At KUPWARA’s Halmathpora forest in the foothills of Shamasbari range, Armymen are keeping close watch towards the kail and pine trees. Combat teams of Army and the Special Operation Group of J&K Police are busy scanning the area which local residents call ‘Cherain Bagh’ due to the dense vegetation.
The operation against a group of militants has entered its third day. The encounter has left five security personnel — three Armymen and two policemen — and five militants dead. While the Army has relaxed the cordon around Halmathpora village, the forest area is still under cordon.
“The operation is in its final stage. We have handed over the bodies of militants who appear to be foreigners to police for identification. Our men are searching the area for any more militants and unexploded ammunition,’’ said an army officer, while monitoring the operation at the edge of the forest.
Explaining why the operation is taking so long, he said, ‘’It’s a very dense forest and a difficult terrain. Once you go inside, visibility reduces and it’s difficult to even walk.’’
Personnel of Rashtriya Rifles, 160 Territorial Army battalion and the Special Operation Group launched the operation Tuesday afternoon after they received information about presence of a large militant group in the forest.
As the operation continued, para commandos were involved. Army also used UAVs to pinpoint the militants. “It was raining yesterday and visibility was very low. Thick vegetation made the operation more difficult and our teams trying to neutralise the militants came under a barrage of fire from different sides. Many personnel were injured and five of them succumbed,’’ said a soldier, after he emerged from the forest.
The site of the operation is close to the LoC and has been used in the past by militants sneaking into the Valley. “This is the first group that infiltrated from this side this year and reached close to this hamlet,’’ said an Army officer. ‘’Their destination could have been any place in the Valley.”
Mohammad Rafiq, a villager, said, “On Tuesday afternoon, Army and police went inside the forests from three sides. After an hour, the gunfight began. The firing continued for two days. Even today morning, we heard gunshots deep in the forests. It is silent now and Army teams are coming out.”
According to sources, it is possible that the militants sneaked into the Valley through Shalabathu forests and were taking rest in the forest when forces located them. Kashmir Range IGP S P Pani, said all militants killed were foreigners. “From the material recovered, it looks they were from LeT,’’ he said.