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Militant Sightings, Claims of JeM 'Hand': What We Know on the Rajouri Encounter That Killed 4 Jawans

The operation was launched following an encounter in Rajouri’s Budhal on November 17, in which a militant was killed.
Representative image of barbed wire in Kashmir. Photo: Anuj Gupta/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)

The ongoing anti-militancy operation in which two Army officers among four soldiers lost their lives in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri started on Sunday, November 19, following repeated sightings of militants in the hilly district, The Wire has learnt.

The operation was launched following an encounter in Rajouri’s Budhal on Friday, November 17, in which a militant was killed. After this encounter, at least two tip-offs to security forces indicated that militants were seeking food from locals in some residential areas of Rajouri, sources said.

An official spokesperson said that a joint team of security forces comprising the Army and J&K Police among other central paramilitary forces launched a search operation in a forested area of Gulabgarh in Kalakote tehsil of Rajouri on Sunday.

As the mopping operation entered its fourth day on Wednesday morning, the joint team came under intense fire by a group of two to three heavily armed militants in Baajimal area. Sources said the intensity of the fire was so high that the joint team had to retreat, leaving some of the injured behind, and regroup, before taking on the militants.

The Peoples Anti-Fascist Force (PAFF) which the officials believe is an offshoot of the banned, Pakistan-based terror outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammad, has claimed responsibility for the attack, according to open source intelligence posts on social media. The Wire couldn’t immediately verify the authenticity of these posts.

The deadly shootout bears resemblance to a similar attack on security forces in south Kashmir’s Kokernag area earlier this year in which the Army lost a Commanding Officer and a Major among four soldiers while an injured Deputy Superintendent of Police, awaiting rescue, bled to death.

In the Kokernag operation, security forces were following a tip-off about the presence of militants in the mountainous Gadool village which led them into an ambush.

The high-risk operation, in which militants are known to leverage the heights of mountains and dense vegetation to their strategic advantage, turned into one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

The strategic advantages of height and thick forest cover had stretched the encounter in Gadool to six days as security forces proceeded cautiously in order to avoid more casualties in their ranks while closing in around the perpetrators who were hiding on a mountainside with natural, cave-like structures beneath a canopy of dense vegetation.

Whether the PAFF militants deliberately showed up in residential areas of Rajouri recently to bait the security forces and draw them out on a manhunt in the higher reaches of the hilly district without assessing the risks remains a matter of investigation.

A video shot near the site of the shootout, which has gone viral on social media, shows two men in civvies accompanying a team of Army soldiers who are hauling a cot down a hillock on their shoulders. An unidentified body, purportedly one of the Army soldiers killed in the shootout, is seen in the video laying motionless on the cot under a red blanket.

The Wire couldn’t immediately verify the authenticity of the video.

According to officials, the slain soldiers have been identified as Captain MV Pranjal of 63 Rashtriya Rifles and Captain Shubham Gupta and Havildar Majid Ahmad, of the Army’s elite 9 PARA unit. The identity of the fourth soldier was not immediately known.

An Army major and another soldier were injured in the shootout but their condition is reportedly stable.

Officials said that the bodies of Captain Gupta and Havildar Majid, a resident of J&K’s Poonch, have been recovered. However, due to continuous firing by the heavily-armed militants, the bodies of Captain Pranjal and the unidentified soldier have not been retrieved so far.

Pir Panjal a militancy epicentre

Following the reading down of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union territories, the Pir Panjal region, which comprises twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch, and parts of Reasi district, has emerged as a new epicentre of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

While the militancy-related violence and local recruitment has gone down significantly in Kashmir Valley, the focus of violence has seemingly shifted to Jammu which was a militancy-free region before August 5, 2019.

Some of the deadliest attacks on security forces and civilians have been reported from Rajouri since 2019. Five soldiers of the Army’s Special Forces unit were killed in an ambush in Budhal area of Rajouri while an officer was injured in an IED explosion in May this year.

Six civilians including two children were killed on the New Year’s eve this year in Dhangri area of Rajouri. In 2022, five soldiers were killed in a predawn suicide attack on an Army camp in Rajouri’s Darhal area.

According to officials, an unspecified number of highly trained militants, believed to be foreigners, have taken refuge in the upper reaches of Pir Panjal region where they plan terror attacks on civilians and security forces.

Security agencies believe that some locals in Pir Panjal region provide logistical support to these foreigners by using mobile phones that run on the SIM cards of Pakistan-based telecom operators. The signal of some of these operators spills over into Jammu and Kashmir along the Line of Control, officials said.

The J&K Police has also blamed Pakistan for supplying arms, ammunition, cash and drugs through the Line of Control using human resources and drones.

Earlier, a spokesperson of the Army’s Jammu-based 16 Corps said on X that a joint team of security forces established contact with the militants in Rajouri on Thursday morning and an intense firefight broke out in which an unspecified number of terrorists were injured.

“Operations are in progress, amidst acts of valour and sacrifice by own bravehearts in trying to prevent collateral damage to women and children in the highest traditions of #IndianArmy. #Whiteknightcorps salutes the supreme sacrifice,” the Army spokesperson said on X.

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