ARMY To Reinforce Its Presence In Kupwara As Pak Ultras Prowl

Srinagar March 25: Taken by surprise by the ferocity of the encounter in Kupwara in North Kashmir earlier this week in which five security personnel were killed in three-day-long gun battle with terrorists, the Army has started redeployment of its troops anticipating a more determined bid by Pakistan to push in more terrorists from across the Line of Control (LoC) in the next few weeks.

Most ingress routes in this rugged terrain will now have dynamic patrolling with additional troops besides area domination drills to prevent terrorists already inside this area from moving freely.

This decision was taken in the aftermath of the encounter by top officers of the Army and local police. They also decided to increase the pattern of aerial surveillance by helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones to cover mountainous terrain, officials said here on Saturday adding the site of encounter is only eight to 10 kilometers from the LoC.

Explaining the rationale for revising tactics, they admitted the foreign terrorists “fought ferociously and fiercely but in a disciplined manner like an infantry soldier” and managed to inflict rather heavy casualties on the security forces. Three Armymen and two policemen attained martyrdom in the firefight, while five terrorists were killed. The fact that the terrorists managed to engage the security force for three days indicated that they were well trained, motivated and battle-hardened, officials said.

Intelligence reports indicate that the new batches of terrorists likely to sneak in from across the LoC will be of the same caliber and the security forces cannot take any chances from allowing them to slip past the multi-tiered anti-infiltration grid and wreak havoc in the Kashmir valley, they said.

Kupwara is the traditional route for infiltration as the LoC is not more than eight to ten km away and the area is dotted with jungles and valleys. It gives an advantage to the terrorists to hide for days without detection, and officials said the group which got killed may also have sneaked at the beginning of this month. While negotiating snow-covered ridge, at least two of the terrorists suffered from frostbite in the feet and the group split into two after reaching Chak Fateh Khan in Kupwara. Despite suffering from wounds, the two terrorists fought with the security forces for two days and managed to kill some of them, officials said. Moreover, the holed up terrorists never panicked and kept the security forces guessing about their position as the terrorists did not fire until the last moment, sources said.

Faced with the emerging challenge of dealing with such highly trained and motivated terrorists, the Army has also intensified patrolling in the hinterland as most terrorists will try to converge in South Kashmir after sneaking in from Kupwara. South Kashmir is now the most restive part of the State and the security forces fear that terrorists will make all-out efforts to step up levels of violence in South Kashmir leading to mass protests, they said. There are about 100 to 150 terrorists which include a sizable number of foreign terrorists now hiding in North Kashmir. “If these battle-hardened fighters manage to enter South Kashmir, we are in for trouble and prolonged battle,” officials admitted. The review meeting in the wake of Kupwara discussed this aspect too in detail and more troops, including from the Army and paramilitary, may be indicted if need be, they said.  Incidentally, at least 19 Armymen have died so far this year in counter-terrorism operations and ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army on the LoC. The casualty figure stood at 59 for the entire last year.

Elaborating upon the seriousness of the situation, officials said more than 250 terrorists were already inside Kashmir valley and North Kashmir and if even 50-odd terrorists manage to infiltrate, the security forces will have a tough time.  They also admitted less snow this year added to the challenge as “some terrorists may have already sneaked in the first two months and we do not have intelligence about it”.