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Monday, December 5, 2022

Poonch encounter: no trace of militants, 2 army porters held; insurgent lodged in Jammu jail questioned

Despite inclement weather, the counter-insurgency operation continued for the 13th day on Saturday in the forest belt of Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch and Rajouri districts where nine Indian army personnel were killed in two separate attacks by hiding militants last week, officials said.

Two army porters were detained for questioning as the joint search parties of the army and local police moved cautiously in the dense forests of Mendhar and Surankote in Poonch and nearby Thanamandi in Rajouri to track down the hiding militants, they said.

An army official said a major part of the forest was cleared over the last 12 days and now the search area is restricted to an area housing a number of natural caves.

“There was no contact with the militants after the initial gunfights on October 11 and October 14. The search area was expanded in search of the militants,” the official said, hoping to conclude the operation with the clearance of the natural caves within a day or two depending on the weather conditions.

Higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir, including Peer Ki Gali along Poonch-Shopian road, experienced their first moderate snowfall, while the plains were lashed by heavy rains since Friday night, resulting in an appreciable drop in the day temperature.

The officials said strict surveillance is being maintained by the forces on the suspected locations, using hi-tech drones.

Two suspected improvised explosive devices were destroyed by the army search parties in the Bhatta Durian forest of Mendhar, where the locals were asked not to venture out of their homes on Tuesday as a safety measure with the troops advancing into the dense forest.

The operation in the forest areas in the twin border districts commenced on October 11 when militants ambushed a search party killing five soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), in the Surankote forest of Poonch before another gunfight in nearby Thanamandi on the same day.

The militants fled both places after the encounters.

On October 14, the militants struck again and killed four soldiers, including a JCO, in Nar Khas forest in Mendhar as the forces extended the cordon and search operation.

Drones and helicopters were pressed into service to assist the marching troops, including para-commandos, in the jungle spread over nearly 8 km x 2 km area at a distance of four km from the Line of Control, the officials said.

The entire forest belt is still under tight security cordon, the officials said, adding the area is mountainous and the forest is dense, making the operation difficult and dangerous.

The officials said two people, who were working as porters with the army, were detained from Mastandhara in the Surankote area for questioning, taking the total number of detained people to 12.

Earlier, 10 people, including two women, were detained in Bhatta Durian and adjoining areas for allegedly providing logistic support to the militants.

They said a militant lodged at Kot Balwhal jail in Jammu is also being questioned.

Meanwhile, the traffic between Mendhar and Thanamandi along the Jammu-Rajouri highway remained suspended as a precautionary measure for the eighth day on Saturday in the wake of the ongoing operation.

Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu region have witnessed a rise in infiltration attempts since June this year, resulting in the killing of nine militants in separate encounters. 

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