Biggest combing in 15 years: Army, police security net around Shopian

Four soldiers injured, one civilian driver killed in attack

Written by Mir Ehsan , Sushant Singh | Srinagar | Updated: May 5, 2017 9:00 am
kashmir, jammu and kashmir, shopian, army, security forces, CRPF, army convoy attacked, army patrol party attacked, army, shopian, shopian encounter, shopian search operation, jammu army attacked, hizbul muzahhiddin, Bipin Rawat, police attacked in shopian, Kulgam, india news, indian express news Security personnel detain a stone-pelter in Shopian district on Thursday. (Source: Express photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

Following attacks by militants on policemen and banking facilities in J&K, the Army, security forces and police launched a massive “cordon and combing” operation in south Kashmir’s Shopian district on Thursday. A senior official told The Indian Express that an operation “of this magnitude has not been undertaken in Kashmir in the last 15 years”.

In the evening, however, a vehicle carrying soldiers of 62 Rashtriya Rifles, who were involved in the operation, were attacked by militants near the Imam Sahib area, leading to the death of a civilian driver and injuries to four soldiers.

Officials said the Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attack. The driver who was killed has been identified as Nazir Ahmad, a resident of Kachdoora village in Shopian.

In Delhi, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat told reporters that the combing operation was being carried out to bring the situation in the Valley under control. “The combing operation is going on as some banks were looted and some policemen have been killed. It has been launched to ensure that the situation is brought under control. These operations are carried out regularly,” he said.

Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior Army official said, “A cordon operation of this magnitude has not been undertaken in Kashmir in the last 15 years… The purpose of the operation is to exert pressure on militants and force them to move out of their comfort zone. The ravines and orchards around the Rambi Ara river (in Shopian) provide ideal hideouts for militants… they will not be able to congregate and move in large groups now.”

Sources said the operation involved nearly 4,000 personnel, which included four battalions of Rashtriya Rifles, eight companies of CRPF, and five platoons of J&K police, including 30 women constables, and the Indian Reserve Police.

Officials said the operation started in the early hours of Wednesday when soldiers and security personnel, using Mine Protected Vehicles (MPVs) and Bullet Proof Rakshaks, moved into 20 villages in Shopian district and laid a cordon around an area of 10kmx10km.

Local residents said house-to-house searches were conducted in the villages of Sugan, Turkwangam, Heff and Shirmal, from where many youngsters are suspected to have joined militant ranks. Some residents reported seeing helicopters and drones over the area.

Sources said these villages fall at the centre of Yaripura, Pulwama and Kulgam from where instances of rifle-snatching from police were reported last week.

Local residents said that while the operation was underway, protesters clashed with police at Sugan, Drazpora, Malduor and Turkwangam, with four persons said to have been injured, including one with a pellet injury on his forehead. They also alleged that four persons were arrested during the security operation.

Sources said that police and Army had received information about the presence of militants in the area, including some involved in the attack on the J&K Bank cash van in which five policemen and two private guards were killed on Monday.

They said that the militant Umar Majeed, said to have been involved in the attack, and his associates were using hideouts in the villages where the operation was conducted.

Residents said the forces also conducted search operations in apple orchards — Shopian is south Kashmir’s apple belt — following reports that militants had shot several videos in there and shared them on social media.

”Soldiers came to our village around midnight. In the morning, dozens of soldiers and policemen entered my house and searched every room. They conducted similar searches in other houses of our village,’’ said Gulzar Ahmad, from Sugan.

Abdul Gaffar Sheikh, from Heff, said, “The Army and policemen took us out of our houses and conducted searches. They inquired about the presence of militants and left the village late in the afternoon.’’

Mohammad Akram Khan, a resident of Shirmal, said they had not seen such an operation in the last two decades. “This is first time that such big crackdown was launched in our area,’’ he said.

J&K Police DIG (South Kashmir) S P Pani said the operation began in the morning and ended in the afternoon. “We had information about the presence of militants in the area so the villages were searched thoroughly. Apart from protests at two places, the operation ended successfully.’’

The return of “area domination and sweep” operations — including the cordoning of a number of villages — by such a large body of troops is throwback to the 1990s, when such actions by the Army were common. Following reports that these operations were causing discomfort to the local population, the Army switched to specific intelligence-based operations undertaken by small teams.

