JCO, Soldier Killed In Poonch Gunfight, Toll Reaches 9

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Para Commandos Join Offensive As Operation Enters Day 6

Srinagar: Army on Saturday recovered bodies of two soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer (JCO) from a densely forested area in Poonch district; two days after two riflemen of army were killed in an exchange of fire with militants in the same area.

The bodies of Subedar Ajay Singh and Naik Harendra Singh were recovered from densely forested area of Nar Khas in Mendhar area of the district, two days after they lost communication with the search team after the outbreak of fierce firefight with militants on Thursday, a defence spokesperson said Saturday.

In the initial exchange of fire with militants, two riflemen Yogambar Singh and Vikram Singh Negi were killed. Their killing came three days after five soldiers, including a JCO were killed in an encounter with militants in Dera Ki Gali in Poonch on Monday.

There was another exchange of fire between the Army's search parties and the fleeing militants in the adjoining Thanamandi forest in Rajouri the same day but the ultras managed their escape.

“Relentless operations continued to neutralize the terrorists and to re-establish communication with the soldiers. Subedar Ajay Singh and Naik Harendra Singh were killed in action in the fierce fight and their bodies have been recovered in the evening of 16 Oct 21. The operations in the area are continuing,” the defence spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, the army's elite Para commandos have joined the combing operations to flush out the militants, who are believed to be constantly changing positions and engaging the joint team of police and army in firefights. Choppers have also been pressed into service to keep the area under surveillance.

According to reports, the Para commandos joined the offensive against the militants in the dense forests along the twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri, as the operation entered sixth day on Saturday amid reports of exchange of fresh fire near Bhata Dhurian village of Mendhar along highway in Poonch district.

The presence of militants in the forest area connecting Poonch and Rajouri was observed two and a half months ago and accordingly tactical operations were launched to track them down, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Rajouri-Poonch range, Vivek Gupta told reporters.

He said the area is mountainous and the forest is dense, which makes the operation difficult and dangerous.

The joint security grid was tracking different groups of terrorists but operations take time, depending on the topography of the area. The contact with the militants was established on three occasions this week, based on the intelligence inputs, the officer said.

Gupta said the forest area is being sanitised and once the operation is complete, a clear picture will emerge.

“The terrorists are holed up and the joint forces are on the job to take the operation to the logical conclusion as per the Standard Operating Procedure,” he said.

However, he did not disclose the number of militants hiding in the forest area. We have the number and have formed our strategy accordingly.

The officials said gunshots were heard intermittently throughout the day as the joint search parties of the Army and the police resumed the operation in Poonch's Mendhar area.

They said the entire forest area from Mendhar to Thanamandi remains under a strict cordon and a massive search operation is on to neutralise the militants who are moving from one place to another in an attempt to escape the dragnet.

They said the traffic between Mendhar and Thanamandi along the Jammu-Rajouri highway remained suspended for the second day in the wake of the ongoing operation.

Rajouri and Poonch in the Jammu region have witnessed a rise in infiltration attempts since June this year, resulting in the killing of nine militants in separate encounters.

Earlier in the day, a defence spokesperson said the mortal remains of riflemen Negi and Singh were flown to Uttarakhand in a service aircraft Saturday morning after a wreath-laying ceremony.

The aircraft will reach the Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun by 11.30 am, he said.

From the airport, the mortal remains of the soldiers will be taken to their hometowns by road and their last rites will be conducted with full military honours, the spokesman said. (With PTI inputs)

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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