Five soldiers were killed and another was injured in a gunfight with militants on Friday in the thick jungles of the Rajouri-Poonch sector of the Jammu division. The incident occurred during a combing operation by the security forces against the April 20 attackers, who killed five soldiers in an ambush.
The encounter took place on a day when Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was in Goa to attend the conclave of Foreign Ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). India has strongly raised the issue of terrorism during the ongoing meetings in Goa.
The gunfight with the hiding militants broke out in the Kandi forest of the Rajouri sector in the Pir Panjal Valley on Friday around 7.30 a.m.
The Army said an explosive device was triggered when a search team established contact with a group of hiding terrorists “who were well-entrenched in a cave in the Kandi forests”.
The Army said five soldiers were killed in the blast. One critically injured was shifted to the Command Hospital, Udhampur.
Laid a trap?
Security agencies, informed sources said, will also be looking into the possible angles of hiding militants floating a tip-off and laying a trap for the security forces to inflict a major damage.
The Army said there was a likelihood of casualties in the terrorist group. However, no bodies have been retrieved so far. Initial assessments suggest two to four militants could be hiding in the area.
“The operation is in progress. The area is thickly vegetated with rocky and steep cliffs,” the Army said.
Multiple Army columns have been conducting “relentless intelligence-based operations” to flush out a group of terrorists involved in an ambush on an Army truck in the Tota Gali area of Bhata Dhurian in the Jammu region on April 20, which left five soldiers dead and another injured, the Army said.
The People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), which claimed responsibility for the April 20 attack, again purportedly posted messages online and claimed its role in the encounter. “You walk into our ambushes. We kill you, we win. The world knows we are here,” a reported PAFF claim online reads.
Friday’s operation was launched following specific information about the presence of terrorists in the Kandi forest. There was no official word on the possibility of the April 20 attackers being trapped at the encounter site.
Meanwhile, additional teams of the Army from the vicinity have been directed to the site of the encounter.
Official figures suggest 37 persons, including 35 security personnel, were killed in militant attacks across Jammu since August 5, 2019. Around a dozen jawans died in multiple attacks launched in the forest areas of the Poonch-Rajouri Sector last year.
Search operations had been launched deep into the hills since the April 20 attack in Rajouri. Over 100 locals were questioned and scores detained to trace the attackers.
Earlier, on January 1, seven civilians died after militants attacked a village of a particular community in Rajouri’s Dhangri area.
Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed a sudden spurt in encounters in the past three days. Four militants, two in Kupwara and two in Baramulla in north Kashmir, died in two separate gunfights. The spurt comes weeks ahead of the high-profile G20 meeting in Srinagar where foreign delegates will participate in a working group meeting on tourism from May 22.