Attrition: High And Dying

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October 20, 2015: Pakistan recently revealed its military losses for 2003-10 and among the statistics was confirmation of the heavy losses on the high (over six kilometers) Siachen glacier. From 2003 to 2010 Pakistan lost 213 soldiers on the Siachen glacier alone, all due to natural (avalanche, falls and severe cold) causes. After 2010 the situation got worse because it was known that 140 Pakistani soldiers were lost in a 2012 avalanche. With this many killed in one incident it proved impossible to keep the details secret.

India has been more open with revealing losses on their side of the border and that may be one reason Pakistan kept the data secret. India, despite having positions a bit higher than the Pakistanis, has not only had lower losses but has reduced their losses over the years to a greater degree than Pakistan. In other words, India proved more capable of taking better care of its troops than Pakistan. India acted on its years of experience with troops living at high altitudes and developed or imported special equipment and clothing that made life more survivable at those high altitudes.

In 2014 both India and Pakistan admitted to losses during an avalanche at a high altitude portion of their border in Kashmir. Ten Indian soldiers were killed by a snow avalanche, while four Pakistani soldiers were lost on the other side of the border.  This took place near army camps that both nations maintain along the Kashmir border. Some of these camps are high up, at an altitude of 6,500 meters (20,000 feet) or higher. These are the highest military camps on the planet and largely the result of never precisely demarcating the 740 kilometer long border. One 75 kilometer portion is on the 6,500-7,000 kilometer high Siachen glacier. The 2014 avalanche was 144 kilometers from the Siachen glacier in similar high, snow covered terrain. The reason for not precisely marking that part of the border was the inaccessibility of those 75 kilometers of ice and thin air.

This bizarre situation all began in the late 1970s, when Pakistan began a campaign of Islamic terror attacks on Indian Kashmir. In response, India moved more police and troops to Kashmir and in 1984 moved troops onto the Siachen glacier to block Pakistan based Islamic terrorists from sneaking into Indian Kashmir via that remote route. No terrorists appear to have ever used the glacier route into Indian territory but with the high levels of terrorist violence in Indian Kashmir, desperate measures seemed reasonable. Pakistan responded to the Indian action by moving troops up onto the glacier as well.

Since the 1970s over a thousand soldiers are believed to have died, and even more injured in these high altitude border areas. For the troops serving in those harsh conditions (thin air, intense cold, constant snow and ice plus frequent inaccessibility) life is rough even when it is not fatal. After September 11, 2001, the two countries began negotiating a ceasefire, and one was signed in 2003. This ended the frequent gunfire on the glacier (usually initiated by the Pakistanis), but efforts to negotiate a withdrawal of troops from the glacier have so far failed.

 

 


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