Caught between forests and a hill on one side and a deep ditch on the other, the security forces personnel locked in a seemingly endless encounter in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district are battling terrorists who have no shortage of arms, ammunition or food, and also have the lay of the land.
The personnel are also facing an uphill battle, literally, as the terrorists are holed up in a cave on top of the hill, and the only route to it is a narrow one with a sheer drop on one side, highly placed sources in the security forces have told NDTV. It was this path and the visibility afforded by the cave that cost the forces the lives of Colonel Manpreet Singh, Major Aashish Dhonchak and Deputy Superintendent of Police Himayun Bhat.
The sources said that the forces first got intelligence about terrorists hiding in the Gadul forests of Kokernag on Tuesday night. A search operation was launched, but the terrorists could not be found. The joint team of Army and police personnel then received information that the terrorists were on top of a hill.
In the early hours of Wednesday, the forces decided to attack the terrorists. “The path the forces have to take to get to the top of the hill is quite challenging. It is very narrow and there are mountains and a dense forest on one side and a deep ditch on the other. The personnel began the ascent in the night, and the pitch darkness made it worse,” said a source.
As the forces neared the cave, the terrorists got a clear view of them and began firing indiscriminately. Caught on the narrow path, with no cover and the very real danger of falling, the personnel had nowhere to go, and no way to retaliate.
Colonel Singh, who was the commanding officer of the 19 Rashtriya Rifles, company commander Major Dhonchak – who were both recipients of the prestigious Sena Medal (gallantry) – and Deputy SP Bhat were injured in the firing.
The hail of bullets and the challenging path made their extraction – both by other personnel and a helicopter – impossible and they could be taken to a hospital only in the morning, the sources said.
It’s been nearly 72 hours since the encounter began and the forces have the hill surrounded. Explosives are being dropped using the Heron drones purchased from Israel, rocket launchers are being used and the personnel are firing, but the Army has still not been able to achieve domination of the area because of its challenging geography, the sources said.
‘No Ordinary Terrorists’
According to the sources, the number of terrorists is likely to be more than the two-three that are being cited. Among them is Uzair Khan, who joined Lashkar-e-Taiba last year. They said he has complete information about the area, which the terrorists are benefiting from.
“Ordinary terrorists cannot stretch an encounter for so long. They are very well-trained and have good weapons. It is also possible that an informer may have double-crossed the forces or someone may have leaked their movements. Whatever it is, ending this operation has become a big challenge,” said a source.
One soldier is still missing and at least two personnel have been injured. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Additional Director General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar advised retired police and Army officers to avoid going with the “ambush hypothesis”.
#KokernagEncounterUpdate: Rtd Police/Army officers should avoid “ Ambush Hypothesis”. It is a specific input based ops. Ops is in progress and all 2-3 trapped terrorists will be neutralised: ADGP Kashmir
— Kashmir Zone Police (@KashmirPolice) September 15, 2023
“Retired police/Army officers should avoid ‘ambush hypothesis’. It is a specific input-based ops. Ops is in progress and all 2-3 trapped terrorists will be neutralised,” he said.