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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Poonch: Army to go for final assault to flush out militants

According to the villagers, the announcements stated: “All people who are outside their homes, cutting grass or harvesting maize crops, are appealed to immediately return to their homes along with their children and cattle.”

Written by Arun Sharma | Jammu |
Updated: October 20, 2021 7:34:56 am
Jammu and KashmirSecurity forces at Surankote in Poonch, where five Army personnel were killed in an encounter with militants on Monday. (PTI)

Barely a few hours after Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane concluded his two-day visit of Jammu and returned to Delhi, Army troops on Tuesday evening started preparing for a final assault on militants suspected to be hiding inside the forests at Nar in Bhata Durian area in Poonch district’s Mendhar tehsil.

A senior Army officer said they have appealed to local villagers to return to their homes and stay indoors in order to avoid any collateral damage to civilians during the ongoing operation against militants.

Villagers said the appeals, made from loudspeakers of mosques, asked them to drop whatever work they were doing and immediately return to their homes along with their children and cattle.

The operation to hunt down the militants has so far met with little success, with the Army deploying illuminating bombs to light up the forest terrain, as well as para commandos, drones and a helicopter. Police and the Army have cordoned off the area to ensure the militants don’t escape.

Sources said there has been no contact with militants since Saturday morning and that troops have been engaging in “speculative fire’’ while making tactical advances inside the forests. They admitted that they have not been able to see the militants despite aerial surveillance.

Nine soldiers, including two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) have been killed in action against militants in the forests of Poonch district since October 11, making it the deadliest encounter in the area in the past 17 years and the longest in J&K since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Army Chief General M M Naravane visited forward areas of Poonch, including Bhimber Gali, from where the militants are suspected to have escaped into the forests of Bhata Durian. Four soldiers were killed on October 14 in an exchange of fire with the militants, who, security forces believes may have been present in the area for as many as two months, after infiltrating across the border.

General Naravane, who was briefed on the security situation and operational preparedness by General Officer Commanding, White Knight Corps, also interacted with the troops and commanders on the ground in the forward areas.

Police have so far detained eight villagers in the Bhata Durian area, including a 45-year-old woman and her son on suspicion of providing logistical support to the militants.

While Army sources said it was not clear if the incidents of October 11 and 14 involved the same group, a senior police officer said they believe that the militants were acting in tandem, and had changed locations.

In August-September, forces were involved in three encounters in the general area of Rajouri. On August 6, two militants were killed in the Pangai forest of Thanamandi; on August 19, in the same area, two soldiers, including a JCO, were killed in an encounter; and on September 13, one militant was killed in Manjakote in Rajouri. Police sources now believe all these encounters were part of a chain of events.

Additional Director General of Police for Jammu, Mukesh Singh, visited Bhimber Gali on Sunday, and officers expressed confidence about zeroing in on the militants.

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