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India’s military mules: No road too treacherous

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New Delhi, June 5 : The Indian Army honoured its longest serving mule “Pedongi” by naming an Army mess after it, but there was a time when the Army had decided to mark the end of the road for the sturdy mule, that has walked miles on some of the most treacherous tracks providing logistics support in difficult situations.

Just before the Kargil war, there was a proposal to disband the Animal Transport units that come under Indian Army Service Corps, consisting of sturdy mules.

But during the Kargil war, Pakistani intruders came inside Indian territory in the Drass and Kargil mountainous areas. National Highway 1, that connects Srinagar with Leh and cuts through Kargil, witnessed infiltration and fighting along a 160-km-long stretch of ridges overlooking this only motorable road.

“The situation was such that it appeared the line of communication would be cut. At that time the mules played an important role in ensuring supplies reached,” an Army official, who did not want to be named, told IANS.

Availability of local ponies had also gone down as bombing started, and even helicopters could not operate because of difficult weather.

The Animal Transport unit was used at that time to provide logistics support to Indian posts and troops fighting in the sector.

“Finally the Animal Transport unit was the only available resource that worked in the face of intense shelling. The mules could go through tracks on which no vehicle could reach,” the official said.

“The dauntless and loyal military mules of the Army Service Corps have enabled last-mile logistics supply in the most inhospitable conditions along our frontiers in all past wars and operations in the highest tradition of the Indian Army.”

The Indian Army at present has a 6,000-strong force of mules, which continue to be the reliable last-mile transport in difficult Himalayan terrain along the Indian borders in the western as well as eastern sectors.

At a smaller scale, mules are also used in the central sector.

Pedongi, after whom a new lounge at the Central Army Service Corps (ASC) officers’ mess on Polo Road has been named, has the distinction of being the longest-serving mule with the Indian Army, serving for 37 years, while average mules serve for 18-20 years.

Pedongi had joined the Indian Army in 1962, and served till his death on March 25, 1998. He also found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-serving military mule.

While the Indian Army is considering other options for transport in the difficult mountainous terrain, and considering drones as an option among other things, in the modern world battles the mules have not lost their place.

The mules have remained relevant since the World Wars. American forces that landed in Afghanistan in 2001 to fight the Taliban had to employ mules to transfer loads in the treacherous mountain terrain.

The US Army’s last Cavalry units had given up their horses in the 1940s and the last pack animals were phased out in the 1950s.

However, the animals gained significance again in Afghanistan and a new Army field manual was issued June 16, 2004, with the title, ‘Special Forces Use of Pack Animals’. A formal pack animal training course was also started at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California.

In the Indian Army, the mules are categorised on the basis of the kind of load they carry, being broadly divided into Mule Arti — which carry guns and weapons, and Mules GS — that carry general supply ranging from food to medicine and even water.

The around 6,000 mules are divided into 15 units. Usually a company has three troopers and 96 animals. Each animal also has one to two handlers, depending on the load and terrain.

An Army official, recounting the services rendered by the mules in the difficult areas along the border, said a mule had once strayed and was taken in by the Pakistani troops who then started using it for load-bearing along with their own mules.

“One fine day, the mule remembered its way back home. That day he was leading the other mules that were transporting supplies for the Pakistani troops. The mule, along with other mules that belonged to the Pakistan Army and their supplies, walked straight back to our post,” the officer recounted with a laugh.

By : Anjali Ojha

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at [email protected])

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Mattis prefers to deal diplomatically with Iran

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U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has indicated that Trump administration is keen to deal with Iran through a “diplomatically-led effort,” a day after a top U.S. diplomat said Tehran was supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But a clearer picture of US President Donald Trump’s doctrine – structured US national security strategy, is expected to be released on Monday.

Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations has vowed to build a strong case against Iran by gathering  support from other countries including the UN for violating an international agreement by supplying weapons to Middle East countries but a spokesman of Shiite rebels known as Houthis has heavily criticized U.S. charges that Tehran is funneling missiles to the Yemen.

Haley has accused Iran of providing weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen and  cited the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 passed in 2015 that bars Iran from supplying, selling or transferring certain weapons outside the country unless approved by the Security Council. It also prohibits Iran from transferring weapons capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

Setting off a proxy war Iran and Saudi Arabia, U.S. diplomat displayed pieces of what defense officials said were Iranian-made Qiam missiles at a military base in Washington , including one that was fired by Houthi militants at an airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials have called that attack an “act of war” by Iran.

The two missiles were fired at Mecca and Riyadh Airport in late July and early November bore the trademark of the Iranian ‘Shahid Bagheri Industries’ which is already on the sanctions list of the United Nations.

Her accusations were the latest step by the Trump administration’s effort to punish Iran for its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions throughout the Middle East.

