Friday, January 07, 2005

War in the Wilderness - IV

We enter the village from the southern end. Its a small village, 40-50 houses at best. Surrounded by fields. The village is quiet. Everyones indoors and sleeping. Suddenly, Bravo spots a couple of large sheds. Whats this? Villages don't have these kind of sheds. These are pretty huge with a fence around them. Needs a look see.

We cautiously approach the sheds. As we get close, Karan nudges me. I look towards where he's silently indicating. Yup. I spot the glow of a cigarette. We get down and crawl till the fence. Look again and I see one guy sitting with his back against one of the sheds, smoking. No signs of any weapon.

For the life of me, I cannot make out what this is all about. Are these sheds being used by militants? Is this guy some kind of sentry?

Might as well find out. I whisper my orders to Karan and while Bravo and I cover him from our present position, he crawls off, gets through the fence and approaches the smoker from behind. He grabs him and pulls him away. We wait.

3 minutes later, we hear a low whistle and Bravo and I jump across the fence and sprint to where Karan is. The guy Karan nabbed is on his knees, hands on his head.

"Kya khabar? " I ask Karan in a whisper.

"Saab, yeh FCI (Food Corporation of India) godown hai aur yeh aadmi yahan ka chowkidar hai."

Gadzooks ! An FCI godown? In this God forsaken place? Wonders will never cease.

I question the chowkidar. This place holds grain stocks for the winters. Summer is spent transporting the stuff from the south on mule back. Theres a total staff of 6. One clerk kind of guy, 3 storemen and 2 chowkidars. Barring the clerk, they all live within the FCI complex in a small hut. No families. The clerk is a local and lives in the neighbouring village to the north.

Ok. So thats the background. I ask the guy about militants and get the standard "I don't know anything " answer.

A whack followed by my dagger poking his rib cage has him telling us that there are no militants in this village but he has seen groups of them moving around. He's seen them on both sides of the river and on the hill sides astride the valley. Thats the extent of his knowledge.

Another whack on his jaw, a boot in his belly and a deeper poke that draws a bit of blood, extends this extent.

"Get hold of the Muqaddam." He tells me "He is with them. Militants often visit his house."

This sounds good. I send Karan to get a section of Bravo's lads. Once they arrive, they take over the hut where the chowkidar's compatriots are sleeping. They'll ensure these fellows stay put within.

Its nearly 0045 hours now. We 'liberate' some of the FCI guys' clothing and change out of our Army fatigues into salwar suits.

The chowkidar chappie points out the Muqaddam's house and the three muskeeters head thataways.

Knock! Knock! Knock!

The sound of someone moving within, and then the door opens. A guy, mid to late 40s.

"Are you the Muqaddam?" I ask.

"Yes. Come in" he answers.

These guys don't speak Kashmiri the way I do, the way it's spoken in the Kashmir Valley. It's similar, yet different. But I can understand.

He takes us into a room, lights up a lamp and even before we are settled down on the carpet, a middle aged lady, presumably his wife, is making tea for us.

Whats surprising me is that he's not asked who we are and what we want.

Tea arrives. "You've come from across?" he asks me.

"Across as in? " I ask back.

"From the land of Allah, Pakistan." says the M.

"Yes" I answer "why?"

"I can make out that you are not Kashmiris. I saw you and realised that you are our brothers from Pakistan."

I give him whats supposed to be a sweet smile, though I'm seething from within.

"Whats the news here?" I query.

"News is not good. You should not be here" he says

I give him a quizzical look.

"The Kaffir (infidels) army is moving from Kashmir. They'll be here by tomorrow. The other mujahideen brethren have already moved out." He continues.

I ask him how he knows all this and he informs me that word had come across two days prior. Some Army people in Kashmir were hiring civilian mules to carry loads into Zulu and thereafter, the columns have been spotted moving into the hills.

Mules? Damn!! Alpha or Charlie, or both, must have f***** up. This op was supposed to be pure man pack. Anyways, too late to cry over spilt beer.

"Where have the Mujahids gone now? Is nobody left? We need to meet up with them." I tell the M.

"I sent some mujahids to ambush the Kaffirs. The others have moved into the hills to the east and south. Theres no one left , though there may be some one still at the base in X Village" says he.

"You sent people to ambush the Army?" I ask, trying to keep the anger out of my voice. It takes all I have to stay in control.

"Yes" he proudly replies "I control all Mujahid activity here. One of the groups I sent killed 50 Kaffirs to the south yesterday."

50, my a** !!!!

"Which tanzeem are you from?" I ask, changing the subject before I lose my temper and snap his neck.

He seems surprised at my question. " You don't know? I'm from the Lashkar. Didn't they send you to me?"

Oops ! Seems like I've committed a faux pas. Better cover up fast. "We're from Al Badr. Some Mujahideen we met on our way told us that you are a true supporter of the cause and will help us."

That appears to please him. "Yes. I'm the number one Lashkar man in this area" , is his proud reply.

I ask him about this 'base'. "Its a camp we have set up to train young Mujahideen. Instead of sending them all to your country, we are getting some boys from Kashmir and the South and training them here."

"I want to see this base" I tell him.

"We'll go in the morning. You all sleep here. My wife is making some food."

