New Delhi: In one of the deadliest operations seen along the Line of Control, a hand-to-hand combat and close fire ensued Saturday that left five Special Forces personnel killed in action in Jammu and Kashmir’s Keran sector even as they managed to take out five terrorists who had sneaked in from Pakistan.
A frozen nallah became the combat location after the soldiers accidentally fell into it while chasing a trail amid difficult terrain and weather, at least three sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint.
In the hand-to-hand fight, all five terrorists were killed. One tried to escape, but was shot in the back while he was running away. His body was a found a few metres away from the combat spot.
However, the elite 4 Para unit of the Indian Army, which was also a part of the 2016 surgical strikes team, paid a heavy price for the victory — losing its entire team engaged in the operation. The body of one commando was found almost on top of a dead terrorist.
The slain personnel are Subedar Sanjeev Kumar, Havildar Davendra Singh, and paratroopers Bal Krishan, Amit Kumar and Chhatrapal Singh.
ThePrint spoke to sources to piece together the events that led to the operation, and what unfolded in Keran on the night of 4 April.
When terrorists were spotted
The movement of the infiltrating terrorists was first picked in the Keran sector on 2 April.
“There was a ceasefire violation that took place on the intervening night of 1-2 April. Following this, our specialised radar picked up the movement of a group of terrorists that had sneaked into the Indian territory,” said a senior Army officer, who didn’t wish to be named.
Following this, efforts were made to proactively track the movement of the terrorists. This involved the use of drones as well.
The regular troops in the sector were alerted and patrolling and sighting was increased. Additional troops were also called in to make a cordon of sorts.
On 4 April, a decision was made to insert personnel of the 4 Para.
The Keran sector of the LoC comes under the elite unit’s operation. Heavy snow and a difficult terrain pushed the Army authorities to call in its Special Forces.
Different teams of the Para are stationed near the LoC and are brought in for special combat operations, or to deal with terrorists who sneak in and remain in hiding.
The events of 4 April
According to the plan, two teams of the 4 Para were inducted into Jumgund area of north Kashmir’s Kupwara, where Keran is located, Saturday. On that day, the area had low visibility due to the snow in the forests.
Since intermittent exchange of fire between Indian soldiers and the terrorists had already taken place since 2 April, the location of the terror operatives had already been zeroed down to Zurhama forest area.
The Special Forces commandos began their operation in the day as Subedar Sanjeev Kumar spotted the footsteps of the terrorists in the snow and followed the trail.
However, the trail took them to a cornice — a mass of hardened snow at the edge of a mountain. As the soldiers stepped on it, it broke and three of them including Kumar, the squad leader, fell into a frozen nallah.
This was right where the terrorists were hiding. The fall took every one of them by surprise.
Within seconds, the area lit up with gun flashes as the terrorists opened fire. Complete details of what happened immediately after this weren’t revealed, but the three commandos were said to have fired back.
The two soldiers who had managed to evade the fall jumped in seeing the firefight.
In the close combat that ensued, four terrorists were shot dead. One managed to run for a few metres before being shot dead with a bullet to his back.
“Body of one of the commandos was found literally on top of a terrorist. So you can imagine how close the combat was,” said a second source who didn’t wish to be identified.
While three soldiers were killed in action on the spot, two others were injured.
The Army launched a massive rescue operation, but the weather and dense terrain proved a major hindrance. The injured soldiers were eventually evacuated Sunday but succumbed to their injuries at the Army hospital in Srinagar.
The bodies of the five terrorists were also recovered.