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Terrain And Tasking In Batalik Needed A Divisional Not A Brigade Ops, Recalls Brig Devinder Singh

It was tough to evict intruders from Batalik, Dras and Kargil in 1999. The terrain was demanding and initially, the troop deployment was low, says Brig Devinder Singh (Retd), who commanded the 70 Brigade that eventually got the better of the enemy.

He spoke to StratNews Global in the inaugural episode of our special series, ‘Kargil: 25 Years On’, as we revisited the area with half a dozen veterans to recall the battles, the tragedies and triumphs.

The India-Pakistan conflict of 1999, popularly known as the Kargil war, was actually fought in many sectors such as Batalik, Dras, Mushkoh, and sub-sector Hanif, but many of the fierce battles in sectors other than Dras (Tololing, Tiger Hill battles were fought in this sector for instance), did not get the same salience or coverage from the media. The reason: All these areas with varying but tough terrains were not near the highway.

Most of the peaks, upwards of 15000 feet in the Batalik Sector, had to be reached by walking up the streams and nallahs. The jagged mountain peaks made the going tough for soldiers.

Helicopters could not fly because of the narrow valleys and steep mountains. Of all the sectors, Batalik had the least attention even from higher headquarters in Northern Command.

Brig Singh, commander of the 70 brigade was given charge of the sector within days of the first signs of trouble. The resources he was provided with were meagre and hastily put together.

There was no artillery support in the initial stages of the war and there was no clarity or consensus on what was the strength of the enemy sitting atop the formidable peaks.

The sector, split by nallahs and steep ridgelines can be roughly divided into four sub-sectors. Brig Singh remembers how difficult it was to control operations in all four sub-sectors simultaneously since radio communication was non-existent in the initial days and subsequently affected due to screening and jamming.

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Result, the commander had to divide the brigade headquarters into three and he himself had to be on the move most of the time. Travelling to one sub-sector meant spending three days in remote areas, often cut off from the headquarters and not knowing what was happening elsewhere.

And yet, thanks to the intrepid and brave soldiers and officers of units like 1/11 Gorkha Rifles, 12 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry and innovative staff officers under him, Brig Singh ensured that the 70 Brigade, understaffed, devoid of adequate resources or support, evicted nearly 800 Pakistani troops and recaptured all areas by the time the war ended on 26 July.

His calm and collected leadership ensured first success for India before good news started coming from Dras. The Brigade also took the first prisoner of war—Naik Inayat Ali of 5 Northern Light Infantry—proving for the first time the involvement of the Pakistani Army in the operation.

Military historians such as Lt Gen YM Bammi have observed: “Though the Brigade earned one Prama Vir Chakra, two Maha Vir Chakras, four Yudh Seva Medals, 24 four Vir Chakras…the analysis of operations indicates that cases were either left out, or not suitably rewarded.”

A quarter century later, Brig Devinder Singh, is no longer affected by the ‘injustice’ meted out to him and his team for whatever reasons but has certainly not lost the ability to speak his mind.

Travelling with our team to the areas which had no roads in the months when he led the 70 brigade in 1999, but are now well connected right up to the Line of Control (LoC), Brig Singh recalled minute details of every battle.

Listen to this conversation recorded on location at Batalik and under the shadow of the towering Khalubar range.

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Nitin A. Gokhale is a media entrepreneur, one of South Asia's leading strategic affairs analyst and author of over a dozen books so far on military history, insurgencies and wars.

Starting his career in journalism in 1983, he has since led teams of journalists across media platforms.

A specialist in conflict coverage, Gokhale has covered the insurgencies in India’s North-East, the 1999 Kargil conflict and Sri Lanka’s Eelam War IV between 2006-2009.

Gokhale now travels across the globe to speak at seminars and conferences, and lecture at India’s premier defence colleges. He has founded three niche portals, Bharatshakti.in, stratnewsglobal.com and Interstellar.news.