Two Indian soldiers were killed in a cross-border ambush near the Line of Control, less than 10 km from the town of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Army said Thursday. The ambush, carried out by a suspected Pakistan border action team in the midst of intense mortar and small arms exchanges that raged through the day, targeted a patrol operating near Gurunj Post, close to the village of Khari Karmara.
Indian Army officers said at least one infiltrator had been shot dead and another injured during the course of the fire exchange which claimed the lives of 34-year-old Naik Sandip Sarjerao Jadhav and 24-year-old Sepoy Savan Balku Mane, both from Maharashtra, and serving with the 15 Maratha Light Infantry.
“The slain intruder is lying within visual reach,” an official spokesperson said, “but Pakistan posts are providing cover fire to the injured intruder so as to facilitate his extrication.”
Firing had prevented the recovery of the intruders bodies or weapons until nightfall, government sources in New Delhi said. “It is possible attempts may be made overnight to carry them back across the Line of Control,” an official said.
Fire exchanges involving mortar and automatic weapons was continuing between forward posts of both armies until late evening, Poonch-based officials said, with the most intense fighting taking place near Khari Karmara.
“Own Area Domination Patrol was targeted by armed intruders and an exchange of fire occurred,” an official statement said. “While the firefight was going on, Pakistani posts engaged our posts by heavy firing.”
Army sources familiar with the circumstances of the ambush — the third of its kind attempted in Poonch this year — said the patrol was one of several sent out to ensure jihadists did not use the intense firing, which had been raging since the previous night, to cross the Line of Control.
The ambush, which was reported to have begun at 12.55 pm, is believed to have been carried out by what the Indian Army calls Border Action Teams, believed to be made up of members of the Pakistan Army’s élite Special Services Group and specially-trained irregulars operating without uniforms or identifying documents and tags.
Last month, the Indian Army released a video of its troops destroying a Pakistani bunker in the Naushera sector which, sources said, was shot just a week after Naib Subedar Paramjeet Singh and BSF Head Constable Prem Sagar were beheaded in BAT action targeting a patrol near Kirpan Post, in the Krishna Ghati sector.
Indian Army chief spokesperson Major General Ashok Narula said the video was evidence of “punitive fire assaults across the Line of Control”.
The beheadings, which came just 24 hours after Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited frontline troops in the sector, are believed by Indian intelligence to have been authorised as retaliation against losses incurred by his troops in targeted strikes on bunkers during previous days.
Krishna Ghati, one of the few sectors along the Line of Control where Pakistani troops have positional advantage, has seen intense skirmishing since the September 2016 cross-Line of Control strikes carried out by the Indian Army to retaliate against the killing of 18 soldiers in a terrorist attack on a military base in Uri. Chandu Babulal Chavan, serving with the 37 Rashtriya Rifles, is thought to have been kidnapped near the village of Jhandroot, west of Mankote, during a Pakistani BAT action that followed the strikes. He was held in Pakistan Army’s custody for several months.
“Basically, both sides have become locked in a tit-for-tat cycle of violence now throughout the 16 Corps zone”, an intelligence official said. “It’s hard for either army to back down, even though both are reluctant to step things up to the point where it would actually have any kind of decisive impact on the others’ defences or capabilities.”
Figures for this year’s cross-Line of Control clashes have not become publicly available, but a senior government official described them as “substantially higher” than those registered in 2016.
The fighting has forced over 3,000 people to evacuate their homes near the Line of Control, while several buildings have been damaged and cattle killed.
Last year saw over 225 exchanges of fire between troops on the Line of Control, in which 12 Indian soldiers were killed. Though exchanges of fire rose sharply from 2015 and 2014, which saw 152 and 153 exchanges of fire respectively, fatalities were lower than in those years.
Incidentally, even as fire exchanges on the Line of Control have escalated sharply, tensions on the International Border on the south-western reaches of Jammu and Kashmir, bordering Punjab, have dropped sharply. Last year saw 231 fire exchanges, down from 430 in 2014, when the NDA government ordered forces to retaliate with force to provocation.