The fierce gunfight in Kashmir’s Keran sector that looked like a massive infiltration attempt 10 days ago has now snowballed into a battle for “territorial control” between the Indian Army and Pakistan-backed terrorists, a security official told Hindustan Times.
“The sheer force of firing by a large group of about 40 well-trained terrorists, being helped by Pakistan’s special forces, has forced the army out of some of its vantage positions,’’ the official said of the incident that has prompted some to draw to comparisions with crossborder intrusions that led to the Kargil war.
The intrusion in the frontier district of Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir has been reported within days of India and Pakistan agreeing to resolve tension along the Line of Control, which has seen a spike in ceasefire violations this year.
The army, however, denied being pushed out of its posts.
"(The) situation is not anywhere close to Kargil," said Gen. Bikram Singh, chief of Indian Army.
“We are dominating from all sides. They (intruders) are holed up there. We will take them out," he said. "It's a matter of time. All such operations take time."
New Delhi-based IANS news service said two militants were killed in the gunfire reported early Friday.
Indian troops have been locked in a major gun battle with about 30-40 terrorists and suspected Pakistan army special forces since September 23 -- almost a week before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to meet his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New York on September 29.
Reports on Thursday said 10-12 more infiltrators had joined the terrorists.
The army has laid a cordon to prevent the infiltrators from sneaking into the Kashmir Valley but the focus now is on reclaiming territory and pushing the infiltrators back across the line of control breached at multiple points.
Speaking to PTI in Islamabad, a Pakistani army spokesman denied its involvement as “baseless and a blatant lie’’. A military source, however, admitted that the audacious infiltration attempt was made last week as that particular part of the LoC was vulnerable with a rotation of units underway.
The bid was made when 3/3 Gorkha Rifles, deployed in the Karen sector for almost three years, was making way for 20 Kumaon.
Sometimes units tend to drop guard at the fag-end of the LoC tenure and terrorists attempt to exploit that ‘window’, a senior army official told HT.
On August 6, too, five Indian soldiers were killed in a cross-border raid in the Poonch sector during a changeover.
The gun battle in Karen is showing no signs of abating. The army, a government official told HT, was not willing to set a time frame.
That the standoff in the heights of Keran that are also heavily wooded is different from previous infiltration attempts was clear when Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh, GoC, 15 Corps, spoke to mediapersons on Wednesday. He didn’t deny the fact that while bodies of infiltrators had been spotted, they had not been retrieved.
He confirmed that the daring infiltration bid and the firepower of the intruders clearly indicated the support of Pakistani special forces.
Indian army sources said sporadic firing was still on and the gun battle would continue for at least a couple of days. “The operation is entering its terminal stage and could take another 12 to 36 hours,’’ said the army spokesperson.