May 2003 News

Army Moves 10,000 Troops To Nail Terrorists

29 May 2003
The Indian Express

New Delhi: Turning on the heat after Operation Sarp Vinash in the Surankote sector, the Army has moved in 10 battalions (nearly 10,000 men) to nail terrorists north of the Pir Panjal. As many as 45 militants have been gunned down and another 10, including an Al Qaeda operative, taken captive this week. Official sources in New Delhi today confirmed Army force levels have been increased in the Poonch- Naushera sector to strengthen the counter-insurgency grid, forcing militants to engage security forces or move out from their hideouts. But Army commanders have rejected suggestions of a Kargil-type intrusion, pointing out that the present situation is entirely different. Maintaining there was intelligence information on the presence of militants, they said the Army had to seek the cooperation of the Jammu and Kashmir government in blocking the operational areas. The operations could not begin until the authorities came up with an incentive package for the gujjars and bakarwals (shepherds) to compensate them for not taking their flocks to meadows in the upper reaches. The Army, in the meantime, has also started fencing 275 km of the Line of Control (LoC), prone to infiltration. Nearly 4,000 personnel from the Corps of Engineers are working round the clock to ensure that the work's completed on time. By next year, South Block sources say, fencing work will intensify and will be undertaken along 600 km. 'We plan to put up electrified fences along key points along the LoC to ensure that infiltration can be checked,' a senior Army official said. The spurt in terrorist kills by security forces has been a fallout of the operations at Hill Kaka where an estimated 350 terrorists were believed to have taken refuge. For the Army, the operations, still underway, have been a watershed for several reasons. In a terrain dotted with mountains, sending in a large force was a logistic challenge. Throughout the winter, Army engineers toiled to produce a 18 km track to Hill Kaka and surrounding areas. Earlier, Hill Kaka could be approached through only two routes, one from Bafliaz and the other from Sangla Nala, a distance that would require over 10 hours of trekking through treacherous terrain. This, say senior officers, ruined the surprise element,key to the success of all counter-terrorist operations. The fact that the bakarwals were kept away with a Rs 7.65 crore compensation package also ensured that the terrorists were unaware of the Army's movements ahead of Operation Sarp Vinash. As hard intelligence kept flowing in, the Army also started work on three helipads which would serve as the backbone of the whole operation. As the first team of special forces flew into Hill Kaka on April 21 for the first assault, troops were moving in from the heights surrounding the area. 'We had launched several operations in the last two years but this time we managed to establish a logistic base before we moved in,' said a senior officer. 'Unlike past operations in this area, we can now maintain a battalion-size force to ensure that terrorists don't return.' While senior Army officers reserve comment on the benefits of the Hill Kaka operations, they point out that several major routes into the Valley have now been sealed. So far, military intelligence has recorded seven infiltration bids and an ex- filtration bid. But senior Army commanders also admit that radio intercepts and intelligence reports indicate that Islamabad has imposed some curbs recently. 'But as far as the Army's concerned, we will believe those reports when it manifests on ground,' a senior officer said.


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