The 37-hour gunfight, triggered by the fidayeen attack by suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad militants on Central Reserve Police Force’s (CRPF) training centre in south Kashmir ended on Monday morning with the killing of a third militant. On Sunday, five paramilitary personnel and two militants were killed. A video, recorded before the attack, by one of the slain militants also surfaced on social networking sites. “The operation continued throughout the night. One of the militants who was hiding was killed and the operation was concluded,” Special DG, CRPF, S N Srivastava, said. “Since it is a big campus and there are a large number of buildings, search operation is going on. We want to discount chances of anybody hiding there. Though the chances (of any militant hiding) are bleak, we want to be doubly sure”. Srivastava said the militant killed on Monday morning was a foreign national. Security forces found an AK-47 on him with an inscription: “Afzal Guru ka Badla,” said CRPF IG Ravideep Sahi. The inscription is in line with Jaish’s method of linking its attack with the 2013 hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru. In fact, 2014-15 saw a series of early morning attacks in Jammu and Kashmir where attackers left a note about the attack being a revenge for Afzal Guru’s hanging. Even in the January 2016 attack on Pathankot Air Base, attackers had similarly left a note on Afzal Guru in the car they had hijacked to reach the Air Base. In the Nagrota camp attack, too, a note was left behind with attackers calling themselves as being part of the “Afzal Guru Squad”. “This is an old ploy of JeM to give its attack a local flavour and absolve Pakistan of any responsibility,” a security establishment officer said. Asked how the militants sneaked inside the highly fortified camp, Srivastava said his troops were alert. “It is because of (our) alertness that they were limited to one or two buildings,” he said. On the intervening night of December 30 and 31, a three-member fidayeen group had stormed the CRPF training centre at Lethpora in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. After opening indiscriminate fire and lobbing grenades, the militants took shelter in a building inside the camp.
A fierce gunfight started after the Army and J-K police rushed to the camp to help the paramilitary personnel. Five CRPF personnel were killed — one of them because of cardiac arrest — and three were injured in the attack. Two militants Fardeen Ahmad Khanday of Tral and Manzoor Ahmad Baba of Pulwama were also killed by Sunday evening. But when forces launched a mopping-up operation, they were fired upon when they tried to enter the building where the militants were hiding. The exchange of fire continued throughout the night and a militant was killed on Monday morning. From the three militants killed by Army and CRPF over two days, three AK-47 guns, two under-barrel grenade launchers, eight magazines, five grenades, one pouch along with a magazine clip, a flag and eatables were recovered. A video by one of the killed militants, 17-year-old Khanday, who is also the son of a policeman, surfaced on social networking sites. In that, Khanday praises Jaish and is purportedly heard saying: “If all goes well, by the time my message will reach you, I would be a guest of heavens of our creator…If you go by Indian security agency…they say people are joining the Mujahideen because of unemployment. This is no more than propaganda”. He also referred to the Babri demolition and attacks in Pathankot and Pulwama. Meanwhile, the attack has forced a rethink within the CRPF about security arrangements at its various camps in Kashmir.
One of its soldiers, Constable P K Panda, who died on Sunday was a veteran of such encounters. Last year, he was given a gallantry medal for a similar operation in Srinagar. Panda had repulsed a militant attack on Independence Day in 2016 at Nowhatta Chowk in Srinagar. CRPF had lost its commandant Pramod Kumar in the encounter. “We had intelligence inputs that camps could come under attack. We had increased security. But the camp is still under construction and the boundary wall is not fully complete although the entire campus is fenced and there are patrols throughout. It is due to this alertness of our jawans that we were able to corner them and limit their movement and finally neutralise them,” CRPF DG K K Bhatnagar said. Sources said the campus is spread over 130 acres and has a 4-km perimeter wall. “The militants have scaled the wall and come inside after cutting the concertina wire early on Sunday. That patch of the boundary wall is not yet covered with floodlights. The sentry post is about 300 metres away from the place of the breach. It appears the camp had been recced before the attack and militants chose their entry carefully,” a senior CRPF officer said.
By Bashaarat Masood and Deeptiman Tiwary