ceremony on the Indian side.

The popularity of the retreat ceremony could be gauged from the fact that the BSF is already working on various plans to cope with the increasing influx of tourists. Among them are expansion of the spectators’ gallery and ‘Day Tourism’, an initiative which is expected to be launched on November 10.
 Foreign defence dealers may get authorised agents in India
KV Prasad
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 2
The possibility of foreign armament dealers appointing authorised agents in India could become a reality soon, if the BJP-led Central Government makes up its mind. The existing rule is being reworked.

Having moved the pieces to open up the process of speeding up acquisition by effecting subtle changes to a blanket ban on defence equipment suppliers against whom allegations of wrong-doings surfaces, the Defence Ministry is exploring ways to remove the decades-old rule.

Sources in the top echelons of the decision-making process in the ministry told The Tribune the issue has been discussed and officials have been asked to prepare a note that would come up before the Defence Acquisition Council any time now.

“The policy could be in the form of the government asking foreign manufacturers to identify people as their authorised agent who can officially interact with the ministry on defence deals…this will be a far cry from the earlier days when agents were selected here," the sources said.

Sources privy to discussions in the ministry said the issue could be ready in time for the next meeting of DAC. It will also add to the BJP government’s argument on the reasons why procurement had been tardy under the previous UPA regime.

After the 1987 Bofors controversy, the Rajiv Gandhi government had banned middlemen or agents in defence deals, but the Vajpayee government amended the rule, lifted the blanket ban and set up elaborate and stringent conditions for having registered agents.

According to the existing procedure, instructions are for a regulation of representational arrangement through a system of registration, categorical and open declaration by the foreign suppliers of the services to be rendered by their authorised representative and the remuneration payable to them by way of fees, commission or any other method. Even after a decade, the move did not alter the landscape dramatically.

The Ministry of Defence and its allied offices is a strict "no entry" zone for people associated with defence manufacturing companies and the dealings are only with officials. However, it is known in the corridors of power in Lutyens Delhi as to how "consultants" move about attempting to influence the decision-making process.

Successive governments have built in measures in the defence procurement procedure to keep out shady operators and prevent companies from resorting to corrupt practices by building in an “Integrity Pact” for all deals over Rs 100 crore. Yet recent episodes, including in the VVIP helicopter case, tell a different tale.

The change

The policy could be in the form of the government asking foreign manufacturers to identify people as their authorised agent who can officially interact with the ministry on defence deals
 Indigenous N-sub’s sea trials by year-end

New Delhi, November 2
In a major boost to indigenisation of defence manufacturing, India’s first nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarine INS Arihant will head out for sea trials by the year-end.

“INS Arihant will be ready for sea trials by the end of this year,” an official aware of the developments relating to the 6,000-tonne submarine told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Once the trials are through and the submarine enters service, India will not only complete its nuclear triad of delivering nuclear weapons from land, sea and air, but also join an elite club of six nations that operate nuclear submarines carrying ballistic missiles. The US, Russia, France, Britain and China are the other nations with this capability.

The INS Arihant’s miniaturised nuclear reactor, built with Russian help, had gone critical last year and the vessel has been going through a series of harbour trials since then at Visakhapatnam, where it is being built.

The submarine has also been going through the power-up cycle of its nuclear reactor and has now achieved a nearly 100% power level, the official said.

“Its reactor had gone critical last year. We are now close to attaining 100 percent its power,” the official said, adding: “The nuclear reaction is highly controlled. It is something similar to nuclear power plants, but extra caution is needed. The reactor is now functioning perfectly well,” the official said.

Once the submarine attains 100 percent power, it will head out to sea for its final trials, which will include the firing of the indigenous Bo5 missile that has a 700-km range and can carry a one tonne nuclear warhead. INS Arihant can carry 12 such missiles.

The vessel, the lead ship of the Arihant-class submarines, was launched in 2009. Its design is based on the Russian Akula-1 class submarines and its 83MW pressurised heavy water reactor has been built with significant Russian assistance.

