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15-day hunt for Lashkar infiltrators could end soon as forces zero in on Poonch forest caves

Nine soldiers have lost their lives in two separate incidents at the hands of Lashkar terrorists who are said to have infiltrated into India in late September/early October.

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New Delhi: The 15-day-old search for a group of alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists, which infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir in late September/early October and has claimed the lives of nine Army soldiers till now, has entered the final stages, ThePrint has learnt.

Sources in the defence and security establishment said the combing operation, in the thick Nar Khas forest of the Poonch district in the Jammu region, has been beefed up with the induction of additional troops and Special Forces of the Army.

The operation is currently focusing on the rear part of the forest, which has a number of caves. Soldiers have been combing each cave, some of which are large enough to easily hide four to five terrorists, and “sanitising” them by using several bursts of fire and grenade explosions, sources said.

The security forces had initially suspected that the group of terrorists had escaped, but since contact was established Sunday — in which a jailed terrorist taken to the spot by police was shot at — it is now confirmed that at least two terrorists are holed up, if not the entire group.

“The operation is nearing its end. We expect some results by Tuesday. The intense search is on,” a source said.

Sources said, usually, after such a long time, the operation would have been called off, despite initial contact with terrorists. But this operation is continuing because the Army has taken casualties. The “hope”, the sources added, is that the terrorists have not managed to get away from the forest, which is very dense and difficult terrain, especially when it rains, as it did Saturday.   

Also read: ‘How can we leave them?’ — Kashmiris step up to protect migrants, build safehouses, cook food

Nine soldiers killed in action

The operation has so far claimed nine lives in two separate incidents at two different locations.

Five soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), were killed in action on the night of 11 October in Dera Ki Gali area of Poonch. It is believed that the soldiers were ambushed by the terrorists. This is when the search operation began.

The second incident took place on the Mendhar side of the forest, where four soldiers were killed in action on 14 October after the terrorists opened fire on a search party.

Following this, the Special Forces were also inducted into the operation, and extra troops and equipment brought in.

Sources said the particular area in which the operation is taking place is an “old infiltration route”, and the forces have faced casualties there in the past too.

Last week, General M.M. Naravane visited Poonch and reviewed the security situation, the first time an Army chief has visited an active encounter area.

No clarity yet on exact number of terrorists involved

Sources said the security forces still don’t have a definite figure on the number of terrorists involved, but security agencies believe it is a group of six. Four of them are understood to have escaped, with only two suspected to still be in the forest.

They said the group is believed to have infiltrated into the Indian side from the Bhimber Gali sector.

The sources also pointed out that one of the terrorists had visited a house in a nearby village last week and had food. He got extra food packed, they said.

Security agency sources said, based on phone intercepts, the final destination of the terrorists is believed to have been Shopian in south Kashmir.

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma) 

Also read: ‘Won’t blame cops, govt’: Pandits say J&K Police ‘made them sign undertaking’ on lack of security


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