A day after four Army personnel, including a Major, were killed in two separate encounters in the Valley, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said on Wednesday that security forces in Kashmir were suffering higher casualties as the “local population” was “preventing” them from conducting their operations and “at times even supporting the terrorists to escape”.
Warning that those who create such “hurdles” during security operations and help the “terrorists to escape”, or display flags of Pakistan and the Islamic State, would be treated as “anti-nationals”, he said the Army would “get them” and take “tough action”.
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The Army chief was speaking to mediapersons after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he paid tributes to the soldiers killed in Kashmir on Tuesday.
Two Army men were killed in another encounter in Kashmir on Sunday too.
“These terrorists who have now graduated to the villages… as we are conducting operations against them, we find that the local population is somehow not supportive of the actions of the security forces.”
“While our aim has been to conduct people-friendly operations, the manner in which the local population is preventing us from conducting the operations, at times even supporting the terrorists to escape… It is these factors which are leading to higher casualties among the security forces,” General Rawat said.
“We would now request the local population that people who have picked up arms — and these are the local boys — if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of IS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them. They may survive today but we will get them tomorrow. Our relentless operations will continue,” he said. If “they do not relent and create hurdles in our operations, then we will take tough action,” he added.
Stating that the youth were being given an opportunity to return to the mainstream, he said: “I’d once again request the parents of these young boys… who have somehow, because of propaganda in social media, taken the path of violence, to return to the fold. We are giving them an opportunity, but should they want to continue, then we will continue with relentless operations, maybe with harsher measures and that is the way to continue.”
“Our idea is not to kill these young boys. Our idea is to bring them into the mainstream. But if they wish to remain in this manner, we will target them with harsher measures,” he warned.
Meanwhile, Modi, who laid wreaths on the bodies of the soldiers at the Palam Airport here, tweeted: “Paid tributes to the brave men who lost their lives fighting terrorists in J&K. India will always remember their valour & sacrifice.”
Since last year, Army operations in Kashmir have been hampered by protests by residents, who resort to stone-pelting and arson. On Sunday too, the encounter in Kulgam was followed by protests.