While its 100-member crew has been trained by Russian specialists, Indian scientists at Mumbai’s Bhabha Atomic Research Centre have received significant expertise in reducing the size of the reactor to help it fit into the 10 metre diameter hull of the submarine.

The Indian Navy currently operates the INS Chakra nuclear-powered submarine leased for 10 years from Russia in 2012.

Nuclear submarines stay out at sea for longer periods than diesel-electric powered boats and can also remain under water for longer durations. Conventional submarines have to surface at regular intervals for re-charging their batteries, making them vulnerable to detection.

Two other vessels of the Arihant class are also believed to be under construction at Visakhapatnam’s state-owned Hindustan Shipyard Ltd. — IANS

India’s ticket to super club

    The miniaturised nuclear reactor of INS Arihant (pic), built with Russian help, had gone critical last year and the vessel has been going through a series of harbour trials since then at Visakhapatnam, where it is being built
    Once the trials are through and the submarine enters service, India will complete its nuclear triad of delivering nuclear weapons from land, sea and air
    It will also join an elite club of six nations that operate nuclear submarines carrying ballistic missiles. The United States of America, Russia, France, Britain and China are the other nations with this capability
Terror strikes Pak at Wagah; 58 dead
Suicide bomber targets crowd at Pak Rangers’ flag ceremony
Over 200 hurt
Tehrik-i-Taliban claim responsibility
Afzal Khan in Islamabad

At least 55 persons, including three Pakistan Rangers personnel and a child, were killed and 200 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near Wagah in Lahore today, minutes after the popular flag-lowering ceremony at the main India-Pakistan land border crossing.

Punjab police chief Mushtaq Sukhera said the suicide bomber, believed to be 18 to 20 years old, targeted a large crowd that had come to watch the weekly parade and the flag-lowering ceremony. The attacker approached one of the exit gates as the crowd was vacating the parade area and blew himself up, he said, adding, three Pakistan Rangers personnel were also among the dead.

The injured were rushed to nearby hospitals and an emergency was declared at all hospitals in Lahore.

“Up to five kilograms of explosive material was used in the blast that took place outside a restaurant near a Pakistani paramilitary soldiers’ checkpoint at Wagah border,” Sukhera added. Police, rescue officials and Rangers cordoned off the blast site. TV footages showed shops and nearby buildings destroyed at the site of the blast.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the blast and ordered authorities to provide best medical assistance to the injured.

There were conflicting claims of responsibility for the attack, reflecting the division within the umbrella group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Abdullah Bahar, a spokesman for a TTP faction loyal to its dead chief Hakimullah Mehsud, said they carried it out to avenge Mehsud’s killing in a US drone strike last year.

But the Jamat-ul-Ahrar faction, which broke away from the main TTP leadership in September, rubbished the claim by Jundullah faction and said they carried out the blast.

Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, in a statement, said the terrorists couldn’t dent the resolve of the nation to fight terrorism, Radio Pakistan reported.

In the wake of Muharram, the police had made strict security measures. “We had reports that some banned outfits might target Shias, religious personalities, public processions and important buildings,” Sukhera said.

With agency inputs

Bomber was carrying 5 kg explosives, say police

    Suicide bomber targeted a crowd watching the flag-hoisting ceremony at Wagah border in Lahore
    The attacker, carrying up to 5 kg of explosives, blew himself up at an exit gate of the parade area
    Three Pakistan Rangers personnel were among the dead. Emergency has been declared at all hospitals in Lahore
    BSF said the blast took place 500 metres from the Wagah border at about 6:15 pm local time
Army Tramples on Faulty DRDO Study on Siachen Deployment

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit this Diwali to the world’s highest battlefield, Siachen, to applaud the Indian army troops deployed there again brought into national focus the difficulty of operating under such adverse climatic conditions.

A study by Defence Research and Development Organisation, India’s premier defence research institute, to find solutions and shorten the acclimatization period has been junked by the Army.

