Srinagar: Five security forces personnel including an officer of the Indian Army and two militants were killed in a gunfight in North Kashmir's Handwara which began on Saturday, May 2.
During the gunbattle between militants and security personnel in Chanjmulla village, a forest area in the border district of Kupwara, Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar and Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and sub-inspector of Jammu and Kashmir Police Shakeel Qazi were killed. Colonel Ashutosh was the commanding officer (CO) of the Army's counterinsurgency force Rashtriya Rifles’ 21st Battalion.
According to Srinagar-based defence spokesperson, Rajesh Kalia, the army and J&K Police had launched a joint operation earlier on Saturday after acting on intelligence that militants had taken a family as hostage in the village, about 80 km from Srinagar city.
"A team comprising of five Army and JK Police personnel entered the target area occupied by the terrorists and successfully extricated the civilians. However, during the process, the team was subjected to heavy volume of fire by the terrorists," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that two militants were also killed during the encounter with their identification being ascertained currently. The security personnel have carried out a major search operation in Handwara and other Kupwara areas to look for the presence of any other militant groups.
It should be noted that there has been no halt in counter-insurgency operations in the region despite the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 and several places including India being under a total lockdown which began on March 24. More than 60 persons including as many as 20 armed forces personnel have been killed since the lockdown was imposed in the region to control the spread of the disease.
A major setback, the encounter is one of the worst militant activity in more than five years, in which a major and a Colonel-rank officer with two gallantry awards for counter-insurgency operations has been killed.
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Kashmir region is experiencing a surge in violence for the past weeks as security agencies have increased counter-insurgency operations in the valley.
The Handwara encounter in North Kashmir was preceded by an encounter in South Kashmir's Pulwama district in which two militants were reported killed.
The Handwara attack is the second instance in a month in Kupwara where armed forces faced heavy casualty. Earlier in April, five army men including a JCO were killed in an encounter along the Line of Control (LoC) while five militants were killed in the gunfight. There is also a spike in the ceasefire violations across the LoC which has resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians on each side of the border. Earlier on May 1, two soldiers were killed in Rampur Sector across the LoC in North Kashmir.
A newly formed outfit, The Resistance Front (TRF), which claimed the Keran attack and many other militant related attacks in the region since the past few weeks, have issued statement through multiple Telegram channels claiming the slain militants killed in Handwara.
The situation in Kashmir has remained tense especially after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 last year which was followed by an unprecedented clampdown. Security agencies in the region have been since then expecting a possible flare up and. the authorities in the region continue to restrict internet speed to 2G.