New Delhi: Four Army personnel, including the commanding officer of the Rashtriya Rifles’ 21 Battalion, and a sub-inspector of police were killed in action in an encounter with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir’s Handwara Saturday.
Two unidentified terrorists were also killed in the operation when special forces were deployed after the team of five personnel — Col Ashutosh Sharma, the CO, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh, and J&K Police Sub-Inspector Shakeel Qazi — went incommunicado. Initial inputs had suggested the presence of four terrorists.
The Army confirmed the deaths in a Sunday morning statement. “In the ensuing fire fight two terrorists were eliminated and the team of five army and JK (Police) personnel comprising of two Army officers, two Army soldiers and one JK Police sub-inspector attained martyrdom,” it stated.
The last time a Commanding Officer was killed in action during an operation was in November 2015, when Col Santosh Mahadik of 41 Rashtriya Rifles succumbed to injuries sustained in an encounter in Kupwara, the same district where this incident took place.
Operation started Friday
Security sources told ThePrint that a combined team of the 21 RR, CRPF and the Special Operations Group of the Jammu and Kashmir Police launched a cordon and search operation in Chanjmulla area of Handwara in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district Friday, following inputs about the presence of terrorists there.
After the initial contact, the suspected group of four terrorists managed to get away, but the security forces were on their trail.
At about 1530 hours (3:30 pm) Saturday, a fresh encounter began.
The terrorists had managed to enter a house which had civilians in it, the Army said.
The team led by Col Sharma, a two-time Sena Medal awardee for gallantry, entered the house where the militants had taken civilians hostage.
Sources said the civilians were rescued, but the team came under heavy fire in an open compound while exiting.
CO’s phone was picked up by a terrorist
Security sources said that when no radio contact could be established with the team despite several attempts, a phone call was made to Col Sharma’s mobile. The call was answered by a terrorist with an “Assalamualaikum”.
Following this, special forces were inducted into the operation.
Since there was no input about the team which was inside, the forces took extreme precautions so as not to put them in harm’s way. But there were intermittent exchanges of fire between the terrorists and the security forces.
Two terrorists killed while trying to escape
Sources said because of continuous rainfall and darkness, the operation was put on hold. However, a tight cordon was laid.
Thinking that darkness will help them, the terrorists tried to escape. However, they were spotted and, after a brief round of fire, two terrorists were killed and their bodies recovered.
At the break of dawn, the forces were able to enter the house and recover the bodies of their fellow soldiers and that of sub-inspector Qazi.
(This report has been updated to reflect that Col Santosh Mahadik was killed in action in November 2015, not July 2018. The error is regretted.)