China withdraws troops, removes structures at Hot Springs, Gogra

60 ITBP coys move towards LAC

IAF’s night  time patrol in Eastern Ladakh

NEW DELHI, July 7:
Chinese military removed temporary infrastructure and continued gradual withdrawal of troops from face-off sites in Hot Springs and Gogra in Eastern Ladakh for the second consecutive day today, and the Indian Army is keeping a strict vigil on their rearward movement, Government sources said.
Gogra and Hot Springs are among the key friction points where the two armies were in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation for the last eight weeks.
The sources said the mutual disengagement of troops at the two friction points is likely to be completed within two days, and that there has been “substantial” withdrawal of forces by Chinese military from the areas.
The disengagement process began on Monday morning after a nearly two-hour telephonic conversation between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday during which they agreed on an expeditious withdrawal of troops from the area. Doval and Wang are Special Representatives for the boundary talks.
The sources said the Indian Army is not lowering its guard in view of the disengagement process in the area and will continue to maintain high-level of alertness to deal with any eventualities.
They said the two Armies are expected to hold further talks later this week after the first phase of disengagement process is completed.
As per the decisions arrived at Corps Commander-level talks on June 30, the two sides would create a minimum buffer zone of three kilometer in most of the areas where they were locked in a standoff.
“There has been substantial withdrawal of Chinese troops from Hot Springs and Gogra. The Chinese mliitary has dismantled temporary infrastructure too in the areas,” said a source.
The Chinese military has already removed tents and withdrew its personnel from patrolling point 14 in Galwan valley, the sources said adding the Indian Army is carrying out a thorough verification of the Chinese pull back.
On the situation in Pangong Tso, they said a “marginal thinning out of troops” has been observed in the area.
The Indian and Chinese armies are locked in the bitter standoff in multiple locations in Eastern Ladakh for the last eight weeks. The tension escalated manifold after the killing of 20 Indian soldiers in Galwan valley on June 15.
The Chinese side also suffered casualties but it is yet to give out the details. According to an American intelligence report the number of casualties on the Chinese side was 35.
Both sides have held several rounds of diplomatic and military talks in the last few weeks to ease tension in the region. However, there was no visible sign of any end to the standoff till Sunday evening.
Sources said the breakthrough was achieved at the Doval-Wang meeting.
On June 30, the Indian and Chinese armies held the third round of Lt General-level talks during which both sides agreed on an “expeditious, phased and step wise” de-escalation as a “priority” to end the standoff.
In the talks on June 22, the two sides arrived at a “mutual consensus” to “disengage” from all the friction points in Eastern Ladakh.
The first round of the Lt General talks was held on June 6 during which both sides finalised an agreement to disengage gradually from all the standoff points beginning with Galwan valley.
Meanwhile, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) is not expected to be assigned any task related to internal security in the near future as more than 60 companies of the paramilitary force are being deployed all along the LAC in the backdrop of the recent standoff with China in Ladakh, officials said today.
Sources in the security establishment said the force is also set to get sanctions from the Union Home Ministry to raise at least nine fresh battalions soon.
They said in order to bolster troop numbers along the 3,488 kms long Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, as many as 60 companies have been ordered to move towards the front in various areas like Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
An ITBP company has an operational strength of about 100 personnel.
Out of the 60, about 40 companies have already reached border battalion camps in various States and the troops are undergoing acclimatisation and COVID-19 quarantine before they are sent to forward bases, they said.
These units have been withdrawn from various internal security duties that they were rendering across the country, officials added.
The ITBP is not expected to be drafted in any internal security duty in the near future like law and order duties to aid state police, deployment during various festivals and also for conduct of Bihar Assembly polls scheduled later this year as their maximum presence is required in the frontier areas of the LAC, they said.
The Government is also mulling to sanction it more battalions so that they can be raised and operationalised in the next two years, the officials said.
With the recent sanction of two new commands to the ITBP at Chandigarh (western command) and Guwahati (eastern command) the force needs more manpower.
A plan for grant of about 8-9 fresh battalions (with an operational strength of 1,000 people) to the force is under consideration of the Union Home ministry and a decision is expected soon, they said.
At present, the ITBP has about 34 border battalions at 180 posts along the Chinese LAC.
The mountain-warfare trained force has 60 operational battalions in total with 56 being regular units and four for logistics like transport and weapons.
Out of the 60 battalions, eight units are deployed for anti-Naxal operations in Rajnandgaon, Kondagaon and Narayanpur districts of Chhattisgarh.
Some of its units are also tasked for VIP security duties, protecting about a dozen high-risk persons like veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah among others while a contingent drawn from its Delhi-NCR units guards the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The force was raised in the aftermath of the 1962 Chinese aggression and its posts are located between 9,000 feet-18,700 feet in the western, middle and eastern sectors of this front.
Meanwhile, in a demonstration of its aerial prowess, the Indian Air Force is carrying out night time combat air patrols over the mountainous eastern Ladakh region as part of its decision to maintain a high-level of readiness notwithstanding disengagement of troops by China from a number of friction points in the area, Government sources said today.
The frequency of day and night operations by frontline fighter jets is a signal that India will continue to put pressure on China until the status quo ante is restored in all the areas in eastern Ladakh including Pangong Tso, Gogra and Hot Springs, they said.
“There is no question of lowering our guard at this juncture,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity.
The sources said both the Army and the IAF will maintain their high alert level along the Line of Actual Control even as China has begun pulling back troops from several areas as part of a mutual disengagement process. (PTI)