KARACHI, May 29 (Reuters) - Kashmiri militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region said on Saturday that they would hold their positions in the face of Indian attacks and planned to advance further into the valley.
The militants, under attack from Indian aircraft for a fourth day in the mountain heights in the Kargil and Drass sectors of Kashmir, vowed they would be difficult to dislodge.
"We are there to stay. We will not only hold
our positions but our target is to advance further into adjoining areas," Fazalur
Rehman Khalil, the central amir (chief) of the Harakatul Mujahideen told Reuters in a
"In its bid to dislodge us, India risks escalating this war beyond its control. My advice to them is that they should retreat," Khalil said.
India said on Saturday that troops backed by fighter planes had recaptured a "substantial portion" of the areas where the militants have been holed up in since early May and killed hundreds of them.
"In our estimation the number of casualties has easily crossed over 400 on the side of the intruders," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister R. Kumaramangalam.
Abdullah Muntazir, the information secretary of another guerrilla group the Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, said the next goal of the joint Kashmiri militant forces was to occupy the Drass-Kargil highway and if that was successful they would launch an attack on the town of Kargil.
"In every war you need a base to operate from and the strategic mountain location of Kargil provides us that base," Muntazir said.
"We have gone there with a complete plan and will not withdraw even if it means that all our comrades are martyred (killed)," he said.
He said four militant factions - Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, Tehrik-i-Jihad and Mujahideen Al-Badar - had formed a joint command for the Drass-Kargil operation.
Muntazir said the area's hilltops, stretching 30-35
kms (18-21 miles), were important because they overlooked the Drass-Kargil highway -- the
only land route connecting the northern Ladakh and Siachen areas with the rest of India.
Pakistan and India have clashed intermittently in the Siachen glacier for the past several years.
"The highway is in our range. At places we are as close as a kilometer and at other points where the distance is 10-12 kilometres we use anti-aircraft guns and mortars," he said.
India accuses Pakistan of sending militants into its
side of Kashmir and supplying guerrillas there. On Saturday Indian officials said one of
the dead militants had documents that proved "beyond doubt" that he was a
Pakistan denies that it provides logistical or military support to the guerrillas and has vowed to shot down any Indian aircraft that strays over its territory.
Muntazir said the chances of an Indian plane straying across the line of control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan were great.
Indian pilots must try to find their targets while manoeuvring around rocky ridges, shadowy valleys and missile-armed Pakistani troops lurking on the control line less than 30 second's flying time away.
"This provides Pakistan the chance to retaliate," he said. Islamabad has said repeatedly that it reserved the right to retaliate if its airspace was violated.
Muntazir said about 1,000 militants were holed up in the mountains. He said they were not very concerned about fighter aircraft but were worried about helicopter gunships.
Lashkar supplied its forces with SAM-7,
shoulder-fired guided anti-air missiles on Wednesday.
"And on May 28 you saw their effectiveness," he said.
The militants said on Friday that they shot down two Indian Mi-17 helicopters. India says one was downed by a Stinger missile.
Pakistan says it shot down two Indian jets on
Thursday after they violated its airspace. India said one was lost to ground fire and
another to mechanical failure but both had been over its territory.