India, US armies hold exercises close to China border

AULI, India (AP) — Indian and U.S. troops on Tuesday participated in a high-altitude training exercise in a cold, mountainous terrain near India’s disputed border with China, at a time both countries are trying to manage rising tensions with Beijing.

During the exercise, Indian soldiers were dropped from helicopters to flush out gunmen from a house in a demonstration of unarmed combat skills. Other drills involved sniffer dogs and unmanned bomb-disposing vehicles, and trained kites were deployed to destroy small enemy drones.

“Overall, it has been a great learning experience. There has been sharing of best practices between both the armies,” said Brig. Pankaj Verma of the Indian Army.

The annual drills took place around Auli, a hill station in the northern state of Uttarakhand. The U.S. troops came from the 2nd Brigade of the 11th Airborne Division, and their Indian counterparts were members of the army’s Assam Regiment.

India’s Defense Ministry has said the exercise will focus on surveillance, mountain-warfare skills, casualty evacuation and combat medical aid in adverse terrain and climatic conditions. It will also include humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and operations related to peacekeeping, it said.

The “Yudh Abhyas” exercise has alternated between the U.S. and India since it began in the early 2000s. It was held in Alaska last year.

Earlier editions had taken place elsewhere in northern India, but this year’s exercise is being held only about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Line of Actual Control, a disputed border that separates Chinese and Indian-held territories.

India and China fought a war along the border in 1962. The latest dispute flared in June 2020, when at least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese troops were killed in a brawl in the Ladakh region. It led to the two countries stationing tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets along the Line of Actual Control.

Some Indian and Chinese soldiers have pulled back from a key friction point but tensions between the two countries have persisted.

The exercise also reflects the strengthening defense ties between India and the U.S. They have steadily ramped up their military relationship and signed a string of defense deals and deepened military cooperation. In recent years, relations have been driven by a convergence of interests to counter China.

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