Of 1,000 soldiers lost in Siachen, only 220 fell to enemy bullets
Close to a thousand soldiers have died guarding Siachen since the army took control of the inhospitable glacier in April 1984, almost twice the number of lives lost in the Kargil war.
In 1999, Pakistani aggressors occupied strategic peaks in the Kargil, Dras and Batalik sectors in Kashmir, and the operation to push them back cost India 527 lives.
Figures accessed by Hindustan Times reveal almost a fifth of the casualties were linked to enemy fire before the November 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan kicked in. The remaining deaths were because of nature’s fury, accidents and medical reasons.
The death of 10 soldiers in the February 3 avalanche on the glacier turned the spotlight on what troops have to endure at punishing heights of more than 21,000 feet. Nowhere in the world is any army deployed at such altitudes.
Figures show 997 soldiers, including the 10 men from Madras Regiment, have died on the glacier over the past 32 years. The military casualties include 220 men killed in firing from the Pakistani side. Previous official figures pegged the Siachen deaths at 869.
Guns have been silent on the glacier for the past 12 years but weather and terrain have continued to claim lives. On the glacier, soldiers deal with altitude sickness, high winds, frostbite and temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.
The longest continuing military mission, codenamed Operation Meghdoot, caused nearly 700 non-fatal casualties. The figure includes 295 men who were wounded in enemy fire.
Pakistan is paying a high price, too. Its army lost 213 soldiers in Siachen during 2003-10.
Also, 140 Pakistani soldiers were killed when an avalanche swept away a military camp in April 2012, making it the biggest loss of military men in a single incident in Siachen.
India recorded a very high percentage of fatal and non-fatal casualties in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Army officials said these had been brought down significantly in the past 10-15 years.
“Advancements made in high-altitude medicine, better gear, best possible training, in-house innovations and following proper drills have helped us keep casualty rates low,” says Lieutenant General (retired) Om Prakash, who commanded the Siachen brigade during 2005-06.
It was during Prakash’s tenure that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the glacier in June 2005 and later talked about converting it into “a mountain of peace”.
The army launched Operation Meghdoot in April 1984 to evict Pakistani soldiers who had occupied strategic heights in Siachen, a 76-km river of slow-moving ice.
Several rounds of talks between India and Pakistan on demilitarising the Siachen glacier, an old sore in bilateral ties, have failed as Islamabad refuse to authenticate troop positions on the ground.