Poonch operation going slow to minimise casualties: army chief (Lead, changing dateline)

January 5th, 2009 - 9:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Jammu, Jan 5 (IANS) As a fierce gun battle between security forces and militants continued for the fifth day in the frontier Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor said the operation was taking time as the army wanted to minimize its own casualties.“The operation is very much on. We are trying to ensure that we do not suffer any casualty,” Kapoor said on the sidelines of a function here. Two army men were killed on Thursday while laying a cordon around the Pati Tar mountainous forest near Mendhar where the terrorists are hiding.

So far, four militants and three security personnel have been killed. Some top commanders of Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror outfits are reported to be present in the hideouts.

“A deliberate operation is on. We are hopeful that we will be able to get most of the terrorists,” said Kapoor.

Col. D.K. Kachari, spokesman of the army’s Northern Command at Udhampur, said in Jammu that the bodies of the militants had not yet been recovered, but added: “Soldiers on the ground have sighted the bodies.”

Residents of Mendhar contest his claim. Mohammad Iqbal told IANS by telephone: “No militant has been killed. It is such a deep and dense forest that no one can see far.”

Army and police officials have not ruled out reports that the militants have erected bunkers or hideouts in the area.

“We feel this could be the transit and arms dumping ground of militants,” said Iqbal.

Security officials, however, declined to comment on the matter. An official said: “Our priority is to conduct the operation and flush out militants.”

A security expert said on condition of anonymity: “If there are concrete bunkers and arms dumps here, then without hesitation it is an intelligence failure.”

The expert added that security forces had claimed to have totally “sanitised” the area ahead of the recently concluded assembly elections in the state.

The forested area in Mendhar is on the map of traditional infiltration routes of militants sneaking into the Indian side from Pakistan across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the two countries.

Senior army and police officers are camping in the area to monitor the situation.

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