Following a series of attacks by militants on policemen and looting of banks in J&K, security forces and police have launched a massive “cordon and combing” operation in south Kashmir’s Shopian district. A senior Army official told The Indian Express that an operation “of this magnitude has not been undertaken in Kashmir in at least the last 15 years”. Army chief General Bipin Rawat told reporters on Thursday that the operation was being carried out to bring the situation under control. “The combing operation is going on as some banks were looted and some policemen have been killed. It has been launched to ensure that the situation is brought under control. These operations are carried out regularly,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, a senior official said, “A cordon operation of this magnitude has not been undertaken in Kashmir in at least the last 15 years… The purpose of the operation is to exert pressure on militants and force them to move out of their comfort zone. The ravines and orchards around Rambiara river provide ideal hideouts for militants, and they will not be able to congregate and move in large groups now.”
Sources said the operation involved nearly 4,000 troops, which included four battalions of Rashtriya Rifles (RR), eight companies of CRPF, and five platoons of J&K police, including 30 women constables. An area of nearly 10 km-10 km, along the Rambiara river was cordoned off by the troops, under the local RR sector commander, early in the morning and sweep operations continued throughout the day.
According to sources, 12-15 villages in the area were affected, which included Truqwangam, Sugandh, Hef Shermal and Nagbal. These villages are considered to be hostile to security forces, and fall at the centre of Yaripura, Pulwama and Kulgam where instances of rifle-snatching from police have been reported in the past week.
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The topography of the area and the fact that it falls on the boundary of two RR sectors also lends itself suitable for hideouts of militants. The return of “area domination and sweep” operations — including the cordoning of a number of villages — by such a large body of troops is throwback to the 1990s, when such actions by the Army were common. But when these operations started causing discomfort to the local population, the Army switched to specific intelligence-based operations undertaken by small teams.
There was no confirmation from the Army if Thursday’s operation reflected a shift in its operational philosophy in Kashmir. But sources confirmed that the Army is focused on asserting its physical control over the area and intensity of operations will be dictated by that consideration. The senior official said the operation was in the offing for over a month, but police and CRPF were not available due to the Anantnag Lok Sabha bypoll scheduled for May 25. “Once the bypoll was cancelled, police and the CRPF have moved from ‘law and order mode’ to ‘CT (counter-terrorist) mode’. It has little to do with any immediate provocation,” said the official.