Fog, Tough Terrain Slowing Poonch Gunbattle: Army

6 January 2009

Jammu: As the gunbattle between security forces and militants in a thick forested area of Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district continued for the sixth day Tuesday, army officials said the thick fog and the tough terrain were slowing their operation, which would continue until the militants are eliminated. ‘The army operation is in progress and the troops are in full control of the situation. The cordon deployed around the forest is intact and search operations were partially hindered due to the dense forests. The number of natural caves also provide hideouts to the militants,’ said Col. D.K. Kachari, spokesman of the Northern Command in Udhampur. ‘It is estimated that there are approximately six-seven militants trapped in the area, of which four have been eliminated during the ongoing encounter as reported in the intercepts,’ he added. The shootout between security forces and militants in the forests in Mendhar area of Poonch erupted Thursday. The army laid siege to the Pati Tar mountainous forest near Mendhar following a tip-off about the presence of a group of hardcore militants in hideouts there. Some top commanders of Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror outfits are reported to be present in the hideouts. An official said that the security forces had laid a ‘three-tier cordon around the dense forested area of Pati Tar’ and that they would launch a commando assault to flush them out. Kachari also ruled out the possibility of the militants having erected bunkers in the area as raised by a few locals. He said: ‘There are no fortified structures or bunkers in the area. But the topography and terrain has possibly provided cover and hideouts for the militants. The army has laid a proper cordon and is taking adequate measures to prevent any escape of terrorists. Owing to the heavy winter fog, thick vegetation and difficult terrain, operations are being undertaken with due care and precautions. The operation is in progress and will be continued till the terrorists are completely eliminated.’ Kachari said that seven people - four militants and three security personnel - were killed in the first two days of the gun battle. On Friday, he had said that the troops had killed four militants but their bodies were not recovered. ‘Soldiers on the ground have sighted the bodies,’ he had said. But residents of Mendhar contest his claim. Mohammad Iqbal told IANS over telephone: ‘No militant has been killed. It is such a deep and dense forest that no one can see at distance.’ The forested area in Mendhar is on the map of traditional infiltration routes of militants sneaking into the Indian side from Pakistan across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the two countries.