As Trump has time till mid-January to decide whether to extend sanctions relief for Iran after he  disavowed the nuclear deal in October, the Trump administration is weighing a strategy of imposing restrictions that could derail efforts by Boeing Co. and Airbus SE from selling hundreds of passenger planes to Iranian airlines.

During an impromptu news conference, Mattis praised U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s Dec. 14 presentation at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling that highlighted Iran’s  arms program. Haley stood in front of an Iranian missile that Iran’s proxy – the Houthis – fired at Riyadh International Airport, a civilian target in Saudi Arabia. The missile didn’t hit the airport, but if it had, it potentially could have killed hundreds of innocent civilians.

Mattis said. “What we are doing in that region,” he added, “is standing by allies and partners, and we’re on one hand exposing, on the other hand helping them build their own capability to reject Iranian influence.”

Specifically mentioning that US wants Assad to step down, Mattis said, “We find Iran actively engaged in keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad in power, despite the murder of his own people on the industrial scale, including the use of chemical weapons,” Mattis said. “We see what Iran has done with Lebanese Hezbollah in Lebanon and the threat to peace and the support they’ve given to Assad and the threat to Israel, for example.”

Mattis said. “The reason Ambassador Haley was there, and not one of our generals, is this is a diplomatically led effort to expose to the world what Iran is up to,” he said.

But there have been several reports that the weapons the U.S. dumps in Syria and Iraq ended up falling into the hands of extremists and the Saudi has a history of funding  many jihadists across the Middle East.The recent decision of recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by Trump has reaffirmed that coalition  against Iran includes Saudi Arabia and Israel. Trump has opened various fronts with Iran, North Korea, Muslim World after Jerusalem decision and may include Russia whom Mc Master has accused of “being involved in so-called new generation warfare.”

The foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Zarif, has suggested an executive mechanism for the success of this doctrine.
According to his opinion,”a forum should be created for the countries of the Persian Gulf and beyond so that they are able to freely discuss their problems and find out solutions according to the satisfaction of the concerned parties. As the European countries are deeply affected by insecurity in the Middle East, they also can participate in such talks and add to the value of the discussion instead of blindly following America and presenting impractical and illogical solutions.”

Zarif pointed out that interaction between the elites and politicians of Iran and the Arab countries of the region should be undertaken to help remove  misunderstandings.

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By: Arti Bali

Senior Journalist

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Trump should avoid bringing chaos in Middle East

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US President Donald Trump has formed an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel to counter Iran’s rise in the Middle East by a series of developments  initiated by their foreign policy decisions i.e. sudden announcement of Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation, recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and assassination of Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. But the most significant aspect is that Trump’s decision has undermined US hegemony in the region  and ended up in unifying the entire Muslim world on the issue of Jerusalem.

The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has declared East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine “under occupation” and  remained committed to a “just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution” thus rejecting the US stance as “dangerous” and called on the international community to follow in its footsteps.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clarified that the US had “disqualified” itself from future Israel-Palestine peace talks after proving its “bias in favour of Israel”.

Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital. Jerusalem, located between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Jerusalem has been the core issue of the  conflict between Israel and Palestine as both of them have been fighting for decades to get the control of the ancient city as their capital, however, neither claim has been recognized in the international arena. Though Israel’s parliament and the prime minister’s home are in West Jerusalem, the side of the city Israel has controlled since 1949.  During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Jerusalem was divided into East and West  and during the six day Arab Israel war in 1967 Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordian forces and declared as annexed. The international community views that land as occupied territory.

With the announcement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, President Donald Trump  has reversed US policy in the Middle East by alienating the decades old relations with the Arab world, inviting condemnation from the countries, grave threat from the terror world and the unrest in the region. Trump has argued that he acted under a 1995 law passed by the then Congress during former President Bill Clinton  to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

The ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians has been considered as the world’s “most intractable conflict” that began in the mid-20th century and Trump’s decision has revived the Gaza  and West Bank violence. With this reckless and drastic move, Trump has permanently closed even the remote possibility of  finding the peaceful resolution to the two-state solution. Palestinians and other world leaders say the move would spark violence and unhinge prospects for a Middle East peace accord.

Since 1988 the peace process had envisioned a two-state solution to the conflict – an independent Palestinian state and an independent Israeli state side by side.

Concerned that the December 6 announcement by Trump would further fuel instability in the region,Russia, China, the United Kingdom and the EU said the Jerusalem move is a roadblock for the two-state solution.

Hoping to reverse former President Barack Obama’s decisions, Trump revived US relations with Saudi and Israel by going an extra mile to enhance strategic influence  and power of Netanyahu and supporting Mohammed bin Salman for recovering Saudi’s economy. US President went ahead by taking aggressive moves in Yemen, Lebanon, Qatar to  reduce the  strategic influence of Tehran in the region.

