Why is the Rajouri-Poonch operation taking so long?

Search for terrorists in J&K's forest belt enters 21st day

The operation started in Surankote forest on October 11 following the killing of five soldiers

Representative Image. Credit: PTI File Photo

The search operation to track down a group of heavily armed militants hiding in a dense forest area of Jammu and Kashmir’s twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri entered its 21st day on Sunday.

A total of 11 Army soldiers, including two junior commissioned officers, have been killed in one of the longest and biggest search operations in J&K in the past three weeks. The anti-militancy operation started during the intervening night of October 10 and 11.

The area where the operation is going on is close to the Line of Control (LoC) and the army has already deployed a specially-trained unit of para-commandos for the combing operation while drones and modern weapons are being used to track down militants.

“The topography of the area is giving a tough challenge to security forces in neutralising the terrorists, who are heavily armed and have come fully prepared,” sources told DH.

“The mountainous terrain, with steep slopes covered by thick forests, ravines and gorges, all provided a safe haven for the terrorists and it was difficult for the army to pin-point the militants in the forest area,” they added.

Also read: Two soldiers killed in blast along LoC in J&K's Rajouri

A senior police officer told DH the militants, who are engaged in a gunfight with security forces in the Nar Khas forest area are battle-hardened and highly motivated Pakistani ultras. “There is every possibility that they are getting back-up support from the Pakistan army as the area is near to the LoC,” he said.

“It will take more time to flush out the terrorists from the area as any area that is not accessible to security forces is a disadvantage to them. The terrorists are also using natural caves in the area to their advantage and besides, it seems, they have stored enough ration and ammunition,” he added.

On October 18, Army Chief General M M Naravane visited the forward areas along the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch to review the situation. In recent months, the twin border districts in Jammu have witnessed a rise in infiltration attempts.

Nine militants have been killed in separate encounters since June in the area which has a mixed population of Hindus and Muslims.

In 2003, scores of Pakistani militants had reportedly infiltrated across the LoC in Poonch and dug in for the long haul at Hilkaka, a Bakerwal village in Surankote tehsil, about 10-12 km inside the LoC. According to reports, thousands of troops with the help of the local population successfully cleared the village from militants in the operation that lasted about two weeks.

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