Militants stormed a central reserve police force (CRPF) camp in Lethpora area along the Srinagar-Anantnag highway in an audacious pre-dawn strike on Sunday, killing at least five CRPF personnel, officials said, even as the anti-militancy operation, which continued for at least 16 hours, was suspended for the night. Two militants, both local, were killed in the gunfight while reports said that another militant is still believed to be holed up.
A police official said that a group of militants carrying under-barrel grenade launchers and automatic weapons took positions in the main building of the 185 CRPF training center in Lehtpora at around 2 am and started firing indiscriminately at the forces. The main building comprises a family block, hospital and a control room, he said.
A police source said that the militants killed one CRPF man and injured three others in the initial assault itself. The injured were immediately shifted to army’s base hospital in Srinagar where they succumbed during the day, even as another CRPF man reportedly died of cardiac arrest after the attack, the source said.
Early on Sunday morning, the army’s 50 Rashtriya Rifles, CRPF and Jammu and Kashmir police reached the spot and strengthened the cordon.
“Additional reinforcements were rushed to the area to nab the attackers,” the source said.
He said that around two-kilometer area was sealed by government forces while the internet was snapped across the Pulwama district to “maintain law and order.”
Huge blasts were heard during the exchange of firing throughout Sunday, a group of Lehtpora residents told Kashmir Post.
The firing from both continued till late in the afternoon, the police official said, adding that two militants were killed in the gunfight while the third one is believed to be still holed up.
Earlier in the day, inspector general CRPF, Ravi Deep Sahi told Kashmir Post that three CRPF men were killed in the attack while another died due to heart attack following the attack. However the death toll of CRPF men increased later in the day.
“We have also recovered the bodies of two Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) foreign militants. Searches are going on because we doubt that bodies of some more militants might be lying there,” Sahi had said.
However, reports late on Sunday evening said that the two militants killed in the gunfight were local, including Fardeen Ahmad Khanday, the son of a police constable from Nazneenpora area of Traltownship, and Manzoor Ahmad Baba son of Ali Muhammad of Drabgam village in Pulwama.
Fardeen was reportedly a class 10th student.
An official said that two of five slain CRPF men belong to Jammu and Kashmir—one from Chadoora namely Sharief-ud-Din Ganai and another from Rajouri named Tufail Ahmad—while three other are non-local.
The official said that three blocks of the main building were damaged as the government forces blasted the structures to kill the hiding militants.
Director general of police S P Vaid said despite having “inputs” about an impending militant strike in Kashmir for the past few days, militants managed to attack the CRPF camp.
“There was an input from the last two to three days that they (militants) were trying (to attack). They probably could not get a place and time earlier and therefore struck during the night,” he said.
Inspector general of police, Kashmir range, Munir Khan said that bodies of militants have been retrieved and there are chances that another body might be lying in the camp.
“We cannot figure out the number of casualties as the operation is not over yet,” he told Kashmir Post late in the evening.
The attack comes days after the killing of a top Jaish-e-Mohammed commander, Noor Mohammad Tantray, in a gunfight in Samboora village of Pampore township in Pulwama district on Tuesday. Forces termed Tantray’s killing a major success as he was known for “reviving the Jaish outfit”.
The Jaish had earlier warned of attacks to avenge the killing of their commander Noor Trali.
Various police officials in Pulwama district said that the operation has been suspended for the night and shall resume on Monday morning.
Meanwhile, a report said that the body of Khanday was handed over to the family for the last rites on Sunday evening.
As soon as the reports of his killing spread in Nazneenpora, people hit streets and held protests which were on when this report was filed.
Meanwhile, CRPF spokesperson Rajesh Yadav confirmed to news agency PTI that two militants are Manzoor Ahmad Baba from Drubgam (Pulwama) and Fardeen Ahmad Khanday from Nazeempora (Tral). Khanday is the son a serving policeman.
“Five CRPF personnel have been killed and three others are injured. The bodies of two militants have also been recovered. We believe another militant has also been killed but the body has not been retrieved,” Yadav said.
Yadav said that the deceased CRPF personnel are inspector Kuldip Roy from Hamirpur (Himachal Pradesh), head constable Taufail Ahmed of Rajouri (J&K), constables Sharief-ud-din Ganaie of Chadoora in Budgam (J&K), Rajendra Nain of Churu (Rajasthan) and P K Panda of Sundargarh (Odisha).
He said while Roy died of heart attack during the gunbattle, the four others succumbed to bullet injuries.
The injured personnel are constables Narendra Kumar, MalamSamadhan and Mala Ram, he said.
“One or two militants are still holed up but firing has stopped. Forces are still continuing the search operation,” he said.
On December 27, a local commander of the Jaish-e-Mohammad group was killed in south Kashmir, triggering protests.
In October this year, three fighters and one Indian soldier were killed during an assault on a paramilitary base near Srinagar international airport.
In an earlier attack in August, suicide attackers stormed a heavily guarded police building in Pulwama in south Kashmir, killing four policemen and four soldiers.
Official figures show that in 2017, 369 casualties were reported which included 221 rebels, 93 armed forces and 55 civilians in separate incidents of violence.
Relations between India and Pakistan have also intensified, with both sides claiming their soldiers have been killed by cross-border firing.
On December 23, the Indian army claimed that four soldiers were killed by Pakistani fire in the Rajouri area of Indian-administered Kashmir.
On December 27, Pakistan’s foreign ministry also claimed that three of its soldiers were killed on the de-facto border in the Rakhchikri area of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.
Rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-administered portion to become independent or merge with Pakistan.
Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
India maintains roughly 500,000 soldiers in the territory.
Anti-India sentiment runs deep among Kashmir’s mostly Muslim population, and most support the rebels’ cause against Indian rule, despite a decades-long military crackdown against the armed rebellion.
India has accused Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, an allegation that Pakistan denies.
Armed rebel groups have largely been suppressed by Indian forces in recent years, and public opposition to Indian rule is now principally expressed through street protests.