LeT facing leadership crisis after loss of commanders

Sabzar Bhat and Burhan Wani (File Photo)

When unrest broke out in Kashmir after killing of Burhan Wani, poster boy of new age militancy in Kashmir, on 8 July 2016, militant outfits taking advantage of it not only consolidated their positions but also mounted several deadly attacks on security forces in subsequent months.

Taking advantage of the civilian unrest, militants were moving freely in hinterland as security forces were busy in dealing with law and order situation at least for six months. And two main militant organisations operating in Kashmir – Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and Lashker-e-Toiba – were the main beneficiaries of the situation.

“The violent civilian protests caused a breakdown of our information network for more than six months in 2016 and the two terror outfits took advantage of it. 2017 and 2018 were challenging years for us, but we managed to break the backbone of LeT,” a senior police officer, involved in counter-insurgency operations told DH.

In August 2017, security forces killed Pakistani origin LeT commander Abu Dujana, Abu Dujana, who was an A++ category militant and of highest ranking in order of notoriety. He had taken charge of executing the operations of the LeT after Abu Qasim, who was killed in a skirmish with security forces in Kulgam district of south Kashmir in October 2015. Qasim, a Pakistani national, was active in the valley since 2010 and had executed major attacks blamed on the Pakistan-based terror group.

And before that two local commanders and major recruiters of the LeT, Majid Zarger and Junaid Mattu, were also killed in 2017. But the biggest blow to the LeT came on November 28 last year, when Naveed Jatt was killed in a gunfight with security forces in Budgam district, bringing to end one of militancy’s interesting chapters.

Born in Pakistan, Jatt, 22, had crossed over to Kashmir in 2012 and was, according to the police, involved in several high-profile attacks on security forces before he was arrested in 2014. However, last February, he managed to escape from police custody when he was taken to Srinagar’s SMHS Hospital from the Central Jail in the city for a health check.

Jatt soon took over the command of Lashkar, which was facing a leadership crisis after most of its commanders were killed in the aftermath of the army’s “Operation All Out” aimed at “wiping out militancy from the Valley”. Soon, he, along with the last surviving local commanders of LeT—Showkat Tak, Shakoor Dar, Azad Malik alias Dada and Firdous Mir--operated in southern Kashmir, the epicentre of new-age militancy, and tried to once again strengthen its network.

However, the outfit suffered from another severe blow as two of its main operators, Tak and Dar, were killed in encounters last summer. Mehraj Bangroo, a re-cycled militant and another top LeT commander who was instrumental in reviving militancy in Srinagar to an extent, lost three of his associates before being killed near his home in old city Srinagar.

And when Malik and Mir too were killed days before Jatt’s end came, the LeT virtually was left with no top commanders. “The recruitment is not an issue for the outfit in southern Kashmir, but it is virtually leaderless now. Now the LeT is working in close coordination with Hizbul to reinforce its strong image before security agencies,” the police officer said.

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LeT facing leadership crisis after loss of commanders

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