What We Know So Far About The Poonch Encounter
One of the longest counter-terrorist operations has been continuing for 15 days in the Poonch area of Jammu and Kashmir by security forces.
An encounter between the security forces and terrorists has been continuing for 15 days in the Poonch area of Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the longest such operations in more than 10 years in the dense forests south of the Pir Panjal range.
Previously, the nine-day Bhatti Dhar operation of December-January 2008-09 was the longest such operation but the terrorists had managed to flee.
So far, in three separate incidents, the terrorists have killed nine Indian Army soldiers and injured three others, including two Jammu and Kashmir policemen in the Poonch-Mendhar-Rajouri region. On 11 October, five soldiers were killed by unidentified terrorists in Poonch. Three days later, another four soldiers were killed in action in Mendhar.
One jailed terrorist and Pakistani citizen Zia Mustafa, who was taken to the encounter site to identify the hideout, was also killed. In contrast, the security forces say they have killed four terrorists in the past nine days.
The site of the encounter is 20 km from the Line of Control. Therefore, the Army sources believe that the encounter is not the result of a recent infiltration, but a sleeper cell that was dormant in the valley for years and has been activated now, at a time when the number of terror attacks has dropped in Kashmir.
Reportedly, a new terror group called People's Anti Fascists Front (PAFF), a front of Islamist terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), had claimed responsibility for the ongoing attack. Reports also emerged that the terrorists are being guided by retired Pakistani army officials.
On 10 October, the security agencies had intercepted a phone call confirming the presence of the terrorists in the area. A senior official was quoted as saying by The Hindu that at least two armed men had entered a labour camp on the day and asked a worker for his phone. The labourer, whose phone was taken away, had walked to the nearest Army post and alerted the officials.
It was after this that the phone was placed under surveillance, following which the entire area along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch-Rajouri with Pakistan was put on high alert.
“A small group is believed to be behind the attack, though there is no clarity on the number of terrorists,” a defence official said. A search is on in the jungle, he added.
Five soldiers — Vaisakh H, Jaswinder Singh, Mandeep Singh, Gajjan Singh and Saraj Singh, who were among the first to be killed on 11 October — were part of a cordon-and-search team. The cordon had been placed near Surankote, at least 10 km from the LoC after the phone chatter was intercepted.
On 15 October, the Army said that in a counter-terrorist operation in the area of Nar Khas forest in Mendhar, “there was heavy exchange of fire”, and in the ensuing gun fight, Rifleman Vikram Singh Negi and Rifleman Yogambar Singh were critically injured and later succumbed to their injuries.
On 16 October, the Army said in a statement that Subedar Ajay Singh and Naik Harendra Singh were also killed in action during search operations in Nar Khas forest in Mendhar. Communication with the two was disrupted and their bodies were recovered on 16 October.
On 24 October, Zia Mustafa, a LeT convict who had been in jail for the past 14 years was killed when the security personnel took him to the Bhatta Durian forest in Poonch’s Mendhar area to trace the terrorist’s hideout.
The Army has deployed a specially trained unit of para commandos for the coming operation. Drones and helicopters were also pushed into service on the thirteenth day of the operation.
However, the thick forests have limited the drone operations and spotting terrorists from helicopters didn't work out well. The area has a unique topography with an abundance of natural caves and ravines amidst thick foliage. This gives plenty of cover to the terrorists while making it harder to get clear images from the drones.
The villagers in the area have been asked to stay home, and the Army has reportedly adopted a "wait and watch" approach in the view of heavy losses.
Also Read: Memo To Amit Shah: How To Deal With Islamic Terrorists Killing Civilians In Jammu And Kashmir
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