Not in battle, 22 army men died in 3 years on high altitude duty

Published: 17 September, 2020 16:29 IST | IANS | New Delhi

Steps are also undertaken to utilise modern technological equipment for the rescue missions, prevention of accidents.

Siachen | Pic: AFP, Indian Defence Ministry
Siachen | Pic: AFP, Indian Defence Ministry

In a shocking revelation, 22 Indian soldiers have lost their lives without any battle in the last three years because of their duty in highly treacherous terrain along the borders in Jammu and Kashmir high altitudes.

The causes of the deaths in the Siachen Glacier and other super high altitude areas range from those directly related to high altitude like High Altitude Pulmonary Oedama (HAPO) and Pulmonary Thrombo Embolism (PTE) to other general causes.

Eight of the Indian Army soldiers lost their lives while serving at these high altitudes in 2019 and the similar number of troops of the force in 2018. However, a total of six soldiers died in 2017.

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The Ministry of Defence has revealed the details in Parliament on Wednesday in a written reply to the query of Bharatiya Janata Party MP Gowdar Mallikarjunappa Siddeshwara.

Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik on Wednesday informed the Lok Sabha when asked: "Whether it is a fact that there have been some casualties of soldiers serving at high altitudes".

Asked about the government action taken to prevent such casualties and provide a congenial atmosphere to the soldiers working at high altitudes like Siachen, the Minister said: "Indian Army is deployed in highly treacherous terrain along the borders in Jammu and Kashmir, where there is constant threat of crevasses, avalanches and other weather related calamities to the troops.

"The government undertakes several steps to prevent casualties like pre-induction medical examination, requisite medical cover at all medical echelons which are well equipped to deal with any high altitude illness, stringent acclimatisation schedule, provision of specialised training, special living shelters, including provision of kerosene oil, provision of specialised clothing and high quality rations," Naik informed the lower House in the written reply to an Unstarred Question.

Steps are also undertaken to utilise modern technological equipment for the rescue missions, prevention of accidents and ensuring rapid and timely evacuation of the casualty, apart from issuing of regular advisories, he said.

The Indian Army's mountain warfare experience and strategies make its troops the 'most skilled in the area'. From the northern borders in Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh, the easternmost part of the country, a large number of Indian soldiers are deployed in the mountains and have mastered the art of fighting in the snowy landscape as well as the harsh barren vastness of Ladakh, the region where they are currently in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation with the soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army.

At present, the world's largest and experienced country with plateau and mountain troops is neither the US, Russia, nor any European powerhouse, but India, read an article by Huang Guozhi, a senior editor of the Modern Weaponry magazine and a Chinese expert.

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Huang stated that since the 1970s, the Indian military has established and expanded in size and has personnel trained for fighting in the mountains on a large-scale.

India also plans to create a mountain strike force of more than 50,000 troops.The Indian Army is the best practitioner of mountain warfare with maximum experience because its officers and personnel spend a major part of their service in the mountains.

The Indian Armed Forces in Jammu and Kashmir encompass the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force, tri-service units such as the Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD), and paramilitary organisations of the Central Armed Police Forces such as the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Sashastra Seema Bal and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.

All the three wings of India's military have their special forces deployed in the region, including the Indian Army special forces and Rashtriya Rifles, the Indian Navy MARCOS and the Indian Air Force's Garud Commando Force.

Apart from this, there is the elite police anti-insurgency force in the region, the Special Operations Group, of the Jammu and Kashmir Police.

The Indian Army was first deployed in Kashmir during the Indo-Pakistan War in 1947-1948. Following this, the Army has been a part of every conflict, standoff and border skirmish with Pakistan and China in the region.

Internal security deployments in the region include anti-terror operations and counterinsurgency operations. Most anti-terror operations in the region are led by the Army, with the CRPF and SOG providing perimeter and crowd control support.

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