Keeping unforeseen events in mind, the Army wanted to reduce the pre-acclimatisation training period to faster deploy its troops to high-altitude locations in cases of emergency. And for this, the DRDO was mandated to carry out a study  on how to reduce the pre-acclimatisation  training period in May 2009 with budget of over `3 crore. Delhi-based Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), a wing of DRDO, carried out the study for which they selected 210 soldiers. In order to study the soldiers’ physiology changes, they were asked to stay in a make-shift chamber filled with nitrogen for intermittent periods. But the Army has rubbished the study report and criticised the methods adopted by the DIPAS scientists.

In a strongly worded  four-page letter to DIPAS on 10 September, the office of the Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) has raised serious objections and sought explanation on various key points related to the study including selection of troops for the study, use of multiple investigators to collect data, use of master step test as an indicator of exercise performance for high altitude and disparity in heart rate date from the same cohort at different points of the report.

DIPAS had used intermittent hypoxia study at sea level before dispatching soldiers to high-altitude locations. Explaining the terminology, a DRDO scientist said that Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) is a test protocol usually given to the individual with reduced oxygen concentration as prevailed in high altitude for pre-acclimatising them at sea level in a normobaric hypoxic chamber, before they are deployed for high mountain warfare.

On the basis the outcome of the study, two costly normobaric hypoxic  chambers were planned to be set up in Chandigarh to cater northern command and Sukhna for eastern command troops with a cost of over `10 lakh.

Reacting strongly to the samples of troops taken, that had men who had already served in high-altitude postings, the DGAFMS raised concerns on the validity of conclusions drawn from the data presented. While seeking justification for the selection of re-inductees as study subjects, the Army has said, “Current knowledge on the phenomenon of de-acclimatisation is limited. It is accepted by many experts in the field that certain physiological changes induces on exposure on high altitude may persist beyond one month of return to sea level.”

“Hence the choice of re-inductees as study subjects raises questions about the validity of date being presented, especially since the aim of the project is to extrapolate the findings to healthy soldiers being rapidly inducted to high altitude, in all probability, for the first time,” DGAFMC said in his detailed response to DIPAS study.

When contacted, DRDO spokesperson Ravi Gupta refused to comment as it is a classified matter.

Moment of glory for Indian Army

8 Garhwal team becomes the only overseas unit to win gold medal in this year's Cambrian Patrol, the world's toughest test of infantry skills

 As Major Lalit Mohan Joshi and his team of seven jawans from 8th Battalion, The Garhwal Rifles (called 8 Garhwal) lined up on October 23, in the biting cold of the Cambrian Mountains in Wales, UK, they were prepared for a gruelling test of their endurance and battlefield skills.

Over the next 50 hours, British Army evaluators would judge how the team navigated non-stop across the marshy terrain, and dealt with battlefield situations thrown at them, including enemy minefields, giving first aid to their casualties, bringing down artillery fire, and attacking an enemy bunker. They would swim across an icy river in their 30-kilo backpacks, keeping their rifles dry. Finally, they would reconnoitre an enemy position and bring back information just like a patrol in battle.

This was the Cambrian Patrol, the world’s toughest test of infantry skills, which is described as “the Olympics of patrolling”. This year 119 teams participated, including soldiers from Australia, Canada, France, Italy and Norway. The Pakistan Army sent a specially selected team.

At a ceremony on October 25, five teams were awarded gold medals for meeting cruel time lines and displaying tactical skills of an exceptional order. Four were British Army units; 8 Garhwal was the only overseas winner.

"It was cold and foggy, which made map reading difficult. The marshes, which were everywhere, sucked you in. Even so, we retained our focus. Initially, all the other competitors appeared 8 feet tall. But when we finished with the gold, we were feeling 8 feet tall ourselves," says Lance Naik Gajpal Singh, whose lean frame only hints at the steel inside.

Lance Naik Dimple Gusain describes a deciding factor in the team’s gold medal: when the patrol sneaked up on their recce objective — an anti-aircraft gun position manned by British soldiers — they found a British identity card lying on the ground. "When we returned it at the finish point, the organisers realised how close our patrol had reached", laughs Gusain.

Over years of formidable Indian performances in the Cambrian Patrol, an expectation has grown that an Indian team would do well. Last year, a team from 3/9 Gurkha Rifles won silver; in 2010, the 4/9 Gurkha Rifles team won gold.

