Large-scale movement of terrorists to staging posts along the Line of Control has been observed over the past three days, intelligence sources have told The Indian Express, raising fears that a new terror offensive could commence inside weeks.
The build-up, which has swelled numbers at the staging posts to almost 250, comes even as Pakistani troops have escalated shelling and small-arms fire directed at Indian forward positions, with over 25 ceasefire violations reported in the past three days.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, government sources said, was briefed on the build-up by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Wednesday morning, at the second meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security since the September 29 surgical strikes on terrorist staging posts.
Estimates prepared by the Intelligence Bureau after the attacks show the concentration of jihadists is focused on the central stretches of the Line of Control, with upward of 45 jihadists now believed to be present at staging posts in the Leepa valley, one of the key areas struck by the Indian Army in the raids.
The jihadists, intelligence assessments show, have concentrated in the village of Leepa itself, along with Naukot, 8 km away, and Chananian.
The numbers at jihadist staging posts in Athmuqam and Dudhnial — a report in The Indian Express Wednesday detailed how these were key targets of Indian special forces — have also swelled to about 20 each, the documents show.
“Basically, groups like the Lashkar have just replaced the staging posts they lost in the raids with new houses,” a senior intelligence official said. “They are not afraid of losing personnel. They know half or more of the people they send across the Line of Control will die crossing India’s border defences anyway.”
Large concentrations of jihadists, Indian intelligence documents show, have also been reported by reconnaissance over Nekrun, Losar and Sonar, on the furthest northern reaches of the Line of Control, where upward of 25 jihadists have been spotted at staging posts.
Kél, along with Sharda, west of Nekrun, is also thought to have upward of 40 jihadists present, the intelligence estimates state.
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The overall numbers of jihadists are almost identical to those present along the Line of Control prior to the cross-border strikes, intelligence sources said. “The camps that supply the staging posts have hundreds of fighters more, safely out of the striking range of the Indian Army,” one official said, “so there’s a lot of thinking going on how this situation is going to have to be addressed.”
Efforts to push through jihadists under cover of fire were routine prior to the 2003 ceasefire, with the Pakistan Army using mortar and small arms to suppress India’s forward defences. In Srinagar, military planners have long feared a deterioration in the situation along the Line of Control could make it difficult to rebuild the key element in India’s defences, the border fence, over three quarters of which is destroyed by snowfall each winter.