SOURCE: INDIA TODAY
The Chinese have been enhancing their strength bringing additional boats to the friction areas of the Pangong Lake and setting up new huts to accommodate more troops even as the disengagement set in.
New trenches and tents have also come up the latest satellite imagery shows. In the latest satellite imagery of July 29 analysed by India Today OSINT team 13 boats of the People’s Liberation Army Ground Forces Naval Wing can be seen at Finger 5 and Finger 6. At Finger 5 three boats can be seen while 10 are at Finger 6. Each boat can carry at least 10 soldiers. This means around 130 Chinese troops usually belonging to their elite forces are present extremely close to Finger 4 that was always under Indian control.
A naval base of the PLA ground forces is visible. The images of July 29 establishes an increase in the PLA strength. On June 15 there were 8 boats visible at Finger 6 but there has been an addition now.
The presence of additional boats is alarming and an indication of aggressive posturing many feel.“These jetties were not there earlier at Finger 5 or 6. They used to be beyond Finger 8. A permanent presence shows they are expanding their presence to control up to Finger 4,” says Lt Gen DS Hooda, a former Northern Army Commander who has been incharge of operations in Ladakh as well.
At Finger 5, three floating temporary piers that can be used for anchoring 6 boats is visible.There are 40 prefabricated huts and about 15 tents that can be seen at a finger 5 as of July 29. Four additional tents are observed probably belonging to the boat crew.
The presence of prefabricated huts that can withstand extreme cold suggests the Chinese have already started to prepare for a long haul before the winter sets in.
Prefabricated huts can accommodate up to 12 soldiers. So at one point in time the deployment includes at least 480 troops in the huts, plus the boat crew and additional troops in the tents.
“Such huts are usually thermally insulated maintaining an optimum temperature. If they have brought them in it suggests they are definitely readying for the winter,” Lt Gen Hooda adds.
A gradual increase in the number of tents indicates they are increasing their strength at Pangong Lake and are in mood to move back even though disengagement is being discussed.
While India has also enhanced deployment and is preparing for the winter deployment this could incur huge costs of the standoff continues. “Maintaining one division in Ladakh peak winter is a challenge. Sustaining enhanced deployment of over 40,000 troops would be a challenge,” said an official.
Former Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia says the latest imagery clearly suggests the Chinese are ready for the long haul preparing for winter. “Despite the disengagement talks they have not gone back fully in Pangong ensuring the status quo ante. India also must prepare for the long haul. Indian troops are battle-hardened but Chinese are not used to stay at the front lines during harsh winter,” he said.
Since July 15, a day after the fourth round of Corps Commander level talks while the Chinese moved back from Finger 4 to Finger 5 they continued to strengthen their positions between Finger 5 and Finger 8. India maintains that Line of Actual Control runs through Finger 8.
The Chinese had come in 8 km west of Finger 8, which India claims is the LAC to Finger 4.
While military and diplomatic talks have resulted in partial disengagement at some of the friction points there has been no breakthrough at Pangong Lake where the standoff continues. In fact China has begun to assert that it has not made any attempts to expand its territorial claim here. “China’s customary boundary line is in accordance with the LAC on the north bank of the lake,” Chinese ambassador in New Delhi Sun Weidong said on Thursday.
Former Deputy Chief of Army Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh says these are intimidating tactics to negotiate in the Finger area. “They have been attempting to change status quo. They are trying to indulge in face saving because they know they will eventually have to pull back. This is the last area to be disengaged so they are delaying things,” he said.
More military commander level talks are expected to discuss Pangong Lake and Gogra area where disengagement has not happened as discussed.
Pangong and Gogra still volatile
China might have claimed that disengagement in most friction points is complete but India maintains not much has changed at Gogra and Pangong Lake for over a fortnight and new status quo has emerged, sources said.
“In Pangong and Gogra areas disengagement is still not complete. Some thinning of troops has happened but not much has changed,” said an official.
China has been silent on the status of Pangong Lake while it claims disengagement at Galwan, Hot Springs and Gogra is complete.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday in Beijing that disengagement is complete in the three points.
Sources say troops from both sides still in close proximity to Gogra and Pangong Lake.
The Pangong Lake and Hot Spring-Gogra area that is part of Patrol Point 17A still remains volatile.
At the Pangong Lake, the biggest flashpoint the Chinese did move back from Finger 4 to Finger 5 on the bank but still remain on the mountain spurs or the ridgeline.
The Indian troops are between Finger 3 and Finger 2 on the bank of the lake.
Sources said there are still no signs of the Chinese army dismantling the structures they had set up between Finger 8 and Finger 4.
The distance between troops from both sides is 4-5 km on the bank of the river but on the mountain ridges of the lake the troops are separated by less than 1 km, sources said.