Colonel among 5 security personnel killed in Kashmir encounter

Two army officers – a Colonel and a Major – were among five security personnel killed during an encounter with highly-trained terrorists in north Kashmir late on Saturday night.

Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Commanding Officer, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar and Lance Naik Dinesh Singh, all from The Brigade of The Guards regiment and at present part of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles, and Sub-Inspector Sageer Ahmed Qazi of Jammu and Kashmir Police were killed when they had gone to free civilians taken hostage by the terrorists in Changimulla village in Handwara area of Kupwara.

The two holed-up terrorists, who were eliminated in the encounter, included Haider, commander of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani national who has been active in north Kashmir area for the past few years. The identity of the other terrorist has yet to be ascertained. The terrorists are believed to have come to Handwara to receive an infiltrating group from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, officials said.

Security forces had noticed presence of some terrorists in the Rajwar forests in Handwara area for the past few days and a brief exchange of fire had taken place on Thursday deep inside the jungles.

On Saturday, when inputs were received about the presence of terrorists in village Chanjmulla, 21 Rashtriya Rifles of army along with the Special Operation Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police launched a search operation. During the search operation, the hiding terrorists fired upon the forces, which turned into an encounter.

“During the encounter, the troops lost contact with their Commanding Officer of the Rashtriya Rifles unit, Major, a soldier and a Jammu and Kashmir Police officer,” he added.

He said that the army and the police officers were stuck in a house where the terrorists were hiding. The team was able to rescue several civilians. However, the team came under heavy fire by terrorists in which all of them were killed.

“Special forces from 9 Para were immediately rushed to the area and they conducted the operation against the militants, and launched room intervention after heavy a firefight with the terrorists. Army officer and other troops were also inside in the same area where fighting was going on,” he added On conclusion of the operation, the target house was searched early on Saturday morning and the bodies of two terrorists eliminated in the encounter were recovered along with arms and ammunition.

Sources in the army said that Colonel Sharma led from the front in the operation to free civilian hostages from terrorists.

Colonel Sharma has been decorated twice with the gallantry award Sena Medal. Both his awards came within 18 months of each other, and for counter-insurgency operations.

Colonel Sharma was awarded the fourth highest peace-time gallantry award for the services and for actions of bravery.

Colonel Sharma had been on duty with the 21RR for the past two years.

His first gallantry award was announced on the Republic Day in 2018, when he was Lt Colonel and second-in-command of the 21 RR. This was for an operation done in the Valley.

“Colonel Ashutosh Sharma had told us that he aimed to kill Haider, and he achieved his aim,” said army soldier who was part of the operation.

The Army, in a tweet, said Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane and all ranks of the force paid tributes to the "valiant braves of our Army and JK Police for their supreme sacrifice while fighting and eliminating terrorists in Handwara."

The death of a Colonel-rank officer was seen in the valley after five years. In 2015, the Army had lost two colonels in a year in Kashmir.

This year, security forces eliminated more than 50 militants of which 34 were killed since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

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