Well-trained terrorists, difficult terrain, dense forests and bad weather all played a role in the encounter in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir, which spanned the fourth day on Saturday.
Three officers, Colonel Manpreet Singh and Major Aashish Dhonchak of the 19 Rashtriya Rifles and Deputy Superintendent Himayun Bhat of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, were killed in action, one soldier is missing and at least two other members of the personnel were injured.
The terrorists are hiding in a hilltop cave in the Gadul forests of Kokernag, which provides them with protection as well as full visibility into the actions of the joint army-police team behind them. has circled. The narrow path leading to the cave, which offers no cover and has a steep slope on one side, is what cost the three personnel their lives when the team launched its first offensive in the early hours of Wednesday .
Drones, rocket launchers and mortar shells have all been used, but the forces have yet to dominate the area. Officials say they are confident they can neutralize the terrorists as soon as possible.
What worries the establishment, however, is that this is one of three clashes in Jammu and Kashmir in five days and comes against the backdrop of increased terrorist activities in the region. Pir Panjal, which covers Poonch and Rajouri districts. Former Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police SP Vaid said the Anantnag encounter indicates another change in strategy by terrorists and their supporters in Pakistan.
Highly placed sources told NDTV that the forces first got intelligence about the terrorists hiding in the Gadul forests on Tuesday evening and, after learning that they were on a hilltop, the decision to attack was taken in the early hours of Wednesday.
“The path the forces have to take to reach the top of the hill is quite difficult. It is very narrow and there are mountains and dense forest on one side and a deep ditch on the other. The personnel started the ascent at night, and the darkness made the situation worse,” said a source.
Seeing the forces rising, the terrorists began shooting at the personnel, who found themselves pinned down. It was at this point that the three police officers were injured, but the limited possibilities of extraction meant that they could only be transported to hospital in the morning.
Well stocked, well trained
According to the sources, the terrorists have sufficient stocks of weapons, ammunition and even food, as evidenced by the fact that they managed to hold out for more than 90 hours. They said the number of terrorists would also likely be higher than the two or three mentioned in most reports.
A recent Lashkar-e-Taiba recruit, Uzair Khan, is among the terrorists holed up in the cave. It is believed that he knows the area very well and that terrorists are taking advantage of it.
“Ordinary terrorists cannot prolong an encounter for that long. They are very well trained and have good weapons. It is also possible that an informant betrayed the forces or someone leaked their movements,” said one source.
Rain and fire
Gusts of heavy rain since Saturday morning have made the operation more difficult both by reducing visibility and making it more difficult for drones to operate. A fire also broke out near the cave where the terrorists are hiding.
Two terrorists were shot dead during a two-day encounter in Narla area of Rajouri district that began on Tuesday, and three were killed in Uri area of Baramulla while were trying to cross into India from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The army said Pakistani forces deployed covering fire to help the terrorists cross the Line of Control and that firing from the other side also “interfered” with their efforts to recover the body of the third terrorist.
The Baramulla clash is the third encounter between the armed forces and terrorists in just five days.
Commenting on the encounter in Anantnag, former Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police SP Vaid told NDTV, “The operation in Anantnag is taking place in a hilly area and there is a steep climb 75 to 80 degrees. There is a dense forest on one side. and a ditch on the other. It is very difficult for our forces when terrorists hide in such a place. The terrorists are at height and personnel become vulnerable to attack when attempting to climb.
“This seems to be a new strategy. A similar thing was also observed recently in Rajouri-Poonch, where the terrorists chose a hilly and forested area to hide. For some time now, I have noticed that the terrorists have changed their strategy. strategy on the instructions of the Pakistani establishment,” he said.
Mr. Vaid pointed out that when Indian security forces launched Operation All Out in 2017, thousands of terrorists were killed and they also began facing a shortage of AK-47s. He said there was then a change in policy and terrorists started using pistols and small arms to target migrants, workers and panchayat members in Kashmir in a bid to derail development . Such incidents have increased in the last year.
Are you looking for international attention?
“When the forces have managed to control this, a new trend is now visible, which has been observed in Rajouri-Poonch and now in the neighboring town of Anantnag. Unlike in the past, terrorists are avoiding populated areas, where they can be easily surrounded, and are now hiding in thick jungles and hilly areas. This helps them attract their forces and harm them, and the terrain gives them a chance to escape,” said the former top police officer.
“They are trying to extend the meetings by three to four days so that they can also attract the attention of the international media. I think there has been a change in strategy and we will have to prepare for it,” he added .