Nearly a month’s planning in utter secrecy, unorthodox deployment of multiple units and false flag manoeuvering, is what led to Indian forces outflanking the Chinese in Eastern Ladakh in August, ThePrint has learnt.
The operation has enabled India to dominate the southern banks of the Pangong Tso and offer a determined counter deployment in the northern banks.
The development also took place even as the Navy deployed almost its entire Eastern and Western Fleets out at sea to counter any possible Chinese aggression at sea and to showcase capability to completely dominate the area of influence.
Top government sources had earlier ruled out any premature withdrawal from the southern banks, which have given India a bargaining chip in negotiations that until then in August, were one-sided.
They have now told ThePrint that when New Delhi realised that the Chinese had no intention of going back, the Army was asked to come up with options so that India could have some sort of a bargaining power.
According to the plan finalised, 6-7 places were identified along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) where Indian forces could gain an upper hand over China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Once the locations were identified, the only offensive formation against the Chinese — Panagarh (West Bengal)-based Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) – was put into action.
The offensive operation also saw the participation of the Army’s elite Para SF and the Chakrata (Uttarakhand)-based Special Frontier Force (SFF), largely made up of Tibetan Refugees.
24 hours notice and just one aircraft
In early August, on just 24 hours notice, a team from the MSC, sans any big equipment besides their own personal gear and led by its General Officer Commanding (GOC) Lt Gen Gen Savneet Singh, flew out to Ladakh.
“It was important to ensure that the Chinese were not able to pick up any large movement of troops and equipment since their satellites and potential spotters on the ground would be active. Accordingly, the Army went in for unorthodox deployment,” a source in the defence and security establishment said.
Sources said that unlike earlier, when the full division would have moved, only a much smaller team left without any additional equipment while the life at MSC, also known as the 17 Corps, went on as usual to avoid raising any eyebrows.
Lt Gen Savneet Singh was the man in charge of the offensive operation and its planning.
Asked how two corps commanders, the other being the then GOC of 14 Corps Lt Gen Harinder Singh, were functioning in Ladakh, sources said that while the Leh-based 14 Corps was the holding or defensive corps, the 17 Corps was the offensive one.
“It is always understood that whenever an offensive action is needed, a strike corps will come in from outside. That is what the strike corps are all about,” a second source said.
Multiple teams and false flag maneuvering
The men who undertook the offensive operation belonged to the MSC, Para SF, the SFF and elements from the mechanised and armoured units.
As part of the overall counter deployment against the Chinese aggression is Eastern Ladakh, India had deployed nearly 40,000 additional troops along with artillery and tanks.
Sources said that when the 29-30 August operation was put into action, various elements came together while equipment came from a different pool.
They added that India also did false flag maneuvering to make the Chinese believe that the Army was focusing on something else while the real action was at a different height.
Accordingly, specialised Indian elements managed to surprise the Chinese and dominate the southern banks of the Pangong Tso and capture heights on what is known as Kailash Range, which had been under dispute by both sides.
However, neither India or China occupied these heights, until August end. The heights include Rechin La and Rezang La. These along with some other peaks has allowed India to dominate Spanggur Gap under Chinese control and also the Moldo garrison on the Chinese side.
“This has proved to be highly beneficial because it gave India a lot of bargaining power,” the first source cited above said. “The fact that the Chinese are insisting on India moving back from the southern ranges is an indication of the strategic significance of the Indian ops.”
Adding to the bewilderment of the Chinese was that India had managed to bring their tanks to these heights along with armoured personnel carriers.
“A lot of planning and unorthodox movement took place to bring multiple units and equipment to these heights,” a third source said.
Operation on the northern banks
Even as the focus remained on the southern banks, a small team of one of the Para SF in operation, had managed to climb up to the dominating heights of the finger areas and click pictures of the Chinese posts on top of Finger 4.
With a new route found, specialised elements managed to climb up by the end of August and set up camps facing the ridgelines of Finger 4 in the Northern Banks of Pangong Tso as reported by ThePrint first on September 2.
Sources said while this did now give as much tactical advantage as in the southern banks, it showed India’s determination to stand up.