Honorary Captain Bana Singh, a Param Vir Chakra winner for his exemplary courage and resilience in capturing a strategic Pakistani post at Siachen, advised on Thursday that India shouldn’t withdraw its troops from the glacier’s unforgiving icy heights.
He faced formidable military challenges on the planet’s highest battlefield as a member of a handpicked assault team assigned to capture Pakistan’s Quaid post — named after Muhammad Ali Jinnah and renamed after Singh since its capture in June 1987.
“It’s tough to survive there but the moral and strength of an Indian soldier keeps him going. Weather Adversities shouldn’t make us think of ever pulling out of Siachen,” he told Hindustan Times over the phone.
He was reacting to a debate over troop withdrawal after the death of 10 soldiers in an avalanche at the 19,600-foot Sonam post last week, an incident that turned the spotlight back on the hardship faced by the men defending the glacier, aware of death lurking at every step.
The buzz grew after 33-year-old Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad, who survived six days buried under 25 feet of snow, died at an army hospital in New Delhi on Thursday.
But Singh believe Siachen should be protected at any cost, underscoring his own epic battle nearly three decades ago against an enemy perched above with a clear view of Indian troop movement at 16,000 feet and a merciless adversary called weather.
His task was to seize the highest post on the Siachen glacier at 21,000 feet, where the average summer temperature is minus 45 degrees Celsius while the wind howls at 125kmph.
The heroic mission that earned him the highest wartime gallantry award finds mention in Pakistani defence reviews too, calling it “bravery beyond comparison”.
Singh was handpicked by Major Varinder Singh to lead a team to Quaid post. The operation was planned a month in advance with two officers, three junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and 57 men from various ranks comprising the team. Helicopters made 400 sorties to place men and material somewhere between Komar and Sonam posts.
The operation began on June 22 with a plan for the final assault on June 30. “But a soldier died because of bad weather and there were murmurs if we should carry on with the operation.”
But Major Varinder Singh, Captain Anil Sharma and the JCOs decided to go ahead.
“On June 23 we started at 8am and managed to track only 150 metres till 4 the next morning. Our Major asked the party to return,” Singh said.
But Colonel AP Rai overruled the retreat with a stern: “If we don’t get the post, none of the men will come back.”
The team then followed a trek that a patrol had followed despite 90-degree gradients.
“Subedar Harnam Singh was first sent for the attack. There was heavy firing from the Pakistanis; he was wounded and we suffered casualties. Next, Subedar Sansar Chand was sent with a party. But we lost contact with him soon. It was then that I was sent with two soldiers,” Singh recalled.
“We stayed put in the open for the whole day in extreme conditions. The two soldiers feel ill and we came under enemy fire. The next day, reinforcement came in the form of five soldiers but with a clear message … attack.”
He led the final assault and overran the post on June 26. About six Pakistani soldiers were holed up in a bunker. Singh and his men killed them all.
The soldiers opened the bunkers and used a Pakistani stove to make some rice. “It was the first meal we had in three days.”
The next day, Brigadier Chandan Singh Nogyal arrived and congratulated the heroes. “At such heights there had never been a fight in the past and probably there will be none in the future. This will be henceforth called Bana Singh post,” Singh said, quoting his senior officer.