The Chinese army too postponed its exercise by a month due to COVID-19 but when the manoeuvres were carried out, they surprised Indian troops by quick redeployment in the Galwan valley and the Finger Area along Pangong Tso lake.
Indian troops in Ladakh delayed the annual summer exercise along the Line of Actual Control in early March after some soldiers were infected by COVID-19, following which Chinese forces moved forward to key strategic positions and cut off access to areas patrolled by Indian forces in the past.
The annual joint exercise the Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police undertook in Sub Sector North (SSN) was postponed after Army personnel tested positive in March, government sources have told ET. The exercise is carried out to mirror a similar Chinese exercise and includes troops from a base in Himachal,
In the second week of March, a soldier tested positive following which several precautionary steps were put in place, including ban on mass gathering of security forces. Officials said one of the instructions was to postpone joint training exercises to prevent the spread of pandemic.
The Chinese too postponed its exercise by a month but when the manoeuvres were carried out, they surprised Indian troops by quick redeployment in the Galwan valley and the Finger Area along Pangong Tso lake. ET was the first to report the Galwan standoff, which threatens to cut off a strategic road built last year to connect the Daulat Beg Oldie base and the Karakoram Pass to Leh.
While India carried out mirror deployments by quickly rushing troops from Leh — breaking all COVID-19 protocols — the first movers advantage led to China positioning troops at several strategic points in Galwan and the Finger Area inside Indian territory. Sources said internal estimate of Chinese strength at Galwan was 3,400 troops, while 3,600 have built up at the Pangong Tso lake.
In response to an e-mail query, a home ministry spokesperson said: “ADGPI, Ministry of Defence, GoI, will provide all official information on the Sino-India border issue.” There was no response from the ITBP spokesperson. The Army has not commented on the situation but has said there was currently no violence on the ground.
Sources said India noticed movement of Chinese troops on the border by April-end, during the second phase of lockdown. The first confrontation between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh was reported on May 5-6, when scores of Indian soldiers were injured and some detained for more than 6 hours. Multiple sources confirmed that a large number of Army Jawans and some from the ITBP were injured during the confrontations. ITBP jointly patrols LAC with the Army but the force is under the home ministry.
Citing satellite images, government sources also indicated that Chinese soldiers have cut off access to some of the key strategic positing in and were sitting at some of the vantage points earlier patrolled by Indian troops. An MEA spokesperson has earlier said India was fully engaged with the Chinese to resolve the issue. Defence minister Rajnath Singh said in a TV interview that the Chinese had built up forces and talks were on to resolve the situation. He said a meeting was also planned on June 6. Regular border-level meetings have been on for weeks, including one at the Major General level on Tuesday, to defuse tensions and restore status quo with the withdrawal of Chinese soldiers.