Army Chief General M M Naravane arrived Monday on a two-day visit of Jammu region during which he will visit the forward areas along the Line of Control where security forces have been trying to track down a group of militants for a week now, losing nine soldiers in the process. Sources said there was intense firing from both sides on Monday morning as well.
As part of the security review, the Army chief will visit Bhimber Gali on the Rajouri-Poonch road, where four soldiers were killed on October 14 in an exchange of fire with the militants, who may have been present in the area for as many as two months, after infiltrating across the border.
The first exchange between the two sides was in Dehra ki Gali area in Poonch district on October 11, leaving five Army personnel, including a JCO, dead — making it the deadliest encounter in the area in the past 17 years. Entering the eighth day Monday, the Poonch operation is the longest in J&K since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.
The Army tweeted that General Naravane would get an update on the security situation and operational preparedness from General Officer Commanding, White Knight Corps, and interact with troops and commanders on the ground in the forward areas.
Sources said police have detained five more villagers in the Bhata Durian area on suspicion of providing logistics to the militants. A mother and son had been held earlier, apart from another person.
The operation to hunt down the militants has so far met with little success, with the Army deploying illuminating bombs to light up the forested and treacherous 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.
A senior police officer said that given the different directions from which firing is coming, “they appear to be a large group”. Earlier, the estimation was that the group numbered around four-five. Sources also admitted that the men were highly trained, moving tactically and firing minimally, not showing any panic.
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 were believed to be acting in tandem, and had changed locations. “Following intelligence inputs, we have been after different groups of militants in the area for the past two-and-a-half months,” he said, adding that there had been inputs about a 10-member group having crossed the LoC in the area in early August.
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 soon.
A stretch of the Poonch-Surankote-Rajouri national highway which had been closed for civilian traffic since Thursday evening was partially reopened on Monday.