Kokernag Encounter Day 7: Militant’s Body Recovered as Operation Ends
Armed Army personnel on their way to the encounter site in Gandole, Kokernag in Anantnag District on Saturday.
Around 93 km from Jammu & Kashmir’s capital Srinagar, on the foothills of a mountain of South Kashmir’s Anantang district, lies a village called Gandole. Gadole. Three kilometres from the village, a deadly gunfight between militants and security forces raged in the dense forest the whole of last week.
The joint operation by Army and police began on September 12 night, based on intelligence inputs, followed by an attempt to approach the militants’ hideout the next day.
Local and national journalists were seen reporting from Ground Zero on the second day of the encounter.
The militants, who appeared to have anticipated the action, opened fire on the forces. Leading from the front, two Indian Army officers and a DSP of Jammu and Kashmir Police were killed. The Army colonel was identified as Manpreet Singh who was the Commanding Officer of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, while the Army major was identified as Aashish Dhonchak. The DSP of J&K Police was identified as Humayun Bhat, son of a retired senior police officer.
Security forces targeted suspected militant hideouts with hi-tech equipment, dropped explosives using advanced drones.
According to reports, the officers who lost their lives in the line of duty were killed while forces attempted to ascend the hill in order to launch an attack on the hiding militants. The forces used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target those areas in the forest where they suspected the militants were hiding.
Army personnel assembled near the encounter site.
In the initial days of the operation, journalists and their crew were stationed close to the encounter site, but then bullet-proof police vans and Armed Forces were lined on the roadside to restrict media from going ahead.
Private vehicles on the way to Gandol were being stopped. Only the residents were allowed to enter the area.
Army Gypsies entering the Gandole area.
“If you want to go further, you have to get permission from the higher ups, we are instructed not to allow you to go any further” said a policeman at the checkpoint.
In the past six days, residents of the village have been living in constant fear due to continuous firing. One of the residents of Gandole, who didn’t want to be named, said his house had a path from the backyard toward the mountain area where the forces believe that the militant hideout is located.
Children playing cricket in the Gandole village.
“Day and night, we have been hearing blasts, heavy firing. The terrain of this mountain is very dangerous. We have never tried to climb this mountain, as many of those who tried fell from the mountain,” he said.
Due to the difficulties and dangers of operating in an unknown terrain and caught between the dense forest and hill on one side, and a deep ditch on the other, it has become difficult for the forces to carry out the operation. The Army believes the militants are hiding in a cave atop a hill in the forest area.
Locals walking toward the encounter site, while the Army stands guard.
Security forces fired hundreds of mortar shells and rockets and targeted suspected militant hideouts with hi-tech equipment. They even dropped explosives using advanced drones.
Since the past six days, echoes of heavy gunfire and loud explosions can be heard in the alpine forests. Army helicopters also dropped paratroopers and soldiers on the higher reaches of the forest, above the area where the gunfight took place.
Army and police seen holding a rocket launcher at the encounter site.
The J&K police initially claimed that the militants had been spotted and cornered. At least two to three militants, including Uzair Khan of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, were killed and their bodies retrieved. Earlier, sources said the body of a soldier, who was reported to be missing earlier, was spotted but couldn’t be retrieved yet, as it was near a cave where the militants are suspected to be taking shelter.
On Monday, two bodies, including that of a missing soldier, were recovered from the Gadool forest.
Army stands guard on a truck entering the area towards the encounter site.
On Tuesday, journalists collected in small groups under the shade of willow and apple trees, some eating apples and corn, even as children could be seen playing cricket in their courtyard, oblivious to the situation unfolding on the mountains.
On Sunday, security forces pounded the suspected militant hideout with mortar shells, setting it on fire. However, there was no confirmation on whether any of the militants were killed.
Family members of Humayun Bhat mourning at his residence
Additional Director General of Police (Kashmir) Vijay Kumar on Tuesday said that LeT Commander Uzair Khan had been killed in Gadool and a lifeless body was also seen near the encounter spot.
ADGP Kumar held Uzair Khan as responsible for the killing of an Army Colonel, Major and a DySP on the first day of the gunfight. “We had information about the presence of two to three terrorists in the area,” the ADGP said on the seventh day of the Gadool operation.
Nizam-e-Jinaza of DSP Humayun Bhat of Jammu and Kashmir police, son of retired senior police officer.
He also urged people not to go close to the encounter site, as unexploded grenades and shells may cause harm to them.
The hilltop where the Army claimed that militants were hiding.
On total casualties from the government forces side, the ADGP said: “Three officers, two from the Army and one from the police, besides a soldier were killed in the encounter.”
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.