2 Majors, 3 Militants Killed In Gunbattle
2 October 2007
The Daily Excelsior
Srinagar: Two officers of Rashtriya Rifles 34 Bn and at least three militants are believed to have died in a fierce gunbattle between militants and security forces in Tangmarg-Beerwah belt of central Kashmir today. Thick reinforcement of troops has laid siege to a vast locality as the specific information made available to Army by its intelligence network suggested presence of at least 13 militants of Al-Badar militants in the cordoned area. Informed sources told EXCELSIOR that troops of Victor Force's RR 34 Bn intercepted a thick group of Al- Badar militants at Ringawari hamlet, bordering Baramulla and Budgam districts in Tangmarg area, in the morning today. Beerwah-based headquarters of RR 34 Bn had launched the major operation after receiving information that the most wanted guerrilla commander of Tangmarg-Beerwah belt, Bilal Afghani alias Chhota Bilal, alongwith his close associates Mohammad Sultan Bhat alias Rayees Khan and Janbaz Afghani, had gone to receive a freshly infiltrated group of eight to 10 militants. The heavily armed group of militants is said to have infiltrated into the Valley through Gulmarg range. Sources said that at first sight Bilal and his associates opened heavy volume of gunfire on the Army column. It was in the initial round of firing that Maj K P Vinay, resident of Hyderabad, got killed and four of his colleagues, including another Major, sustained critical injuries. They were evacuated, airlifted and admitted to Army's 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar where the critically wounded officer breathed his last. According to sources, two of the soldiers were still critical and the third one was responding to the treatment. Notwithstanding two fatal casualties of officers, troops maintained a tight cordon around the hamlet. Preliminary reports said that Bilal and two his associates ran away and took shelter inside a house while eight to 10 fresh militants were believed to be hiding in a cluster of houses. Senior Army officers, including Commander of Budgam-based 12 Sector, Brig Kuldeep, and Commanding Officer of RR 34 Bn, Col Harcharan Singh, rushed to the embattled hamlet and supervised the daylong military operation. Troops sent in the village headman to persuade the holed up militants to come out and surrender but they opened fire and the middle-aged civilian received a gunshot in his hand. Later, troops directed heavy gunfire on the target houses. Sources said that till late tonight, troops had destroyed five residential houses. Bilal, the 'Divisional Commander' of Al-Badar, who has been operating in Tangmarg-Beerwah belt since 2003, was believed dead alongwith both of his associates. Sources said that even after destroying five houses, a fierce gunbattle was underway between the militants and security forces. Army's spokesperson at headquarters 15 Bn, Lt Col A K Mathur, maintained that one officer of the rank of Major had got killed and two more, including a Major and a Sepoy, had sustained injuries. He said that both the injured were under treatment at 92 Base Hospital. Late this evening, Col Mathur said that the encounter was in progress. He said that he had no information regarding death of any militant in the operation. However, sources, believed to be more informed, insisted that two officers of the rank of Major died and three soldiers of the rank of Sepoy sustained injuries. They said that at least three militants had got killed by 1700 hours this evening. These sources said that more casualties, including those of four to eight militants, were likely in the next 24 hours. Semi-forest Ringwari Baroo area, which falls between Beerwah and Tangmarg on the borderline between Budgam and Baramulla districts, has remained infested with militants of Al-Badar and Lashkar-e-Toiba in the past but it is two years after the gunbattle at Zandpal village that a major encounter has taken place between the militants and security forces. In 2005, a group of three militants had been trapped in a similar operation at Zandpal in the same area but it had managed to break the cordon and escape while killing a Major. One student had also got killed in the crossfiring that day. Felling of forest trees and increasing timber smuggling in this area in the last two years were being interpreted as an indication of militant-free zone. Meanwhile, sources in south Kashmir said that troops of RR 44 Bn launched a cordon-and-search operation at Kanikot Yarwan, near Chak Badri Nath in Rajpora-Pulwama belt, after receiving information that two militants were present at a hideout. However, the four-hour-long search operation, which was withdrawn in the evening, yielded nothing. Sources said that both the militants were believed to have escaped.