On September 26,as a pitched battle raged between three terrorists who had raided an armoured unit of the 9 Corps in Samba and angry officers who even used main battle tanks to dislodge them,a strong statement was made miles away in Srinagar.
Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh,commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps,said that the Army had thwarted a major infiltration bid in Kupwaras Keran sector three days earlier.
The numbers he presented were alarming several dozen militants had tried to sneak in and the Army had shot dead 10-12,with their bodies visible in Indian territory.
Just this would have made it one of the biggest such bids in years. However,the Army went a step ahead to say that 30-40 terrorists had been trapped inside Indian territory and troops had taken positions to cordon them off.
More than two weeks later,the Army has called off the operations and no bodies have been recovered from the cordoned-off area.
With the operations called off,the following are the claims that have been made and the facts of the encounter and its repercussions:
Claim: More than two dozen militants were trapped in Keran and took over an abandoned village on the LoC.
Fact: While it was claimed 30-40 militants tried to cross over on September 23 night near Shalbhatti village,there has been no proof the village had been captured. Much of the abandoned village lies on the other side of the LoC and a few structures on the Indian side had been used by militants to take shelter against firing by Indian troops. The gun battle lasted for at least 5-7 days but the infiltrators retreated subsequently. After the initial sighting on September 23,there was never any concrete evidence that dozens of militants were holed up. Also,there was no recorded ceasefire violation in the area by the Pakistani army.
As things stand,the Army is in control of the few structures in the village on the Indian side but no bodies have been recovered. As Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh said,there was never any attempt to capture Indian territory. He termed it an infiltration,not an intrusion.
Claim: Twin attacks happened on September 26. While three militants attacked Samba,30-40 infiltrators tried to enter from Keran sector.
Fact: No proof yet to indicate that the two incidents were coordinated. In fact,they were separated both by geography and time. The Samba attack took place on September 26,by three militants who crossed over the International Border in Harinagar the night before. The Keran bid took place days earlier,on the night of September 23.
Claim: The Army killed 10-12 terrorists in the initial gun battle.
Fact: No proof yet that any militant was killed in the initial gun battle in Keran. While a strong cordon was laid after four Indian soldiers were injured to ensure no one entered further inside,no body has been discovered even now. Initial claims by Lt Gen Singh that 10-12 bodies were spotted lying in the area were changed later to suggest the number was indicated via radio intercepts of agents and handlers in Pakistan. Fact is that two weeks after the encounter and extensive combing operations,not a single body has been recovered from the Shalbhatti area. Theory that bodies have been taken back by militants also not credible as the difficult terrain,high altitude and tight cordon by Indian troops would have made this next to impossible.
Claim: A logistics line was established by the terrorists who held territory.
Fact: While radio intercepts suggested a supply line could be established to help terrorists who were engaged in the gun battle,there has been no evidence that they got supplies from across the border. In fact,after the initial gun battle,the terrorists are believed to have escaped at the first opportunity,hence the absence of arms or bodies even after multiple combing operations.
Claim: Several firearms have been recovered and eight militants have been killed in Shalbhatti encounter.
Fact: While there is no proof of the claimed kills on September 26,it is a fact that eight terrorists have been killed in the Keran sector in the past few days. These kills have,however,not taken place in the Shalbhatti area where terrorists were claimed to be holed up. Three terrorists were shot dead while crossing over in the Gujjardoor area Friday while four were shot dead in the Fateh Gali area Saturday and a cache of arms and supplies recovered. These militants had been a part of the 30-40 who had tried to enter from Shalbhatti on September 23. However,all weapons recovered and bodies found in the past two weeks have not been from the area.
Claim: A gun battle went on in Shalbhatti for two weeks and troops were engaged in a stand-off with holed in terrorists.
Fact: There was no exchange of fire in the area for almost a week now. All militants either escaped or retreated back. There was no verifiable firing from the militants side for a week and Indian troops had not fired for the past few days. Simply put,after an initial gun battle in which four Indian jawans were injured and an unknown number of terrorists were hit,there was no major operation in the Shalbhatti area. The two operations in which kills occurred were in other parts of the Keran sector,4-20 km away.
Former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen H S Panag has called the Keran incident the big operation that never was.
10-15 terrorists with an equal number of porters infiltrated due to surveillance patrols lapse. Exaggerated report by unit to cover lapse. Panic reaction by the 286 Brigade (under which Keran Sector falls) converted to cordon to trap the terrorists. Terrorists slipped away,media went in a tizzy, the officer has tweeted.