Army intensifies Poonch operation against militants (Lead)

January 8th, 2009 - 7:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Jammu, Jan 8 (IANS) Security forces intensified their operation to flush out militants hiding in a dense forest area in the frontier Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, laying a three-tier cordon and searching the jungle minutely, as the fighting continued for the eighth day Thursday.A source in the army who did not wish to be named said the army had divided the over three sq km Mendhar forest area into sections and begun search operations.

However, security experts said that there was “almost a lull from the militants’ side”, indicating two facts - “either the top militants have escaped, leaving behind their body guards, or all of them have got killed”.

But army sources said, “With a three-tier cordon around the area it is next to impossible to escape.”

Brigadier General Staff (BGS) of 16 corps Brig Gurdeep Singh told newspersons, “The weather and the terrain are the main hindrance in the progress of the operations.”

He said the army was taking its time so as to “minimize the casualties and wear out the terrorists”.

Brig Singh, however, said it was still unclear as to 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 him, only 350 soldiers were deployed around the area to carry out the operation. He said commandos were also on stand by.

He said no air strikes had been planned as yet. “The army is capable enough to succeed in this operation.” However, he said, “It is not possible to tell how long it will take to conclude the operation.” The number of militants was also not certain.

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

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

Seven people, including four militants and three security personnel, were killed in the first two days of the gunbattle.

The area in Mendhar is on the map of regular infiltration routes of militants sneaking into the Indian side from Pakistan, across the Line of Control. It has accessibility to the Kashmir Valley through the mountain passes. “We feel this could be a transit and arms dumping ground of militants,” said an official.

Senior Army and Police officials were personally monitoring the operation.

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