10 soldiers buried in Siachen avalanche, rescue ops on

03 February 2016

Indian helicopters and rescue teams were searching today for 10 soldiers missing in northern mountains and presumed trapped in an avalanche, in an area known as the battleground on the roof of the world.

The victims were missing in one of the world's most unforgiving environments, at an altitude of 19,600 feet (5,974 metres) on the Siachen Glacier that India and Pakistan have fought over intermittently for years, beginning in 1984.

The soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer, disappeared after an avalanche swept down the mountain striking their post, India's defence ministry said in a statement.

The soldiers were hit as they patrolled the glacier at an altitude of 5,800 metres, Colonel S D Goswami said.

"Rescue operations by specialized teams from the Army and Air Force are underway to rescue the soldiers," the ministry said.

The Siachen Glacier in the Karakorum range is known as the highest militarised zone in the world. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops contest an area at altitudes above 20,000 feet where they must deal with altitude sickness, high winds, frostbite and temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.

In January, four soldiers were killed by an avalanche, while last year another four died when their vehicle was buried under an avalanche near Leh, the main city of the high-altitude region known as Ladakh.

An estimated 8,000 troops have died on the glacier since 1984, almost all of them from avalanches, landslides, frostbite, altitude sickness or heart failure rather than combat.

Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire. The strategic importance of the glacier is widely debated. Until 1984, neither side had troops permanently stationed there.

Both countries agree on a need to demilitarise the glacier, but attempts to reach any agreement have been unsuccessful.

Siachen is in the northern part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, the main source of the two nations' almost seven-decade-old hostilities and the cause of two of their three wars.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, which each administer a part of Kashmir but claim it in full, last fought over Siachen in 1987. But guns on the glacier have largely fallen silent since a peace process began in 2004.

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