Poonch gun battle rages, weather hinders army operation (Lead)

January 7th, 2009 - 8:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Jammu, Jan 7(IANS) The battle raging between militants and security forces in a forested area of mountainous Poonch district in Jammu and Kashmir continued for the seventh day Wednesday and soldiers were battling weather and tough terrain to eliminate the intruders.Firing during Tuesday night and Wednesday morning indicated that the “terrorists are still present inside”, Brigadier General Staff (BGS) of 16 Corps Brig. Gurdeep Singh told reporters near Pati Tar area where the battle began last Thursday.

Singh said that “weather and terrains were the main hindrance” in the operation.

The gun battle in the forests of Mendhar area of Poonch erupted after the army laid siege to the Pati Tar peak in the middle of a forest following a tip-off about the presence of a group of hard core militants there.

Some top commanders of Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror outfits are believed to be hiding there.

Singh said the army was taking its time to “minimise the casualties and wear out” the terrorists. “It is not possible to tell how long it will take to conclude the operation.”

He said there was no idea how many militants were inside the forest, “but one thing is sure that there are no bunkers. The terrorists are using natural caves as their hideouts”.

According to the official, only 350 soldiers were deployed around the area to carry out the operation and the commandos were on stand by. He ruled out the possibility of carrying out air strikes.

Singh said the militants tried to breach the cordon Tuesday night “but the troops fired at them pushing them back into the jungle”.

The army recovered ammunition, communications equipment and rations from the two hideouts busted earlier last week.

Seven persons including four militants and three security personnel got killed in the first two days of the operation, according to a defence spokesman. But the bodies of the militant have not been recovered. “Soldiers on the ground have sighted the bodies,” said the spokesman.

Mendhar has always been a traditional infiltration route of militants sneaking into the Indian side from Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC). It has accessibility to the Kashmir Valley through mountain passes.

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