Soldiers run towards the site where fidayeen attacked an army installation in Uri | Photo: Faisal Khan
Srinagar/ Baramulla: Seventeen Indian soldiers were killed and 30 others injured in one of the deadliest strikes on the army in Uri in north Kashmir before the crack of dawn on Sunday. Local residents said they suspected war had broken out between India and Pakistan as they heard deafening blasts and heavy smoke billowing from the garrison area in the outskirts of the town.
The attack occurred at a time when a public uprising against Indian rule has crippled the authority of the government and brought normal life to a grinding halt. The attack coincides with the UN General Assembly session, where Kashmir situation is likely to remain a talking point.
The Indian director general of military operations Lt Gen Ranbir Singh called up his Pakistani counterpart shortly after the attack to convey India’s “serious concerns”.
Defence sources said the the attack began at around 4:30am. Basit Ahmad, a resident of Uri town, told Kashmir Reader that they presumed it was cross border shelling and several residents began moving to safe places behind the mountains or bunkers. He said soon after the attack the army closed the main gate on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road and prevented all non-army people including policemen and media persons from proceeding towards the encounter site.
Major attacks on army in J&K
21 Feb 2016: 3 army commandos, including two Captains killed in a fierce gunfight in Pampore.
5 Dec 2014: 8 soldiers, 3 policemen, 8 militants, 2 civilians in Uri
24 Jun 2013: 10 soldiers in Lashkar attack on an army convoy at Hyderpora
19 Jul 2008: 10 soldiers killed in an IED explosion triggered by Hizbul Mujahideen at Narbal
24 Jun 2005: 9 soldiers killed and 21 others injured in an attack on army convoy by Hizb along Dal lake, Srinagar
22 Jul 2003: 8 soldiers (including a Brigadier) killed when three fidayeen storms an army camp in Akhnoor, Jammu
28 Jun 2003: 12 soldiers killed after an attack on an army camp in Sunjwan, Jammu
14 May 2002: 34 people, including 22 soldiers killed when fidayeen stormed Kaluchak army camp in Jammu
3 Nov 1999: 10 soldiers killed in fidayeen attack at Badami Bagh, Srinagar
Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and army chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag rushed in from New Delhi to take stock of the situation.
Sources said that militants breached the rear fence of the Infantry battalion of Army’s 12th brigade to carry out the strike. The formation is strategically fenced with several gates for entry. However, the attackers chose the rear side to sneak in indicating that they were in full knowledge of the area’s landscape. “They lobbed grenades and fired automatic weapons. Most of the soldiers were sleeping when the attack occurred,” an officer in the area, on condition of anonymity said.
Defence sources said that at the time of attack the battalion headquarters was filled with soldiers almost double of its usual presence. This was due to a periodic reshuffle of the battalion as 6 Bihar Regiment was taking over from the 10 Dogra Regiment. The hand-over and takeover was underway when the fidayeen struck the formation.
As many as fifteen soldiers of the Bihar regiment and two from Dogra regiment have been killed in the attack. Sources said the intelligence agencies had alerted the army of a possible attack in Uri area. Locals said that they witnessed heavy patrolling of the army in some of the villages where usually the army was not seen.
The target of the fidayeen attack is barely 100 meteres from the 12 brigade, one of the two brigades stationed in Uri, which has been a strategically important location since the partition of Kashmir. The two brigades are the fronts of Srinagar-based XV Corps and manage the vast Line of Control area through dense forests and inhospitable terrain. The area has been one of the main gateways in early 1990s when hordes of armed militants arrived in Kashmir to start an armed rebellion against India. The area witnessed heavy shelling in 1998. A deadlier militant strike also occurred in the area on December 5, 2014, when six fidayeen militants killed 11 personnel including a Lieutenant Colonel.
‘Those behind attack won’t go unpunished’
Prime Minister Narendar Modi said that those behind the “cowardly” and “despicable” attack on the army base at Uri will not go unpunished.
“We strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Uri. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished,” Modi tweeted after the early morning attack.
He said he had spoken to Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on the situation in the wake of the terror attack.
A senior journalist who has covered Kashmir conflict since 1989 told Kashmir Reader that this is the deadliest strike by militants inflicting huge casualties on the army. “The death toll is likely to increase as several soldiers are critically wounded. This is the maximum number of casualties, fatal or otherwise, in a single militant strike,” he said.
The army faced a tough challenge in airlifting the injured soldiers as massive fire had engulfed the entire area. The 92 Base Hospital in Srinagar, for the first time, had to call civilian doctors for assistance when the injured soldiers arrived. Sources said that a group of surgeons was called from Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) to assist the Army Medical Corps (AMC) doctors.
Sources acquainted with the Uri terrain said that the fidayeen might have sneaked into the area during the night and straightway carried out the attack. “The area where the militants struck is away from the civilian population. It is possible that the militants have sneaked through Sokad and Shukdar areas and crossed a stream. The LoC is just 6 kilometers from the area,” they said.
India immediately puts blame on Pakistan without doing any investigation. We reject this
Nafees Zakaria, Pakistan foreign office spokesman
The defence spokesman said a group of heavily armed militants targeted the rear administrative base of a unit at Uri.
“The administrative base had large strength of troops of units turning over after their tour of duty who were stationed in tents/temporary shelters which caught fire, and resulted in heavy casualties,” he said.
The attack was so intense that the soldiers could not retaliate in real earnest and a devastating fire engulfed the area. It was after the Special Forces were airdropped in the area that a combat operation began that ultimately neutralized the attackers. The army said that war-like stores recovered from the slain militants bore Pakistani markings. The unidentified militants are suspected to be Jaish-e-Muhammad cadre.
Refuting the unfounded and premature Indian allegations, the Pakistan DGMO asked his counterpart to share any actionable intelligence
Statement issued by Inter-Services Public Relations, Pakistan army’s media wing
Some of the slain soldiers have been identified as Sub Karnail Singh and Havaldar Ravi Paul, both be;longing to 10 Dogra Reginet and Sep Rakesh Singh, Sep Javra Nanda, Sep Naiman Kujur,Sep Upjan Rao, Hav (chef) N S Rawat, Sep (painter) Ganesh Shankar, Naik SK Vidharthi,Sep (chef) Ghorai, Lance Naik (chef) G Shankar,Sep (chef) G Dalai and lance Naik R K Yadav, all belonging to 6 Bihar Regiment.
Mohammad Yousuf, another resident of Uri told Kashmir Reader that during the entire day they saw dozens of helicopter sorties in the sky, apparently evacuating injured soldiers from the encounter site.
The Uri attack occurred at a time when normal life in Kashmir is crippled by an anti-India uprising that triggered off after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8. The timing of the attack is significant in the backdrop of ongoing summit of United Nations Security Coucil in New York where the current Kashmir situation is likely to bring India and Pakistan to blows.
(With inputs from from Mushtaq Ahmad)