SRINAGAR: Indian army, in an unprecedented acknowledgment, Wednesday said that it was not getting support from local population in its operations against Kashmiri militants with army chief General Bipin Rawat issuing a stern message that the civilians trying to help militants during military operations will be dealt with like militants.

Army Chief warned those attacking security forces during anti-militancy operations of "tough action”, saying hostile conduct of local population was causing higher casualties of army personnel.

Gen Rawat was speaking to reporters a day after four soldiers, including an officer, were killed in two separate encounters with militants in North Kashmir. A large crowd of local population had come out of their houses in Bandipora hampering the military operation allowing trapped militants to escape the army dragnet.

The army chief rued that the army was not getting support from the local population despite trying to conduct "people-friendly operations". “At a time the militants have graduated to villages, harsher measures were needed to control the local boys,” he said.

General Rawat said security forces in Jammu and Kashmir were facing higher casualties due to the manner in which the local population was preventing them from conducting the operations and "at times even supporting the militants to escape".

"We would now request the local population that people who have picked up arms, and they are the local boys, if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of ISIS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them.

"They may survive today but we will get them tomorrow. Our relentless operations will continue," the Army Chief said.

General Rawat said those supporting militant activities are being given an opportunity to join the national mainstream but, if they continue with their acts, security forces will come down hard on them.

Former Union Minister P Chidambaram called the Army Chief's comments "intemperate" and would be a "wrong approach to Jammu and Kashmir".

Over the last few months, security men involved in anti-insurgency operations in Kashmir's villages have been frequently targeted by slogan-shouting, stone-throwing residents. In several cases, it had enabled the militants to escape, police sources have said.

On last Sunday, an encounter in South Kashmir town of Kulgam was followed by protests, during which the protestors had tried to break cordon. One civilian was killed in firing by forces on unarmed protestors and over twenty others injured of whom majority was hit by bullets.