LEH, India (Reuters) – From deploying mules to large transport planes, India’s military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops in a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China.
In recent months, one of India’s largest military logistical exercises for years has brought large quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food to Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet, which India administers as a discipline, officials said.
The move was triggered by a border crossing with China in the snowy deserts of Ladakh, which began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand combat. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed while China suffered an unknown number of casualties.
Both countries are negotiating to resolve the confrontation, but neither side has withdrawn. The Indian military is now set to keep troops deployed along the treacherous border at high altitude through the winter.
Eastern Ladakh, where the flare-up occurred, is typically manned by 20,000-30,000 soldiers. But the deployment has more than doubled with the tensions, a military official said, refusing to give exact figures.
“We have mirrored the increase in Chinese troops,”
Temperatures in Ladakh can drop well below freezing, and troops are often deployed at altitudes above 15,000 feet, where oxygen is scarce, officials said.
As snow blocks mountain passages in Ladakh for at least four months each winter, Indian military planners have already moved more than 150,000 tons of materials into the region.
“All the supplies we need have already been pushed to where they are needed,” said Major General Arvind Kapoor, Chief of Staff of the 14th Army of the Indian Army.
FERRER TO THE FRONT LINE
On Tuesday morning, a number of Indian Air Force major transport planes landed at a forward base in Ladakh carrying men and materials as fighter jets roared overhead.
Soldiers with backpacks streamed out and were checked for COVID-19 symptoms at a transit facility, awaiting further transportation.
The materials are stored across a network of logistics hubs.
At a fuel, oil and lubricant depot near Leh, Ladakh’s capital, a hillside was covered in clusters of green drums.
At storage facilities at a nearby supply depot, boxes and sacks of ration – including pistachios, instant noodles and Indian curries – stood in tall piles. At another base near Leh, tents, heaters, winter clothes and equipment were stacked at high altitude.
From these depots, the materials for logistics nodes are being pushed by trucks, helicopters and, in some particularly difficult parts, mules, officials said.
“A place like Ladakh is operational logistics of enormous importance,” Kapoor said. “For the last 20 years, we’ve mastered it.”
Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Edited by Sanjeev Miglani and Richard Chang