The US and Indian militaries. [Credits: CNN News]
The United States is to take part in a joint military exercise with India less than 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the South Asian country’s disputed border with China.
The military drills will be held in mid-October at an altitude of 10,000 feet in Auli in the Indian state of Uttarakhand and will focus on high-altitude warfare training, according to a senior Indian Army officer with knowledge of the matter.
Auli is about 95 kilometres from the Line of Actual Control (LAC), an inhospitable piece of land where the disputed border between India and China is roughly demarcated.
The drills will take place as part of the 18th edition of an annual joint exercise known as “Yudh Abhyas” — or “War Practice”.
Relations between India and China have been strained since a bloody clash between their soldiers in the Himalayas in June 2020 left at least 20 Indian troops and four Chinese soldiers dead.
Tensions have been raised further recently by China building a bridge across the Pangong Tso lake that sits along the border — a move condemned by the Indian government as an “illegal occupation.”
During a visit to India this year, the US Army’s Pacific Commanding General Charles Flynn described China’s military build-up near the disputed border as “alarming.”
Asked about the joint exercises, a US Department of Defense spokesperson told CNN that the partnership with India was “one of the most important elements of our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
“One important element of this broader effort includes exercises and training events and Yudh Abhyas is one such annual bilateral exercise designed to improve interoperability and improve our respective capacities to address a range of regional security challenges,” the spokesperson said.
The Line of Actual Control, the loosely-defined, de facto border between India and China, emerged out of the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, which itself was sparked by longstanding historical territorial disagreements.
Its precise location can be blurry, and there is still a dispute between China and India as to where one country ends and the other begins.
Any military provocations between India and China could have grave consequences. Both have nuclear weapons.
Border tensions escalated between the two countries after soldiers fought with fists, stones and nail-studded bamboo poles in a bloody brawl that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers in June 2020 in the Galwan Valley, close to Aksai Chin, an area controlled by China but claimed by both countries.
Though tensions have since eased, both sides maintain a large troop presence in the border region, raising the risk of potential miscalculation in the event of sudden and unexpected clashes.