Inaccurate artillery fire by Pakistan along LoC causing forest fires, satellite images show

18 November 2020

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INDIA/PAKISTAN – Pakistan Army has maintained its aggressive posture along the Line of Control (LoC) all year long but instead of hitting military installations, their shelling has caused forest fires besides civilian casualties, satellite imagery shows. While civilian population has always been the primary target, artillery fire by Pakistan has destroyed forest areas this time, creating an ecological imbalance in border areas on the Indian side.

On the other hand, the Indian artillery fire is accurately aimed at terror launchpads and Pakistani Army posts. In response to Pakistan’s firing on November 13, the Indian Army destroyed Pakistan Army’s posts, fuel and ammunition dumps along with terror hideouts on the other side of the LoC while killing 6-7 Pakistani Army soldiers.

In 2020, as many as 20 civilians were killed and 47 others seriously wounded on the Indian side of the LoC by Pakistani shelling, indicating Islamabad’s intent of targeting non-military dwellings. The year has also witnessed the most ceasefire violations in 17 years, with over 4,000 such instances already recorded.

Since October, more than 500 ceasefire violations have taken place this year. While in November alone, the number has gone past 130. In 2019, the total tally of ceasefire violations was 3,186. The increase in numbers corresponded with the standoff between India and China that commenced in early May in eastern Ladakh.

The frequency of skirmishes at the LoC and also the International Border with Pakistan has been high since the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019.

India Today’s OSINT team analyses the satellite images to understand the pattern of firing.

Nuances of artillery firing

The artillery fire in mountains is very tricky. There are many imponderables that need to be assessed accurately and imported into calculations at the gun end. The guns need to be calibrated accurately for particular terrain, plotted sharply on the maps and charted perfectly on the board to reach the target at distances varying from 5 km to 30 km.

The forward observation officer (FOO) who is located almost 5-25 km away has to give directions and provide corrections on the radio to ensure that the fire accurately reaches the target.

After partition, the Indian Artillery has improved by leaps and bounds, especially in the past two decades.

Pakistan artillery fire

Pakistani leaders have always tried to allay the fears of internal political turmoil by either drumming nuclear threats or actively promoting terrorist activities or, as the last resort, engage in indiscriminate firing along the LoC.

Photo Credits: India Today

Typically, artillery fire by Pakistani has always been inaccurate. This was observed throughout the past four wars Pakistan has fought with India and also during the fifth low-intensity conflict.

Every time Pakistan sends terrorists across, the LoC is lit up with fire to turn the attention of Indian forces away from patrolling activities. Bringing down artillery fire on mountain ridge tops is extremely difficult. Pakistan army has never been able to master this art of firing on ridge tops to date.

The satellite images of November 11, 2020, vividly shows that mountain slopes on the Indian side witnessed most of the fire. This indicates the inaccurate profile of artillery fire by Pakistani armed forces.

Earlier, Pakistan targeted civilians, destroying houses and properties, as villages are much bigger targets than small posts located on peaks. This year, the pattern seems to be quite different.

Photo Credits: India Today

The fires raging as seen in the satellite images clearly indicate that the Pakistan Army has been trying to destroy India’s forest property rather than targeting Indian Army posts. In all the fires observed in satellite imagery, forest areas have been the target. The month of November sees the descent of dried leaves which easily catch fire, creating a lot of smoke.

The satellite images show the foliage also burning along the slopes and destroying vast tracts of forest.

Photo Credits: India Today

Fire lanes have been created in Indian forests but due to the growth of trees over the years, the gap has closed, increasing fire risks. Inadequacies of fighting fires on mountains destroy more forest property which is being exploited by Pakistani forces.

Indian artillery fire

Artillery firing by India, on the other hand, has been very accurate as observed in satellite images of November 11.

Photo Credits: India Today

The Indian Army has only engaged Pakistan armed forces posts located on the ridge tops of mountains. In one of the locations opposite the Lachipora Sector, satellite images show smoke billowing along the entire ridgeline, indicating that the complete ridgeline was probably occupied by the Pakistani forces aiding infiltrating terrorists.

Photo Credits: India Today

Ground photos and videos also show extremely accurate firing by the Indian Army, confirming the assessment of satellite images. The retaliatory fire by the Indian Army this time around would have taught Pakistan a good lesson.

Photo Credits: India Today

The satellite images of November 16 show the first heavy snowfall in this sector which may bring a temporary halt to the cross-border firing.

(Col Vinayak Bhat (Retd) is a consultant for India Today. A satellite imagery analyst, he served in the Indian Army for over 33 years)

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