Nineteen years after the war, the Kargil Battle School is training its students with more advanced technology and equipment

DRAS: During the 1999 Kargil war, the Indian Army had faced immense difficulty in recapturing its posts located at several high-altitude peaks in the J&K district after an infiltration took place from the other side of the border or Pakistan. One reason for this was the lack of institutionalised training in mountain warfare in the region. The situation, however, changed in 2000 when the Kargil Battle School was opened for providing pre-induction training to soldiers, who are deployed in the heights along the Line of Control (LoC) in this region.

Nineteen years after the war, the school is training its students with more advanced technology and equipment. There, however, are challenges that remain and are being overcome through this training institution.

Lt Col K T Varunny, the Officer-Commanding of the Kargil Battle School in Dras, explains that the institution’s aim is to ensure that all troops of the 8 Mountain Division can safely operate from 10,000 feet to 18,000 feet. This division is tasked with guarding high features located at these altitudes and passes in Dras, Kargil and Batalik sectors, where the war was fought in 1999.

“What happens here is something like pre-induction of troops entering this area from peace stations. This is especially important for those personnel who are coming from the plains. The Kargil Battle School has been established to ensure that troops are ready for mountain warfare and are training for tactical operations in the mountains,” Lt Col Varunny told ET.

He explains that the course for every inductee lasts for about three weeks. It starts with acclimatisation in the first week- an important factor for troops to be able to function normally at high altitudes. Trainees subsequently have to undergo a physical training to be able to carry out the strenuous climbs, followed by learning different climbing techniques and more endurance training. They are then inducted into the 8 Mountain Division.

On Tuesday, different climbing demonstrations were held on a hill designated for such activities of the training school. The hill stands out distinctly among the near barren light brown coloured hills surrounding it. Small flags of different colours are planted on rock faces across the hill and have been designated as different bases for the climbs.

“We teach rock climbing, rock-craft and casualty evacuation in this hill,” said an army official, while explaining the demonstrations.

The demonstrations involved free climbing, a 90-degree climb, rappelling and assault teams climbing rock faces and carrying out a simulated attack on a bunker portrayed as that of the enemy. What also needs to be noted is that these climbs are against gravity and soldiers have to not only be strong enough to carry their own body weight, but also about 25 kg of load, including their weapon, ammunition, sleeping bag and equipment for climbing. The school also trains the soldiers to walk for a stretch of 10-15 kilometres (km) at night before a simulated assault, to avoid detection.

Officers who are running the school explain that there has been a major infrastructure change. “Things have changed over the years such as now there is better infrastructure training,” said an officer.

Another officer explained that the initial challenges in such training is that soldiers have to get used to the specialised equipment being used in the climbs. “And then we need adequate physical fitness level, as one can easily get breathless in high altitudes. Presence of mind is also important as a wrong step can lead to accidents,” he said.

The school also trains soldiers in skiing and ice climbing. Learning mountain warfare and climbing techniques is of immense importance in this region, because in some high features roads only exist up to a certain point and the supplies have to be carried by porters or by troops. These techniques will also come to use if war breaks out at peaks in these regions.