It took the Army personnel several hours to trace and retrieve bodies of their colleagues who were killed after being hit with rocks and iron clubs by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the Galwan area of eastern Ladakh on June 15. Some “died on the spot” and the exercise to locate the missing bodies continued till late hours on June 16.
A senior government official told The Hindu that the impact of the clashes was so severe that the government had to wait for the exact details to emerge, only after which Defence Minister Rajnath Singh issued one of the first statements on Wednesday at 12.19 pm on Twitter.
The terrain of Galwan made it difficult to assess the damage and several men died falling in the river. The clashes between India and China troops started around 7.30 p.m. on June 15 and continued till half past midnight, the official said.
The clash, the first in the past 45 years, came amidst a “de-escalation” process that was started last week after a month-long stand-off between troops at several points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC ) in Ladakh and Sikkim.
Giving details of the incident, the official said Colonel Santosh Babu who was commanding the unit, dismantled a tent erected earlier by the Chinese. “The Chinese had not removed the tent despite it being agreed to in the military-level talks. Col. Babu dismantled the tent and set it on fire,” the official said. Following this, a clash ensued and the Indian Army held fort for an hour or so till the Chinese reinforcements arrived.
“After that there was mayhem. The Chinese had iron clubs hidden behind their backs. They hit Col. Babu and others leading to profuse bleeding and their death. The jawans fought with bare hands and took on the Chinese, no gun shot was fired,” said the official. Another official added that the Chinese troops had come “prepared to fight” and they outnumbered the Indian army.
“After the clashes were over, it was a massive exercise to retrieve the bodies and move the injured. There are no night landing facilities in the region, so a chopper could not be requisitioned. The bodies were pulled out from the river only the next day,” said the official. “This is the first time that clashes took place during the night hours along the LAC, making it difficult to seek immediate help. The terrain is difficult and at an altitude of 14,000 feet the operational capabilities are also compromised, the oxygen level is low,” said the official.
The official added that the Indian troops gave a befitting reply and several Chinese troops were also injured and killed.
On Tuesday, the Army said in a statement that “ Indian and Chinese troops have disengaged at the Galwan area where they had earlier clashed on the night of June 15/16. Seventeen Indian troops who were critically injured in the line of duty at the stand-off location and exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the high altitude terrain have succumbed to their injuries, taking the total that were killed in action to 20.”