A decorated Commanding Officer of the Army’s counter-insurgency Rashtriya Rifles, a Major and a J&K Police officer were among the five security personnel killed in a gunfight that stretched on for over eight hours in North Kashmir’s Handwara on Saturday.
The security forces had lost contact with the men towards Saturday evening, after they went inside a house in Chanjimullah village of Handwara in North Kashmir, to flush out militants. The dead included the two militants, one of them identified as a Pakistani.
On Sunday morning, after recovering their bodies, the Army confirmed the deaths of Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Commanding Officer of RR’s 21 Battalion, Major Anuj Sood of the same battalion, Sub-Inspector Sageer Ahmad Pathan of the J&K Police’s Special Operations Group, Naik Rajesh Kumar and Lance Naik Dinesh Singh.
A release said the men lost their lives in a bid to evacuate civilians, having got intelligence that militants had taken them hostage. “A joint operation was launched by Army and JK Police. A team comprising five Army and JK Police personnel entered the target area. and successfully extricated the civ (civilians),” the release said. However, it added, the team came under heavy fire. “In the ensuing firefight two terrorists were eliminated and the team of five Army and JK Personnel attained martyrdom.”
It’s the second time 21 RR has lost a Commanding Officer. In 2000, the then CO and a Brigadier had died in an IED attack.
Top Army and police officers arrived in Handwara to pay homage to the dead officers on Sunday.
The Handwara encounter began on Saturday afternoon, when a joint team of the Army, paramilitary and J&K Police cordoned Chanjimullah village and approached a cowshed where two militants were believed to be hiding. Sources said towards late evening, the officers found themselves trapped in a house with the militants, which was when contact with the men was lost.
An officer said that after they couldn’t communicate with the officers, they halted the exchange of fire. “Firing again started at midnight. Subsequently, the two militants were shot dead,” a security officer in Handwara said, adding that they also pressed in para commandos for the operation.
On Sunday evening, the J&K Police identified one of the dead militants as Pakistani national Haider, and said he was affiliated with the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and had been operating in Kashmir for the past couple of years. “The identity of the other terrorist is being ascertained,” a J&K Police spokesperson said.
The Army said its men had followed the militants into Chanjimullah village after an encounter with them on Friday afternoon at Waterbala, around 3 km away, in Handwara district. The area has dense forests nearby, and militants are known to hide infiltrators coming across the Line of Control there.
This is a second big blow to the Army in Kashmir within a month. In the first week of April, five elite Special Forces commandos had died in a gun battle lasting several days near the LoC, also in Kupwara district. Five militants had been killed then.
On Sunday, after the encounter site had been cleared, there was a blast a few kilometres away in Ahgam village of Handwara, leaving two minors among five injured. Medical Superintendent of Handwara District Hospital Dr Rouf said two people had been referred for “specialised treatment”.
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