I can't argue with that. But theres a problem. If the three of us go to the militant camp/base with him, what happens to Bravo's lads? And what do we do at the base? Covert is okay, but the mask doesn't stay on for too long. And if the base has a sizeable number of militants, what will the 3 of us be able to achieve on our own? Barring making the 'supreme sacrifice'?

Jeez ! I can't think.

Anyways, food arrives, and we eat.

"Your men can sleep here. And for you, theres place upstairs" the M informs me, post dinner.


Bravo and Karan are given some smelly quilts and they seemingly settle down while I walk upstairs with the Muqaddam. He takes me to a small room with a bedding laid out on the floor. "You'll be comfortable here."

As I smile at him, he adds "I'll send my daughter up. You enoy yourself."

I snap. And before I can control myself, I've hit him with the butt of my rifle. He goes down, head bleeding. I peer down the staircase and yell out for B and K. They come up. Karan kneels, has one look at the M and pronounces him deceased.

There goes my 'guide' to the base. Damn !!!

I'd intended to kill him, but later. Damn ! Damn ! Damn !

Anyways, theres nothing to be gained here now. We move out of the house.

I now decide to prepone things. No time for recce. No time to wait and check if Delta is in location at Village Y.

I send Karan off to get Bravo's company to the godowns.

They arrive shortly. It's 0430 by now.

A quick brief and we set off.

The plan. Cross the river ASAP. A small party led by Karan to move up and ascertain the precise location of the so called 'base' as also try get whatever information they can on strength, dipositions, etc. Thereafter, Bravo's company, less a section, to cordon the base while the section moves in with me to search and destroy.

Its still dark. We cross the river over a narrow foot bridge and deploy east of the river, about a klik plus from Village X. Karan moves off with his gang.

0545 hours. Karans back. "Saab, ek location nazar aata hai jo camp lagta hai. Shayad is gaon ka school hai. Par, udhar humne do sentry dekhe. Hathiyar ke saath."

He goes on to explain the layout. Three huts. Single story. An open ground in front. Luckily , this complex is on the far edge of the village. Little chances of collateral damage.

Bravo is listening in and moves off with his men to lay the cordon.

Karan and I head for the militant camp with 8 of Bravo's guys.

It's daybreak. The village is waking up and as we walk through, the locals gawk at us. No time to lose now. Speed of move and execution is my only hope for success.

My Kenwood buzzes. Its Bravo . "Bravo for Khalid, in location, out."

Cool. Lets go in now, boys.

A silent prayer and we get into the complex. The LMG guy has already deployed on the ground, and two long bursts at each of those sentries provides them with their final 'good morning' kiss. Only, its the kiss of death.

As we get close to the sheds, firing starts from within two of them. Not too much, though. Still, it's enough to make us go into creepy crawly mode. I get the RL to address them, which he does with pleasure. Four rockets each and the sheds are down, burning. No more firing from within. As we move up to check out the sheds, I hear firing from the east.

"Khalid for Bravo, whats up?"

"Bravo for Khalid. Eastern cordon under fire from the hills. Moving there. Will report situation ASAP."

I leave the section to clear out the burning sheds as Karan and I sprint off eastwards. As we get there, I can see gun flashes in the hills. A look through the binos reveals at least 4 guys in the trees.

I meet up with Bravo. He tells me that he's spotted the guys and plans to go in from a flank and get them while they're held by fire from here.

Good idea. Bravo scoots off with a section pulled in from the cordon and moves off northwards to skirt these bad guys.

About 45 minutes later, some more firing and then silence.

"Bravo for Khalid, 5 militants. Dead."

"Roger, get back."

We hang around the area till noon. Nothing else happens. Guys keep scanning the hills with their binos but nary a movement is spotted.

I get Delta on the set and since he's already in Y village, ask him to move here, bringing the cops with him from the Reserve Police Post.

They arrive by 1500 hours and we hand over the bodies, as well as pointing the cops towards the Muqaddam's house in Village A. They get his body as well as a nice cache of weapons and ammunition.

We peel off thereafter, Delta headed back south while Bravo and I move back to the godowns with a group of very happy and satisfied men. A nice cheery evening is spent there, full use being made of the Government of India's wheat, rice and dal enhanced with a few chickens and two goats set free from the evil clutches of the locals. I'm in no ' win hearts and minds ' mood.

A good, well earned night's sleep and early next morn, we set course for Kashmir.

Two days of brisk, incident free walking gets us home, safe and sound.

My band of brave boys got 12 Lashkar militants.

I got the Muqaddam, a bollocking from the General (followed by a bear hug) and 23 blisters on my feet.


At 11:42 AM, April 18, 2005, Anonymous bits said...

The conclusion one draws in all this is that the soldier enters a domain which is full of unknown enemies & foes thrown all over. No place is safe, no human being is for sure a friend. Instincts & intutions are the guides. One error can be so explosive. Do we civilians really realize or know what a soldier goes through out there? All we think is that they wake up only during the war. But they are facing a war daily & for whom....Us, ignorant people who sleep blissfully!
Thanks mate for giving us an insight wish we could learn more & become aware.

At 10:45 AM, April 19, 2005, Blogger Counter Insurgent said...

Bitsy : Well, thats the way it is in any Low Intensity Conflict environment. but then, isn't life much like that?



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