China has de-inducted around 10,000 soldiers from their “traditional training areas” around 150 to 200-km from the LAC, with India following suit with “a mirror reduction” from its depth areas, said defence ministry sources on Monday.
But the operational situation remains as grim as ever on the front in Pangong Tso, Chushul, Gogra-Hotsprings and Depsang Plains despite freezing conditions, with temperatures even dipping to -30 degree Celsius at some heights, and oxygen deprivation in the high-altitude area.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, in fact, visited eastern Ladakh on Monday to take stock of the “operational readiness”, even as India handed over the PLA soldier who had inadvertently strayed across the LAC to China.
“There is zero reduction of troops on the frontlines and immediate depth areas. But yes, both sides are frequently rotating troops at the heights to maintain their operational efficiency in the killing weather and terrain,” said a source.
The visits of Gen Rawat and ACM Bhadauria to the forward areas took place amidst no signs of any de-escalation in the ongoing military confrontation with China, which has entered its ninth month now.
Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat arrived at Ladakh today and was received by Lt Gen YK Joshi, Army Comman… https://t.co/7L0bLUJG52
— ANI (@ANI) 1610378051000
It has seen both sides deploy over 50,000 soldiers each, along with tanks, howitzers and surface-to-air missiles batteries, in close proximity to each other since May last year. The rival troops even clashed at Galwan Valley, which left 20 Indian and an unspecified number of PLA soldiers dead on June 15.
The lack of any tangible progress in resolving the stand-off between India and China has led to a major delay in even scheduling the ninth round of corps commander-level talks after the eighth one was held on November 6.
“The PLA, in fact, may have withdrawn some soldiers from the depth areas with the intention of swiftly bringing them back after the harsh winter starts ebbing from March onwards. We cannot lower our guard,” said the source.
During his visit, Gen Rawat was briefed on the operational situation by 14 Corps commander Lt-General P G K Menon. ACM Bhadauria, in turn, reviewed the “status of deployments” while visiting various bases and advance landing grounds (ALGs), including Thoise, Nyoma and Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO).
There has also been a heavy build-up by the PLA in the critically-located Depsang-DBO sector since early-May. The IAF airstrip at DBO, at an altitude of 16,614-feet, overlooks the strategic Karakoram Pass and is just a few km from the LAC and the China-occupied Aksai Chin region beyond. It was described as “a big threat for China” by the IAF chief earlier.
Earlier on Monday, the Army handed over to China the PLA soldier, who had been apprehended on Friday near Gurung Hill, one of the six-seven heights proactively occupied by Indian troops on the south bank of Pangong Tso-Chushul area on August 28-30.
The Army ruled out any “espionage angle” after questioning the PLA soldier with the help of interpreters and other experts. “The PLA soldier was returned at the Chushul-Moldo border personnel meeting point at 10.10 am, after following laid down procedures and protocol,” said an officer.