Army chief to visit Leh today as border tensions with China simmer

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Army chief Gen MM Naravane will visit Leh, headquarters of 14 Corps, on Tuesday for a security review of the sensitive Ladakh sector, where tensions have escalated after a brutal clash between soldiers of the Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Galwan Valley, people familiar with developments said.

He will leave for Leh after attending a meeting with top generals who are in New Delhi for the army commanders conference that ends on Tuesday, said one of the people cited above. On Monday, the commanders discussed developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the army’s readiness to handle any situation.

In Leh, senior officers will brief Naravane on latest developments along the LAC and progress in military dialogue with China, said a second person. Naravane will also interact with soldiers there, he said.

This will be Naravane’s second visit to Ladakh sector after the border standoff began in early May. He earlier visited Leh on May 22. The army chief is expected to visit Kashmir on Wednesday.

The current situation along the LAC marks the first major flare-up since the 73-day standoff between India and China at Doklam near the Sikkim border in 2017.

Naravane is visiting Leh a day after top military commanders from the two sides held a marathon meeting at Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC with a focus on cooling tensions and thinning the build-up on both sides of the border.

The meeting on Monday between delegations led by Lt Gen Harinder Singh, commander of 14 Corps, and Maj Gen Liu Lin, commander of PLA’s South Xinjiang military region, went on for almost 11 hours.

The Indian side is demanding the withdrawal of Chinese troops from the Finger Area (a cluster of strategic features on the north bank of Pangong Lake) and the removal of bunkers, pillboxes and observation posts the PLA has built there, as reported by Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

It is also pressing for restoration of status quo ante in strategic areas such as the Gogra Post-Hot Springs sector and the Galwan Valley.

Last week, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria made a low-key visit to Ladakh to review the Indian Air Force’s preparedness in the region, where the IAF is operating its fighter jets and new attack and heavy-lift helicopters.

Apart from Sukhoi-30s and upgraded MiG-29 fighter jets, the IAF is operating Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters — both imported from the US — in the Ladakh area.

People familiar with the talks at the military level said India is seeking an assurance from the Chinese on ending aggression along the border, after the brawl at Galwan Valley on June 15 and another face-off at Pangong Tso on May 5-6.

During both skirmishes, Chinese soldiers gathered in large numbers and attacked Indian troops with stones, iron rods and nail-studded clubs. Twenty Indian soldiers died in the June 15 clash.

India is also demanding the thinning of Chinese military deployments in “depth areas” on their side of the disputed border.

India has flagged concerns about a build-up of Chinese troops, armoured vehicles and artillery units in Gogra Post-Hot Springs sector, north of Pangong Lake. The army wants the Chinese forces to move back from their current positions to areas where they were in early April.

This was the second meeting of the two senior commanders, who earlier met on June 6, when the two sides reached an understanding to implement a de-escalation plan to ease tensions along the border.

But tensions peaked in the aftermath of the June 15 skirmish. It was the first deadly conflict between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the LAC in 45 years. While the army lost 20 soldiers, the PLA’s casualties were more than twice that.