Mystery surrounding the 15-day long gun battle in Shala Bhato in Jammu and Kashmir’s Keran sector is only deepening with reports now emerging that not only were dead bodies of the infiltrators not found, but the Indian army has not recovered a single weapon from the encounter site.
Lt Gen Gurmit Singh, Corps Commander, 15 Corps — under whose operational area Keran falls — confirmed to HT that their prolonged searches for over six days have failed to bear results. “Eight search teams comprising 150 soldiers conducted searches over six days but it appears that they (the terrorists) were able to take bodies and material back,’’ he said in his first interview after the operation was called off on Oct 8.
Search parties including specialised forces and sniffer dogs were pressed into service along 3 km of frontage along the LoC. Singh admitted he was under considerable pressure to produce the bodies he said had been sighted by his troops. He had made this assertion in a press conference in Srinagar on Oct 2.
The question is where did the weapons and the bodies go. Singh says the arms haul made in the adjoining areas of Gujjardur and Fateh Gali was probably taken from the Shala Bhato area. As for bodies, he says, “In principle, I don’t like to claim bodies until I have them in my hand but my troops have confirmed they had seen dead bodies of the terrorists,’’ Singh said, adding, “I even asked them if they had taken photographs and they said, ‘Sir, there was heavy firing, how could we take pictures?’’
It is evident that the battle entered into its 15th day, before it was finally called off, only because of the desperate search for weapons and bodies. Lt. Singh confirmed that the last exchange of fire between his troops and the infiltrators took place on the afternoon of Oct 2. Between Oct 3 and 9, the search teams scoured the dense jungles and ravines looking for fresh graves and areas that had been recently dug up but found nothing.
He said at least 30 to 40 armed terrorists opened heavy fire on Indian posts in Shala Bhato on the precise day the 3/3 Gurkha Regiment took charge on September 24. What is worrying is that the Pakistani army had exact information of the date on which a new army unit had taken charge in the Keran sector.
Equally worrying is the fact that the terrorists managed to come into Indian territory, hold the Indian army down for at least eight, if not 15 days, and then leave without a trace.