Major Joshi warmly recounts the encouragement of 1 Grenadier Guards, the British Army “host battalion”, which accommodated his team in Aldershot and familiarised them with the British radios and weapons they would use during competition. "They were so pleased at our gold," says Joshi.

The Indian Army carefully selects the team it enters for the Cambrian Patrol, holding competitions at unit and formation levels to identify the best battalion team. Joshi and his men then trained at the Infantry School, Mhow and spent a month in the mountains at Lansdowne, acclimatising for the Welsh highlands.

"We are incredibly fit, but they pushed us to the limit. At one point, they stopped us at the base of a hill and said, 'your men are fighting on top, and you need to take them ammunition.' They loaded 20 kilos of ammunition onto the 30-kilo backpacks we were already carrying. Then they made us run up the hill", recounts Havaldar Dilwar Singh.

"On one occasion, I slipped and fell face-down into the marsh. My face was in the water, but I was so exhausted that I just lay there. It was an effort to lift myself up and continue", says Lance Naik Mahipal Singh.

"But this was the most enjoyable thing that any of us have ever done", chips in Joshi. Every man in the team nods assent.

Says chief organiser of the Cambrian Patrol, Brigadier Martyn Gamble: "About a third of teams failed to finish and is again a testament to how much of a challenge this is. I'm entirely comfortable that only about four per cent of all teams achieved gold. Those people who have achieved a finish or a medal should be applauded."

Joshi and his men had flown out of India on Diwali, and returned on October 27 --- commemorated as Infantry Day after Indian infantrymen were airlifted to Srinagar that day in 1948, as Pakistani tribal militias closed in on the J&K capital.

"We may not yet have a technological edge, which will be built up over time. But in grit, guts and endurance, the Indian infantryman is second to nobody in the world," says Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, who is from the Garhwal Rifles.
Chinese Army entered Indian waters at Pangong Lake
Leh/New Delhi: Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) recently made a two-pronged simultaneous incursion by sending its troops into Indian waters in the Pangong lake as well as five kms deep into Indian territory through the land route in the same area, according to reports.

Official sources said Sunday that according to reports received by security agencies, Chinese boats entered into the Indian waters at the Pangong lake nestled in the higher reaches of Ladakh on October 22.

These incursions were simultaneously backed by Chinese troops on the road built alongside the Pangong lake which took place in eastern Ladakh and on the northern bank of Pangong Lake, located 168 km from Leh, the sources said.

However, alert troops of ITBP noticed the movement of Chinese troops and intercepted them at the imaginary line that is supposed to be the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the lake.

The ITBP soldiers also blocked the Chinese troops mounted on mountain terrain vehicles who were trying to cross over the LAC by road.

A banner drill, in which both sides wave banners claiming it to be their territory, was carried out which was followed by a face-off between the troops of the two sides.

However, Chinese troops had to return after the Indian troops neither allowed them to move their boats forward not allowed the troops on road to move an inch further, the sources said.

Chinese troops had managed to enter upto Finger IV area in the region from where they were sent back. This area has been a bone of contention between India and China as both sides claim it to be a part of their territory.

When Indian side was trying to back its claim on the area during negotiations, the Chinese army constructed a metal-top road and claimed the area to be part of Aksai Chin area, the sources said.

China had construct a road up to Finger-IV area which falls under Siri Jap area and is five km deep into the LAC, the sources said.

The simultaneous approach to enter Indian waters was seen as a move by the Chinese troops to put psychological pressure on the Indian troops who man the area.

The Chinese patrols used to come frequently from the northern and southern banks of this lake, whose 45 km stretch is on the Indian side while another 90 km is on the Chinese side.

Indians are armed with high-speed interceptor boats, bought from the US, which can accommodate nearly 15 soldiers and are equipped with radars, infra-red and GPS systems.

These boats are stated to be as good as the Chinese vessels and are used to conduct reconnaissance and area domination patrols.

The situation along the banks of the lake has always remained volatile with Chinese troops being intercepted by Indian Army patrol several times after the three-week long stand-off in the Depsang plains of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in May last year.

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