Five security personnel, including a Colonel, a Major and a sub-inspector, and two unidentified militants were killed during an 18-hour anti-militancy operation in north Kashmir’s Handwara area.
“In a firefight in Changimul, Handwara of Kupwara district, two terrorists were eliminated and the team of five security forces personnel, comprising two Army officers, two soldiers and one police sub-inspector, also died,” a Srinagar-based Army spokesman said,
The spokesman said the operation was launched after the intelligence inputs were received that terrorists were taking civilian inmates of a house in Changimul village hostage.
“A joint operation was launched by the Army and the police on Saturday. A team comprising five Army and police personnel entered the target area occupied by the terrorists to evacuate the civilians. They successfully extricated the civilians. However, during the process, the team was subjected to heavy volume of fire by the terrorists,” said the Army.
Police officials said the operation was called off on Sunday morning after the bodies of the security personnel and the militants were spotted inside the house at the encounter site in Changimul area, nestled in a forest zone.
The deceased senior Army officers were identified as Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj Sood and Naik Rajesh and Dinesh, besides sub-Inspector Mohammad Sagier Qazi of J&K Police’s Special Operation Group (SOG). One soldier was also injured in the operation, officials said.
Colonel Sharma, Commanding Officer of the Army’s 21 Rashtriya Rifles, was stationed in Handwara.
Army sources said the militants, who were in a cowshed, were presumed dead on Saturday evening after the exchange of fire stopped for over one hour. The operation against the militants, who escaped from the Rajwara forests on Friday afternoon, was launched around 3.30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Army officers and their team went into the house near the cowshed to “rescue the civilians”, but their communication with the search-and-operation personnel outside got disconnected, forcing them to hold fire for the whole night. The operation was also “slowed down” by heavy rain and thunder, police sources said.
They said the officers found themselves in front of the militants, who had sneaked in from the rear of the house. “Two weapons and a war-like store were also found at the site,” officials said.
Six injured in blast
In a separate incident, six civilians were injured when four boys fiddled with an unattended explosive at Ahgam in Handwara, the police said. The area is 3 km-4 km from the site of the encounter. The police did not reveal the details of the blast.
Colonel Sharma and sub-inspector Qazi were known for their successful anti-militancy operations and their meticulous planning, which earned them gallantry awards in the past. “I salute the bravehearts who made the supreme sacrifice in Kashmir. Proud of leaders like Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, the CO [Commanding Officer], who led from the front. He had been decorated with Sena Medal twice earlier too,” said Lt. Gen. Satish Dua, who served as General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps during 2015-16.
Brigadier Chandrakant Sood (retired), father of Major Sood, said his son had made “a supreme sacrifice”.
“It was part of his duty and what he was trained for. I feel sad for his wife as they got married three or four months back,” he was quoted as saying by a Delhi-based wire service.
In a recent social media post, Major Sood wrote: “When you’re older, you will realise the only thing that matters, the only thing, is that you had courage and honour. Lose those things and you won’t die any quicker, but you’ll be less than the dirt on your boots. You’ll still be dust, but you’ll have wasted your short time in the light.”
A police spokesman in Srinagar said sub-inspector Qazi, “led various successful anti-terror operations”.