The 1999 Kargil War took place between May 8, when Pakistani forces and Kashmiri militants were detected atop the Kargil ridges and July 14 when both sides had essentially ceased their military operations. It is believed that the planning for the operation, by Pakistan, may have occurred about as early as the autumn of 1998.
The spring and summer incursion of Pakistan-backed armed forces into territory on the Indian side of the line of control around Kargil in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian military campaign to repel the intrusion left 524 Indian soldiers dead and 1,363 wounded, according to December 1 statistics by Defense Minister George Fernandes. Earlier Government figures stated that 696 Pakistani soldiers were killed. A senior Pakistani police official estimated that approximately 40 civilians were killed on the Pakistani side of the line of control.
By 30 June 1999 Indian forces were prepared for a major high-altitude offensive against Pakistani posts along the border in the disputed Kashmir region. Over the previous six weeks India had moved five infantry divisions, five independent brigades and 44 battalions of paramilitary troops to Kashmir. The total Indian troop strength in the region had reached 730,000. The build-up included the deployment of around 60 frontline aircraft.
The Pakistani effort to take Kargil occurred after the February 1999 Lahore summit between then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bahari Vajpayee. This conference was believed to have de-escalated the tensions that had existed since May 1998. The major motive behind the operation was to help in internationalising the Kashmir issue, and for which global attention had been flagging for some time. The intrusion plan was the brainchild of Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, Gen Pervez Musharraf and Lt Gen Mohammed Aziz, the Chief of General Staff. They obtained only an 'in principle' concurrence, without any specifics, from Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani Prime Minister.
Pakistan's military aim for carrying out the intrusions was based on exploitation of the large gaps that exist in the defenses in the sector both on Indian and Pak side of the Line of Control (LoC). The terrain is extremely rugged with very few tracks leading from the main roads towards the LoC. During winters the area gets very heavy snowfall making movement almost impossible. The only mountain pass connecting the Kargil area to the Kashmir Valley, Zoji La, normally opens by the end of May or beginning of June. Thus, moving of reinforcements by surface means from Srinagar would not have been possible till then. Pakistan Army calculated that even if the intrusions were discovered in early May, as they were, the Indian Army's reaction would be slow and limited, thereby allowing him to consolidate the intrusions more effectively. In the event, however, Zoji La was opened for the induction of troops in early May itself. The intrusions, if effective, would enable Pakistani troops to secure a number of dominating heights from where the Srinagar-Leh National Highway 1A could be interdicted at a number of places. The intrusions would also draw in and tie down Indian Army reserves. The intrusions would, further, give Pakistan control over substantial tracts of strategic land area across the LoC, thereby, enabling Islamabad to negotiate from a position of strength. The intrusions would irrevocably alter the status of the LoC.
Apart from keeping the plan top secret, the Pakistan Army also undertook certain steps to maintain an element of surprise and maximise deception. There was no induction of any new units or any fresh troops into the FCNA for the proposed operation. Any large-scale troop movement involving even two or three battalions would have drawn the attention of the Indian Army. The Pakistan Army artillery units, which were inducted into the FCNA during the heavy exchange of fire from July to September 1998, were not de-inducted. Since the exchange of artillery fire continued thereafter, though at a lower scale, this was not considered extraordinary. There was no movement of reserve formations or units into FCNA until after the execution of the plan and operations had begun with the Indian Army's response. No new administrative bases for the intrusions were to be created, instead they were to be catered for from those already in the existing defences. The logistic lines of communication were to be along the ridgelines and the nullahs well away from the tracks and positions of the Indian Army troops already in position.
After it was finalised, the plan was put into action towards the end of April. The main groups were broken into a number of smaller sub groups of 30 to 40 each for carrying out multiple intrusions along the ridgelines and occupy dominating heights.
The terrain of the Kargil and surrounding regions of the LOC is inhospitable in the best of times. Some of the characteristics of the region are jagged heights of up to 18,000 feet and harsh gusts of wind and temperatures plunging to about -60 degrees Celsius in the winter. The battle terrain of 'Operation Vijay' is dominated by high altitude peaks and ridgelines most of which are over 16000 ft. This region is part of the 'cold desert' region of Ladakh. Dry, and at the same time very cold, the Kargil Mountains are a formidable constituent of the Greater Himalayas. Unlike other similar high altitude areas, the Kargil Mountains lose snow cover rapidly as the summer progresses. Below the peaks and the ridgelines are loose rocks, which make climbing extremely difficult. If it is not the snow cover, then it is the rocks, which cause extreme hardships on the troops.
There had existed a sort of "gentleman's agreement" between India and Pakistan that the armies of either side will not occupy posts from the 15 September to 15th April of each year. This had been the case since 1977, but in 1999 this agreement was cast aside by the Pakistani army in hopes of trying to gain the upper hand in Kashmir and plunging the Indian subcontinent in brief and limited war and raising the spectre of nuclear war.
As events unfolded, Zoji La opened early on account of the unseasonal melting of snows and the Indian Army's reaction was far swifter than Pakistan had expected. Further, Pakistan also did not expect the reaction of the Indian Army to be as vigorous as has been demonstrated manifested.
Indian Army Patrols detected intruders atop Kargil ridges during the period 8-15 May 1999. The pattern of infiltration clearly established the participation of trained Mujahideen and Pakistan Army regulars in these operations in areas east of Batalik and north of Dras. Pakistan resorted to artillery firing from across the border both in general areas of Kargil and Dras. Indian army launched operations which succeeded in cutting off the infiltrators in Dras sector. Infiltrators were also pushed back in Batalik sector.
The Intruders on the heights were an amalgam of professional soldiers and mercenaries. They included the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 12th battalions of the Pakistan Army’s Northern Light Infantry (NLI). Among them were many Mujaheddin and members of Pakistan's the Special Services Group (SSG). It was initially estimated that there were about 500 to 1,000 intruders occupying the heights but later it is estimated that the actual strength of the intruders may have been about 5,000. The area of intrusion extended in an area of 160km. The Pakistani Army had set up a complex logistical network through which the intruders across the LOC would be well supplied from the bases in POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). The intruders were also well armed with AK 47 and 56, mortars, artillery, anti aircraft guns, and Stinger missiles.
Indian Army Operations - The Indian Army detected the intrusions between May 3-12. From May 15 - 25, 1999, military operations were planned, troops moved to their attack locations, artillery and other equipment were moved in and the necessary equipment was purchased. Indian Army’s offensive named Operation Vijay was launched on May 26, 1999. Indian troops moved towards Pakistani occupied positions with air cover provided by aircraft and helicopters.
Operation Vijay in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir during the summer months of 1999 was a joint Infantry-Artillery endeavour to evict regular Pakistani soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) who had intruded across the Line of Control (LoC) into Indian territory and had occupied un-held high-altitude mountain peaks and ridgelines. It soon became clear that only massive and sustained firepower could destroy the intruders’ sangars and systematically break their will to fight through a process of attrition and, in the process, enable the gallant infantrymen to close in with and evict the intruders. Thus began a unique saga in the history of the employment of Artillery firepower in battle.