The five soldiers killed were part of an unsuspecting Army patrol that walked into an ambush laid by 15 to 20 men, wearing Pakistan Army uniforms, close to Sarla and Chhaja posts, about one kilometre from the cross-LoC Trade Facilitation Centre (TFC) of Chakan Da Bagh, in the early hours of Tuesday. Four of the five jawans belonged to the Bihar Regiment. They have been identified as Lance Naik Shambhu Sharan Rai from Ara, Bhojpur district; Sepoy Raghunandan Prasad and Naik Prem Nath Singh from Chapra Saran district; and Sepoy Vijay Kumar Rai from Bihta block, Patna district. The fifth, Pundalik Mane from Kolhapur in Maharashtra, belonged to the Maratha Light Infantry.

One soldier managed to hide himself behind some bushes but sustained injuries. He was later evacuated and treated at a military hospital in Poonch.

The arms and ammunition of the soldiers were reportedly looted but defence officials declined to confirm or deny.

The officials said that the ambush had been laid at a vantage point between the barbed wire fencing and the Zero Line of the LoC. “It’s an intrusion, not a routine incident of ceasefire violation”, said an official.

Though Defence Minister A. K. Antony was guarded on the issue of who might have been responsible for the attack, senior Army officials maintained that the ambush had been laid on the Indian side, 350 metres short of the Zero Line of the LoC by a Border Action Team of the Mujahid Battalion of the Pakistani Army. The officials said this was a professional assault carried out by regular Pakistani troops along with a few heavily armed and highly trained militants.

Bodies of the slain soldiers were carried to the Military Hospital at Poonch where a joint team of civil and military doctors performed the post mortem. A large number of Army officers participated in the wreath-laying. The coffins would be dispatched to the homes of the slain soldiers on Wednesday morning.

Senior officials of Udhampur-based Northern Command and Nagrota-based 16 Corps reviewed the situation with the field commanders, who pressed for a “calibrated response”, and with the Army headquarters in New Delhi, which insisted on a “wait and watch” attitude.

Travel and trade hit

Cross-LoC travel as well as trade through Chakan Da Bagh was affected as the gates had been closed immediately after the news of the bloodshed at Sarla Post spread.