Forget terror, weather is proving to be the worst enemy for the Army troops on counter-infiltration operations at the high-altitude areas along the Line of Control (LoC) in the Kashmir valley.
As the snow breaks new record in the Valley, the Army posts and camps in the high-altitude areas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the killer avalanches.
In the last four days alone, Army lost 15 soldiers in the avalanches in Gurez and Sonamarg areas in north and central Kashmir.
More than 14 soldiers were rescued from the snow at two places in the last 72 hours—latest being the five of an Army patrol who got trapped when the snow track caved in at Macchil sector of the LoC in Kupwara district on Saturday.
“All the five have been rescued,” said Shamsheer Hussain, Senior Superintendent of Police, Kupwara.
Indian Army has posts located at an altitude of 14,500 feet and more which witnesses 12 feet and more snow during winter. Troops are manning the posts and patrolling the areas despite the snow and freezing temperature to prevent infiltration from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
For the last 18 years, the Army is not relocating troops from the high altitude and avalanche-prone areas given the 1999 experience when Pakistan troops, in the guise of jihadi intruders, occupied the strategic locations in Kargil sector.
“Earlier, the Army was vacating some of these posts in winter. But not after the 1999 Kargil war,” said an officer. The reason why troops suffered heavily in snow avalanches in the last 18 years. In February 2012, at least 16 soldiers were buried alive and six others injured when massive avalanches hit the sensitive army installations in Gurez and Sonamarg areas of north and central Kashmir.
Six soldiers were buried alive when a massive snow avalanche hit Siachen Glacier in Ladakh division of Jammu and Kashmir in December 2012 .
A major tragedy struck the Army troopers at prestigious High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) at Khilanmarg-Gulmarg in February 2010 after a snow avalanche hit the trainees’ camp leaving 17 soldiers including an officer dead and 17 injured.
Eleven Indian army soldiers including a junior commissioned officer (JCO) were swept away by a massive avalanche at an altitude of 19,600 feet in world’s highest battlefield on February 3 last year.
This year there has been three back to back avalanches given the fact that the snow has broken decades-old record in certain areas of Kashmir in January. Srinagar broke the 11-year-old record in snowfall in January. “Pahalgam also broke previous record of snowfall this January,” said Sonam Lotus, Director of Meteorological Centre, Kashmir.
Figures released by Meteorological Centre, Kashmir revealed that Srinagar recorded 143mm snow in January. It has broken the previous record of 134.6 mm in 2009. Kokarnag recorded 265.4 mm snowfall in January this year. Last highest snowfall was recorded 194.7 mm.
“We had prolonged three months of dry spell. It has been followed by snowfall. Atmospheric process is very dynamic and complex. There could be many reasons. Deep low pressure system was developed over Jammu and Kashmir. There is continuous moisture incursion from the Arabian sea,” said Lotus.