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Eye on eastern Ladakh, new Army division likely to be raised this year

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A long-pending plan to raise a new Army division for possible deployment in eastern Ladakh is likely to be implemented this year as part of a series of changes for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the Ladakh region

According to sources, the Army is considering raising the 72 Division — which was to originally function under the 17 Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) based in Panagarh (West Bengal) — for possible deployment in eastern Ladakh under the Northern Command.

A division has approximately 14,000 to 15,000 troops. However, instead of recruiting additional manpower, the Army is likely to reorganise existing personnel for deployment in the new division from other formations.

A strike corps is responsible for offensive trans-border action. Currently, the Army has four strike corps — the Mathura-based 1 Corps, Ambala-based 2 Corps, Bhopal-based 21 Corps, and 17 MSC in Panagarh.

However, till 2021, only the 17 MSC — which was partially raised then — was focused on China. The other three were focussed on Pakistan.

But in the backdrop of the military standoff with China which began in 2020, a restructuring was carried out in 2021 to keep two of the strike corps for the mountains facing China. The 1 Corps and 17 Corps were restructured to focus on the northern and eastern borders to tackle Chinese threats.

The role of the 1 Corps was reoriented to focus on the northern borders with China with two infantry divisions. The 17 Corps was given an additional division from an existing corps to focus on the eastern theatre. Some elements of the 17 Corps were deployed in eastern Ladakh in the backdrop of the military standoff with China.

When the 17 MSC was sanctioned in 2013, it was to have two divisions. However, only the Panagarh-based 59 Division was raised; the 72 Division was among the raisings shelved due to financial constraints.

The plan to raise this division was discussed by the Army top brass recently. However, instead of functioning as a strike corps division under the 17 MSC, it was decided to bring it under the Northern Command for possible deployment in eastern Ladakh. Sources said the new division may or may not be renamed.

According to sources, once the new division is effectively deployed in eastern Ladakh, the long-term deployment of troops in the entire Northern Command will be re-assessed.

While the security situation in the Valley is relatively stable, the 16 Corps, which looks after the areas south of the Pir Panjal range, has seen a series of high impact terror attacks in the last three years.

According to officials, the shifting of a Rashtriya Rifles force from the area to eastern Ladakh created a void, and this was subsequently addressed by moving in troops from reserve formations and strike corps, thus affecting the training of troops as well as their peacetime profile.

“If implemented, the exercise will aim at keeping a stable and balanced deployment in the entire command theatre and also keep the strike corps ready as per their roles,” an official said, adding that the reserve formations will continue to train and be available in situ for any emergent deployment within a short timeframe.

India and China pushed in nearly 50,000-60,000 troops each along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) following the deadly clashes in the Galwan Valley in June 2020. Friction points such as Galwan Valley, north and south banks of Pangong Tso and the Gogra-Hot Springs area have seen some resolution in the last three years with the creation of buffer zones. Legacy friction points such as Depsang Plains and Demchok are yet to see any disengagement.

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