The 2014-2015 collapse in oil prices had dried up the Kingdom’s main source of revenue and was forced to draw on its foreign reserves. Realising that Iran’s economy was on the upswing after the 2015 nuclear deal signed with six nations, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made his intentions clear to Trump, Netanyahu and  Jared Kushner, who is the Middle East peace envoy to put Iran in straits.

The rapid depletion of Saudi’s foreign exchange funds is rather alarming. According to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Finance, the 2016 budget deficit was due to unprecedented international and regional economic turmoil coupled with oil Prices that have been  suppressed by the return of Iranian oil production. Sharp decline in oil prices, cost of subsidies and military spending, including the war in Yemen and supporting rebels in Syria, growing budget deficit, rising unemployment are all factors that have adversely affected the Kingdom’s financial position.

Saudi has been compelled to condemn  the Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but the fact is Kingdom is secretly supporting  Trump’s decision and by its latest gambit that intends to exacerbate Sunni-Shiite sectarianism in the region by pressuring the Sunni Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign in an effort to claim that an Iranian- Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon stands exposed.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and designated Middle East peace envoy, Jared Kushner at the  Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum  has stated that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is key to solving larger goals, such as stopping Iranian aggression and Islamic extremism.

The assassination of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on December 4 by Houthi rebels is significant development in the region  as sectarian divisions are centuries old in Yemen but protests followed the 2011 Arab Spring. Saleh was forced to hand over power to Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi after massive protests for failing to deal effectively against rampant corruption, rising unemployment and drastic economic conditions.

Saudi Arabia claimed that the Houthis were funded, armed and supported by Iran. Then regional coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched Operation Decisive Storm aimed to re-capture Houthi-held areas and restore Hadi’s government.

It therefore may be prudent that President Trump opens two embassies in Jerusalem one for Israel and the other for Palestine  and should not be swayed by Saudis claim that they hold the keys to war, peace, and transformation of the Middle East.

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By: Arti Bali

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Super Destinations to bring in 2018!

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7 LUXURY TRAVEL TRENDS FOR 2017
New Year’s Eve is right around the corner, and this is the time of the year when all we care about is bidding farewell to the year with a bang. Well then, why not opt for some amazingly beautiful, yet largely undiscovered, locations that are just a short travel from Mumbai!
Starting off with a charming hill station, Kanatal, situated in the picturesque Garhwal Himalayas, is the perfect place to spend a couple of days in unimaginable peace and solitude. Surrounded by lush forests and beautiful views of mist-shrouded mountains and steeped in warmth, this is your one chance of experiencing true Pahadi hospitality.
While in Kanatal, you can choose to explore the tiny hamlet, set off on a hike, trek or nature walk across any of the surrounding hills and valleys, set up camp in any one of the numerous camping locations or add some thrill to your vacation by going rappelling or rock climbing. Amongst the sights that this charming hill station has to offer, some of the more unique ones are the Surkhanda Devi Temple, with Kanatal’s own little legend and Tehri Dam, the highest dam in the country.
But ifa simple, peaceful vacation doesn’t seem like the best way of bringing in 2018, then Manali is great for some exciting adventure activities and peaceful exploration at the same time. Set on the Beas River, you can spend your time skiing across the Solang Valley or trekking up to the famed Tibetan monasteries. You can also opt for paragliding, rafting and mountaineering in the Pir Panjal Mountains. Once you’ve had your fill of adventures, you can relax those tired muscles in the famous hot-water springs of Vashist village, and then start exploring the villages nearby, including Manikaran, Kasol and Kothi. While this destination is perfect around the year, it’s especially popular in the winter months, making it a perfect place to bring in the New Year.
If hill stations aren’t your cup of tea though, then Jaisalmer should be the ideal destination for you. Also known as the ‘Golden City’, Jaisalmer promises an extremely unique experience, with the massive Fort, rising up from the unending desert sands, the magnificent havelis, colourful bazaars and deep-rooted cultural history.
In Jaisalmer, you can choose to explore the city’s historical heritage, starting with havelis like Patwon-Ki-Haveli, Nathmal-Ki-Haveli or Salim Singh Ki Haveli, each with its own unique story and regal architecture, and going on to explore the thrilling Kuldhara Ghost Town, the Vyas Chhatri, dedicated to Ved Vyasa, and the Thar Heritage Museum. After the dose of history, you can stop by the stunning Bada Bagh or the breathtaking Gadisar Lake and roam the deserts with a camel safari.
“All these destinations are absolutely perfect for this time of the year”, says Viren Batra, co-founder of Nirvana Travel. “Some of the most popularvacation places; they are all unique in terms of what they have to offer, making it easy for travelers to choose the perfect place to bring in the New Year!”
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