There was no confirmation from the Army if Thursday’s operation reflected a shift in its operational philosophy in Kashmir. But sources said that the Army is focused on asserting its physical control over the area.

The senior Army official said the operation had been planned over a month ago, but police and CRPF were not available due to the Anantnag Lok Sabha bypoll scheduled for May 25. “Once the bypoll was cancelled, police and the CRPF have moved from ‘law and order mode’ to ‘CT (counter-terrorist) mode’. It has little to do with any immediate provocation,” said the official.

According to Army estimates, there are 100 active militants in south Kashmir, including around 80 local residents who have joined militancy in the last two years.

A senior officer, who was part of Thursday’s operation, said, “This is a signal to militants that they will be taken to task.’’

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  1. J
    May 5, 2017 at 8:34 pm
    Not sure why we cant use permanent 'dye' to spray over these stone pelters who are protecting the terrorists. Then pick them up at leisure. Government should also introduce hot lines and very high rewards so people can report these traitors. We have satellite up there why cant we track the Bank looters and the terrorist camps, certainly begs a question?
    1. A
      May 6, 2017 at 1:23 am
      Its not that easy as said, peace loving citizens in J&K are getting threatened by gunned militants & they cant sell their lands because of those militants fearing for their lives is at peek so asking help from normal citizens will not serve desired result.
    2. L
      l s
      May 5, 2017 at 5:22 pm
      Only fools give out details of states security. Stop chest thumping. Let the jawans do their duty. Distribute pellet guns freely among security personnel as it is the only weapon to get peace in the valley.
      1. A
        May 6, 2017 at 1:25 am
        There are many non lethal weapons & ways in developed countries to control violent mob,i n d i a just need to ask & get it.
      2. R
        May 5, 2017 at 4:03 pm
        The word "Combing" can go with in headline without quotes? How strange. Bad editorial judgement.
        1. K
          kamath Ramesh
          May 5, 2017 at 3:26 pm
          Surprising that forces could not find a single suspect despite such a massive search. But in the evening in same place terrorists attacked patrol unit injuring few. This shows terrorists are given safe shelter by civilians or have mingled with civilians. While there is no option, one can understand the hardship faced by the civilians when their homes are searched. To have peaceful kashmir some hardship has to be faced. But when civilians themselves are giving shelter to terrorists it is difficult job for forces.
          1. A
            May 5, 2017 at 2:56 pm
            Yes yes we know it is the biggest, the most comprehensive and the most determined army operation against India's own people. But what has been the result after two days? All we are getting is bombast from army, center. How many terrorists have been caught in this "exhaustive" combing? Zero.
            1. K
              kamath Ramesh
              May 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm
              If terrorists are given safe shelter by civilians or allowed to mingle with civilians what army can do. One can understand the hardship faced by the civilians when their homes are searched, to have peaceful kashmir. But when civilians themselves are giving shelter to terrorists it is difficult job for forces.
              1. R
                May 5, 2017 at 4:10 pm
                Leave your bias aside and think logically as a human being: how many militants are active in Kashmir? Nearly 400-600. They are spread in rural areas, particularly in north and south Kashmir, where they can hide in dense forests. What's the population in Kashmir? 12.5 million. How can you blame 12.5 million Kashmiris for giving shelter to a few hundred militants who have a vast piece of land spread in hundreds of miles, with rocky mountains, dense woods, to take shelter from? It's a fact that militants are killed in civilian areas. You know how they get into peoples houses? They knock at peoples doors in the night and enter because they can do so as they carry guns, just like army can enter into someones' home with guns. If the army and militants were unarmed, they wouldnt dare to enter someones' house in the night. People want to live in peace every where. It's the politics and vested interests that force them into certain cir stances from where they have no going back.
            2. R
              May 5, 2017 at 2:55 pm
              Was it not done in the past 15 years because it was not needed in the past 15 years??
              1. P
                May 5, 2017 at 2:17 pm
                Katuwas are terrorists... shoot them and settle kashmiri pandits back in valley
                1. V
                  May 5, 2017 at 2:16 pm
                  There are no gooddays continue the ops even when it is peaceful
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