The harsh realities of counter-insurgency operations

May 28th, 2011 - 10:59 am ICT by IANS  

Jammu, May 28 (IANS) Questions are often asked why several columns of soldiers could not eliminate two or three terrorists hiding in the jungles of Jammu and Kashmir, or why it takes so long to kill a lone terrorist.

That’s largely because of the state’s topography and terrain, particularly in the densely-forested mountainous areas, some as high as 10,000 feet above sea level.

One such instance is a month-long operation in the thick forests of the mountainous areas of Surankote in Poonch district at a height of 8,000 feet, an area that quite often experiences rain during the summer and snow during the winter.

A spokesman of the 16 Corps of the Indian Army on Friday gave an account of the month-long operation in the Surankote area, 210 km north of Jammu.

“Relentless operations by Romeo Force (a counter-insurgency wing of the army responsible for operations in Rajouri and Poonch districts) and Jammu and Kashmir Police in the past one month have caused a huge loss to (Pakistan-based terror group) Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).”

According to him, the operation started on April 28. “Based on specific intelligence regarding the presence of a group of five LeT militants in the forest areas of Surankote, troops of Romeo Force and police launched operations on April 28. Braving bad weather conditions in difficult and rugged forested mountainous areas, the troops continued their search operations and succeeded in maintaining pressure on the hiding militants.”

“The group of militants was on the run and kept shifting places during the hours of darkness. Prolonged operations by the security forces resulted in the busting of militant hideouts and recovery of large quantities of rations, bedding and other logistic stores,” the spokesman said.

Due to the vastness of the area, with thick forests and undergrowth, physical contact with the militants could not be established. “The security forces kept their cool and continued the combing and search operations without a break. Finding it difficult to escape from the cordon, in the beginning of May, the militants split into two groups and tried to cross a big stream in the upper reaches. While doing so, two militants got washed away,” the spokesman said.

The remaining militants conveyed telephonic messages to this effect to their handlers and masters across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. They identified the drowned militants as Abu Huzefa alias H2, Chief of LeT for Poonch, Rajouri and Jammu, and Abu Abdullah alias Saifullulah alias Usman Bhai.

“The search operations by the security forces continued to trace the bodies of dead militants as well as to locate the other three militants. On May 20, the body of one militant was recovered from the Suran river near Bafliaz in Surankote. The body was highly decomposed and identified as that of Abu Huzefa. The body of the second militant is yet to be recovered,” the spokesman said.

The second group of three militants was on May 23 reported moving in the forested areas of Sauni. “This area is at quite a distance from where the original searches were launched to take on the militants. The troops zeroed in on the group on the night of May 23 at 8 p.m.”

“The contact with these militants was established and a firefight commenced. In the encounter, one dreaded militant, Abu Umar Khan Jangwani, was killed and his accomplice injured. Taking cover of the dense forests and darkness, the other two militants managed to escape.

One AK-47 rifle, two rifle magazines, 60 live rounds, two hand grenades and various other items were recovered from the encounter site,” the spokesman said.

“Thus, sustained operations and perseverance of the security forces and the police in the past one month have resulted in the deaths of three dreaded LeT militants operating in the Surankote area,” the spokesman claimed.

A violent Islamist insurgency erupted in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley in 1989 and later spread to the Hindu-dominated Jammu region. The Buddhist-dominated region of Ladakh has been totally free of militancy.

The insurgency forced some 300,000 Kashmiri Hindus, known as Pandits, to flee the Valley. Some of them have settled in refugee camps in Jammu, while others have migrated to other states in the couuntry.

The government estimates that some 50,000 people, both civilians and security personnel, have been killed in the past 22 years. Rights groups place the figure at 75,000, the majority of them civilians.

The Indian Army has deployed three Corps in the region. Each Corps normally comprises 40,000-50,000 troops. Taking the state police, the paramilitary forces and the counter-insurgency Rashtriya Rifles into account, estimates place the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir at some 500,000 but there is no independent confirmation of this.

(Binoo Joshi can be reached at binoo.j@ians.in)

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