Terrorists hiked for 24 hours, crossed dense forests before staging assault

Army sources said several of the eight soldiers and three police officers killed on Friday died within minutes of the strike.

Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Updated: December 7, 2014 9:58 am
An Indian Army soldier gives orders to his colleagues during exchange of gunfire with armed suspected militants at Pindi Khattar village in Arnia. (Source: AP) An Indian Army soldier gives orders to his colleagues during exchange of gunfire with armed suspected militants at Pindi Khattar village in Arnia. (Source: AP)

The six Lashkar-e-Taiba jihadists who staged Friday’s attack on an Indian military position near Uri left the small town of Chham, across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, hiking west for almost 24 hours, across dense high-altitude forest, before staging their attack at dawn, military sources have told The Sunday Express. The route, sources said, was revealed by digital records from the global positioning sets carried by the terrorists.

Flown to New Delhi early on Saturday, the digital positioning data shows the Lashkar assault team’s route took them from Chham to the LoC, and then to near Kamalkote village — the site of a cross-LOC artillery exchange which claimed the life of teenager Gulshan Bano last month.

The group, sources said, appeared to have stopped for a meal before crossing the Jhelum on foot, at about 2.30 am on Friday. Packets of ready-to-eat meals, including several of chicken curry, manufactured in Pakistan in November, were found among supplies recovered from the six jihadists. In addition to six assault rifles and grenades, the army also recovered two sawn-off 12-bore shotguns — a simple but effective weapon for close-range combat.

“There’s a high likelihood they were planning for a longer fight,” an officer involved in the operation said, “because we found over 1,500 rounds of ammunition left over when the shooting had ended”.

Evidence that the assault group began its journey from Chham — a town with a significant military presence — could further fuel India- Pakistan tensions. The group carried no identification, but officials said communication stations linked to local Lashkar units had reported on the attack to their base-stations across the LOC.

Army sources said several of the eight soldiers and three police officers killed on Friday died within minutes of the strike, which began after the attackers cut a loosely-guarded barbed wire fence protecting an artillery base, manned by soldiers of 24 Punjab Regiment and 31 Field Regiment.

The attack, sources said, was first spotted by a soldier heating water near the fence. Even before others could respond to his shouts, the terrorists threw a grenade at a barracks — setting the clothes and kerosene alight, and burning four soldiers to death. Three more soldiers were killed in the melee that followed. Three police officers from Uri town, who responded immediately on hearing the shots, were killed when they drove into three terrorists who were retreating from the fire towards a bunker.

“Families of engineering personnel were staying right next door to the attack,” said an officer, “so we felt there was a need to bring this to an end as quickly as possible, casualties notwithstanding”.

The Intelligence Bureau, sources said, had provided warnings on November 28 that five terrorists were expected to infiltrate through the Uri region, from an LoC launching station called Mahura. Patrolling had been intensified in the area following the warning, an army official said, adding that investigations were still underway to determine how the six attackers had penetrated three layers of digital and physical border defences.

Last month, the army had shot dead six attackers involved in a similar cross-LOC raid, who intelligence officials believe were also intending to stage an election-time fidayeen strike.

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