A junior commissioned officer was among five Army personnel killed in a gunfight with a group of terrorists holed up in a hideout at Surankote in the frontier Jammu district of Poonch on Monday, making this the highest number of casualties suffered by the armed forces in a single encounter in J&K this year.
By evening, the operation to smoke out the terrorists had spread beyond the initially targeted hideout in the forested Chamrer area of Surankote to adjoining Bhangai village of Rajouri district.
The Army couldn’t immediately confirm if any of the terrorists had been killed.
The slain JCO, Naib Subedar Jaswinder Singh, and two of the four soldiers killed in action were from Punjab. The soldiers from Punjab were Naik Mandeep Singh and Sepoy Gajjan Singh. The other two, Sepoys Saraj Singh and Vaisakh H, were from UP and Kerala respectively. Since January, eight Army personnel have died fighting terrorists in Jammu division alone. Three others were killed in ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the Line of Control.
The Army had launched the cordon-and-search operation in villages close to Dera Ki Gali in Surankote early on Monday, based on intelligence inputs about four to five terrorists hiding there, Jammu-based defence spokesperson Lt Col Devender Anand said. Naib Subedar Jaswinder and four soldiers were critically injured within the first few hours of the operation as the cornered terrorists fired relentlessly to keep the forces at bay. All five died shortly after being moved to a nearby health facility.
The Army operation in Jammu comes alongside a crackdown by central agencies on the terror ecosystem in the Valley following a spate of civilian killings, five of them from the Kashmiri Pandit, Sikh and other minority communities.
In north Kashmir's Handwara on May 3 last year, two Army officers of the rank of Colonel and Major were killed along with a police sub-inspector and two other personnel in a similar operation to flush out terrorists hiding in a village house there.
Over the past nine months, the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri have seen heightened terrorist activity, leading to several encounters with security forces. On August 6, two Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists were killed in an encounter in Bhangai village of Rajouri. Prior to this, on July 8, two heavily-armed Pakistani terrorists were gunned down as the Army foiled an infiltration bid in the Sunderbani sector of Rajouri. Two soldiers were killed in firing by terrorists in the Dadal area of the same sector.
On August 9, a joint team of security forces busted a terrorist hideout at Mendher in Poonch district and seized a cache of arms and ammunition, including AK-47 rifles and China-made pistols and grenades. Ten days later, a JCO and a terrorist were killed in an encounter in the Kangota area of Rajouri's Thanamandi tehsil.