New terrorist build-up near Hil Kaka
5 December 2003
Surankote: A large-scale terrorist build-up is under way in Sillan Dhoke, on the fringes of the Hil Kaka area in Poonch. The new build-up comes months after a massive military offensive, Operation Sarp Vinash, cleared the Hil Kaka bowl of terrorists, and amid a cessation of military hostilities along the Line of Control. Sillan Dhoke, like Hil Kaka, offers terrorists easy access to the passes across the Pir Panjal range into southern Kashmir. At least three intelligence reports have suggested terrorists are building up caches of rations and semi-permanent shelters to replace the facilities now denied to them in Hil Kaka. Intelligence estimates suggest upwards of 50 terrorists, mainly from the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Tehrik-ul- Jihad Islami, are now operating in the area. As such, Sillan Dhoke threatens to become a safe haven for terrorists, much as Hil Kaka once was. Residents of the Marhot area, the main line of access to Sillan Dhoke, say terrorists have made them haul substantial supplies of wood, grain, tarpaulin and gas cylinders up into the mountains. Officials who spoke to The Hindu said these movements indicated that semi-fortified shelters were being built in the area. Soldiers who moved into Hil Kaka during Operation Sarp Vinash discovered several such structures, often built around the stone huts used by migrant Gujjar herdsmen to shelter themselves and their livestock during the summer. Two Army units, the 45 battalion and 40 battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles, are deployed around the Sillan Dhoke area. The 45 Rashtriya Rifles has the responsibility for the Marhot area, which provides the main route of access through the mountains into Sillan Dhoke. Sillan Dhoke is a five-hour walk from Marhot, and a three-hour walk from Jabbi Toti, the nearest military post. Neither unit has launched offensive operations in the Sillan Dhoke area since the end of Operation Sarp Vinash. Army sources said the crack 9 Paracommando Regiment carried out covert reconnaissance activities above the Marhot area earlier this week, although it is unclear if these were linked with future offensive plans in Sillan Dhoke. The Rajouri-based Romeo Counter-Insurgency Force has also sanctioned the construction of a road from Surankote to Marhot, which would help future operations. Similar terrorist assertion is increasingly evident both east and west of Hil Kaka. At least some of those present in the Hil Kaka bowl have now set up base along the Thana Mandi-Azmatabad axis in Rajouri. Earlier this month, Mohammad Akbar, the village headman of Azmatabad, was brutally beaten by terrorists for having encouraged local men to volunteer for recruitment in new Territorial Army units. Mr. Akbar had to be flown to Jammu, and is now being treated for multiple fractures at the Government Medical College, Jammu. Marhot headman Noor Ahmad received similar treatment two months ago. Officials are working to create armed self-defence groups, called Village Defence Committees, to protect both Azmatabad and Marhot from attack. The new, locally-raised Territorial Army units, when trained, may also be deployed in these areas. A Village Defence Committee already helps in the Marrah valley, another major line of access to Hil Kaka. Army officials say the armed group has helped ensure terrorists are unable to re-establish themselves in the Hil Kaka bowl. If nothing else, though, the new build-up has exposed the limitations of Sarp Vinash-type ground-holding operations in rural Jammu. While Sarp Vinash attracted considerable controversy for overstating its successes, as represented by the numbers of terrorists killed, it did succeed in ridding the Hil Kaka bowl of terrorists. A full battalion of the Rashtriya Rifles, or some 1,000 soldiers, is now permanently deployed in the bowl to keep terrorists from reoccupying the area. This has been a source of huge relief to villagers who had to suffer a parallel Jihadi government, notably in the Marrah valley. None the less, the terrorists present in Hil Kaka have simply moved base &*151; and there are simply not enough troops to deploy in force everywhere they might choose to go along the Pir Panjal. A top military official, however, said that the Army was aware of developments in Sillan Dhoke, and suggested that action would be taken in the near future. 'We know just what's up,' the Northern Army Commander, Lieutenant-General Hari Prasad, said, 'but sometimes it is best to fatten up the chicken before going for the kill.'