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10 Aug 2017

China steps up troop presence at Doklam seven weeks into standoff

Doklam, Sikkim, China, India, India China doklam, China India doklamSushant Singh | IE | New Delhi | August 10, 2017: Seven weeks into the face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Doklam, there has been increased Chinese presence in the vici|nity of the standoff site at the trijunction with Bhutan. At a distance of around one kilometre from Dolam plateau, north of Doka La post, the Chinese have pitched around 80 tents for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers. The Indian Express has learnt that the number of Chinese troops in the area is estimated to be less than 800, which means that it is not a full PLA infantry battalion. In addition, around 300 PLA soldiers are deployed at the standoff site, facing around 350 Indian soldiers who are staying in nearly 30 tents pitched in the area. Refusing to comment on the presence of Chinese soldiers, official sources said “there is no movement from the other side that has been picked up by us”.
Meanwhile, the Indian Army has also advanced its schedule for Operational Alert, popularly called Op Alert, for units of 33 Corps looking after Sikkim’s border with China. An Op Alert is a two-week long annual training event in which all Army units move to familiarise themselves with their likely area of operation. The two-week period does not include the time for movement and acclimatisation for deployment at higher altitudes.
The Op Alert of 33 Corps is usually held late September or early October but has been advanced to early August. In this manner, the Army can stay prepared without giving any signals to the Chinese or providing any excuse for further provocation.
As only two of the 10 infantry brigades of 33 Corps are deployed in forward areas, an early Op Alert means that the troops of the rest of the brigades would undergo Stage-2 acclimatisation. Stage-1 acclimatisation is six days long, after which a soldier can operate up to 11,800 feet, while Stage-2 acclimatisation is for an additional four days where soldiers can then be deployed up to 14,700 feet.
By advancing the Op Alert, India is saving 10 days of acclimatisation which will be needed in case these troops are to be deployed at an altitude of up to 14,700 feet. While the standoff site at Dolam plateau is around 11,000 feet, the ridges in the area are at 14,000 feet.
Army sources refused to comment on the advanced Op Alert but maintained that “there is no unusual movement being done from our side”.
Meanwhile, the Army has prepared itself for a long haul at the standoff site. Winter stocking for supplies and stores to stay through the winter season have been made by the Thegu brigade. As the standoff site is barely a few metres away from Indian Army posts, the logistics supply chain is much shorter for the Indian side. The Chinese logistics supply chain, in contrast, is much longer and could be strained during the winter months.

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