Jammu: The combing and search operation by the multi-grid security forces to clean up forests in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district of militants entered the 19th day on Friday, with officials claiming it to be probably the longest exercise in many years.
An Army officer said there was no contact with militants in the last few days but efforts were on to track them down and clean up the belt of their presence.
The last contact with militants followed an encounter between terrorists and a joint search party on October 24.
A Pakistani militant, who was shifted from the Kot Bhalwal Central Jail in Jammu to Mendhar on police remand for questioning in connection with the ongoing operation, was killed when security force personnel accompanying him to identify a hideout came under fire from militants.
“The anti-terror operation to clean up forests in the belt is on. It is probably the longest-drawn operation in many many years,” the Army officer told PTI.
Armed with sophisticated weapons, a large number of Army personnel and policemen are battling the threat of ambushes and IEDs to carry out cleaning up operations in dense forests, valleys and cave hideouts.
The operation at Bhatti Durian in Mendhar, along with Surankote forest in Poonch and Thanamandi in Rajouri continued for the 19th day to flush out a group of terrorists who attacked Army search parties on October 11 and 14, killing nine soldiers, including two Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs).
Over a dozen people, including two women, were detained for questioning after it came to light that they had allegedly provided logistic support to the terrorists, officials said, adding during this operation, four IEDs planted by terrorists were detected and defused safely.
The security forces also busted a hideout last week at the encounter site in Bhatti Durrian forest, leading to the recovery of an assault rifle, a magazine with 29 rounds, two grenades, and two detonators, officials said.
Although the combing operation was launched after the detection of suspicious movement two months ago, the first contact with terrorists occurred on October 11 then again on October 14.
While a JCO and four security personnel laid down their lives in a gunfight during the counter-insurgency operation in Surankote forest of Poonch on October 11, four other soldiers, including another JCO, died in an encounter in Nar Khas forest in Mendhar on October 14.
After suffering nine casualties, the Army has upped the ante against terrorists holed up in the jungles of Poonch in the Jammu region, asking locals not to venture out of their homes and blocking main roads for a full-scale operation, officials said.
Last Tuesday, Army Chief General M M Naravane visited forward areas along the Line of Control to review the ground situation and ongoing counter-infiltration operations in Poonch.
In 2009, Poonch was the theatre of a nine-day operation and encounter with terrorists. Four soldiers, including a JCO, lost their lives while four terrorists were killed in that encounter.
The ongoing operation against militants holed up in the Pir Panjal ridges in the twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch is the longest in the area since 2003, officials said.
In April-May 2003, the Army had launched a massive combing, search and destroy operation in Hill Kaka area of Surankote belt of Poonch district and killed 83 terrorists, most of them foreign mercenaries.