Tensions on the Indo-China border have spiked to the highest since 1962 after over 20 troops, including an Indian commanding officer, were killed in the face-off in Galwan valley that has seen a six-week long standoff underway with the Peoples Liberation Army.
The Army said that the soldiers – including the Commanding Officer of 16 Bihar regiment in charge of the area – died while a `de-escalation process’ was underway. Sources have told ET that this death toll could rise up as some soldiers are currently not accounted for after PLA troops attacked with spiked sticks and stones in the Galwan valley.
Chinese side also has casualties but the number is still not known. The Indian death toll is perhaps the worst single day loss in decades and has come at a time when thousands of troops are forward deployed in Eastern Ladakh.
ET was the first to report on May 12 about a massive troop build up in the Galwan valley, which is an old flashpoint that had seen action in the 1962 war as well.
There have been reports of casualties on the Chinese side in the clash but numbers are currently not available. Worryingly, information from the ground suggests that several Indian soldiers, including four officers, are missing and could have been taken captive by a vastly larger Chinese force. Their status is still not known.
“During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties. The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers. Senior military officials of the two sides are currently meeting at the venue to defuse the situation,” an Indian Army statement reads.
The MEA said that the clash occurred when the Chinese side violated the Line of Actual Control. “On the late-evening and night of 15th June, 2020 a violent face-off happened as a result of an attempt by the Chinese side to unilaterally change the status quo there. Both sides suffered casualties that could have been avoided had the agreement at the higher level been scrupulously followed by the Chinese side,” a statement reads.
The loss of the Commanding Officer is especially devastating and he had been directly involved in de-escalation talks with the Chinese side, including one hours before the clash took place. Sources said that the talks on Monday morning had led to an agreement for Chinese forces to withdraw from Indian territory as part of the disengagement.
According to one version, the CO had gone to the standoff point with a party of 50 men to check if the Chinese had retreated as promised. As the Indian side proceeded to demolish and burn illegal Chinese structures on its side of the LAC, including an observation post constructed on the South bank of the river, a fresh stand off took place as a large force of Chinese troops returned back.
Sources said that a Chinese force in excess of 250 quickly assembled near Patrol Point 14 and were physically stopped by Indian soldiers from entering Indian territory. Soldiers from both sides did not use firearms but the Chinese soldiers carried spiked sticks to attack.
Given the terrain of the region, a part of the standoff and clash took place in the middle of the Galwan river that is currently flowing at full spate, leading to high casualties as injured soldiers got swept away. Indian soldiers have to cross the Galwan river at atleast five points to reach PP 14, which marks the LAC.
Chinese media reports on Tuesday quoted the spokesperson from its Western Theatre Command as laying claim over the Galwan valley region and blaming the Indian side for the clash. Reports quoted Col Zhang Shuili as saying that India has violated the consensus made during Army commander level talks.
As reported, Galwan river area has a painful history with China, with Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers surrounding a freshly set up Indian Army post in July 1962, in what would be one of the early triggers to the Sino-Indian war. At an Army post that was overrun at Galwan, 33 Indian soldiers were killed and several dozen taken captive in 1962.
In the past, the Doklam crisis in 2017 saw tensions building up along the Pangong Tso lake as well with soldiers engaging in a fight with sticks and stones. However, the Eastern Ladakh standoff is of a much more serious nature, with over 6000 Chinese troops lined up with tanks and artillery, faced off with a larger Indian forces. Troop build up has also been reported across the borders in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal.
News Source: Economic Times