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May 29, 1998


Govt clears deployment of Sukhois

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Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi

Stung by the loss of three Indian Air Force aircraft, the government is understood to have cleared vital operational initiatives including the deployment of ultra-sophisticated Sukhoi 30 MK fighters and using paratroopers in the Kargil-Dras-Batalik sectors to flush out the intruders.

Senior defence ministry officials today pointed out that army and air force commanders had assessed that the Pakistani intruders were strongly supported by intense artillery fire which made the task of Indian ground forces difficult. The fact that the intruders -- who include Afghan veterans equipped with deadly Singer missiles -- had begun targetting Indian aircraft has complicated matters for the armed forces.

Consequently, the decision has been taken to launch a major offensive, pressing into service the Sukhoi 30 MK fighters to destroy the Pakistani forces who are concealed in concrete bunkers and rocky crevices in the high reaches of these sectors.

The officials said that apart from the rocket pods fitted onto the Indian helicopter gunships, the Sukhois would destroy the intruders's hideouts with their superior fire-power. They, however, refused to disclose the kind of rockets being used by the Indian forces in the ongoing conflict.

Since the ground forces have encountered considerable resistance in combating the intruders ensconced in the high reaches, the government is also understood to have authorised the use of petroleum jelly-filled napalm bombs along with cluster bombs. This is expected to effectively flush out the intruders and neutralise their use of Stinger missiles.

It was pointed out that once IAF aircraft start raining down cluster and napalm bombs, the targeted areas will be reduced to flaming heaps and reduce the chances of intruder activity to virtually nil.

To strengthen the efficacy of the ground forces, the government is also contemplating dropping paratroopers in vital areas where the going is tough for infantrymen. Elite marksmen will be deployed among the paratroopers to pick up the intruders.

The officials said in view of the major Indian offensive planned, the civilian population in Kargil is being evacuated. While there are approximately 10,000 civilians in Kargil, there are fewer people in the Batalik and Dras sectors.

Meanwhile, external affairs ministry officials pointed out that the international community, especially the US, are alarmed by the apparent use of Stinger missiles by the Pakistani intruders among whom a substantial number of Afghan war veterans are present. They said ironically, it was the US which supplied billions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition to the Afghan mujahideen via Pakistan to counter the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The officials indicated the Americans have r long been worried that a large number of Stinger missiles had been purloined from Pakistan when given to Islamabad for safekeeping. They alleged that the infamous Ojheri blast occurred after Pakistani officials deliberately set fire to the Ojheri arms depot to thwart the CIA which wanted to inspect the US-supplied arms and ammunition. MEA officials claimed the Pakistani authorities had already removed many Stinger missiles from Ojheri and did not want the US to know about this.

As underscored by American officials in Washington yesterday, the Stinger missiles could now be in the possession of Islamic radicals in Afghanistan, many of whom have a pathological hatred against all things American. This appears to have constrained the US not to interfere in the Kargil conflict.

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