New Delhi: In a massive escalation between India and China, at least 20 Indian Army soldiers, including a Colonel, have been martyred in a violent clash on Monday night with Chinese troops at the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh sector.
Initially, the Indian Army had confirmed only three casualties. However, in a statement issued late on Tuesday, it added that 17 soldiers later succumbed to critical injuries and the sub-zero temperatures.
According to official sources, an unknown number of Indian soldiers, including officers, who were reportedly in the captivity of the Chinese Army were released after a high-level meeting between the two sides.
The two sides used batons, iron rods and stones to attack each other, with the Chinese Army too suffering casualties. However, Chinese government did not release its casualty figures.
This is for the first time in 45 years that Indian soldiers have been killed at the line of actual control (LAC), with last such incident recorded in 1975, when four soldiers from the Assam Rifles were ambushed in Arunachal Pradesh.
The incident happened at Patrolling Point 14 in Galwan Valley, which comes under the 16 Bihar regiment of the Indian Army. As per initial reports, Indian troops were there to see the disengagement from the area by the Chinese Army when they were suddenly attacked by PLA soldiers.
Soon back-up patrols from both sides also joined. The clash between the two armies, which included hundreds of soldiers from both sides, went on the mountainous area till mid-night, said sources.
Colonel Santosh Babu, Commanding officer of the 16 Bihar regiment, was killed during the clash. Indian army said that no firing happened during the clash. Major Generals from both the armies met on Tuesday morning on the issue.
"During the de-escalation process underway in the Galwan Valley, a violent face-off took place yesterday night with casualties on both sides. The loss of lives on the Indian side includes an officer and two soldiers," said a statement issued by Indian Army.
In a revised statement, it added, "17 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".
Earlier, during another clash on May 5 at Pangong Tso, Commanding Officer (a Colonel) of 11 Mahar of the Indian Army was seriously injured.
A late night meeting of top government ministers, including defence minister, home minister and external affairs minister, was held at Prime Minister’s home in 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, said sources.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh also reviewed the current operational situation in Eastern Ladakh with the CDS General Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs. External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar was also present during the meeting in the morning. However, Modi did not mention Ladakh incident during a speech delivered during a meeting with the chief minsters on COVID-19 situation which was telecast live.
A Chinese military spokesperson said that Indian troops had broken their promises and crossed the line of actual control in the Galwan Valley region on Monday evening and launched provocative attacks, leading to severe clashes and casualties, according to Chinese state-owned media Global Times.
People's Liberation Army (PLA) Western Theater Command spokesperson Senior Colonel Zhang Shuili said China had always owned sovereignty over the Galwan Valley region, and the Indian border defense troops were inconsistent with their words and seriously violated the consensus made during the army commander-level talks to harm the relations of the two militaries and the "feelings of the two countries' peoples".
India should stop all provocative actions, meet the Chinese side halfway and come back to the right path of solving disputes through talks, Zhang said.
The clash has taken place just two days after army chief General MM Naravane had said that Indian and Chinese troops were disengaging in a phased manner starting from Galwan river area at the LAC in Ladakh.
Both armies are involved in a stand-off at a number of places in Ladakh including Galwan, Hot Springs and Pangong Tso where Chinese troops have violated the LAC.