The Army claimed to have recovered “war-like stores” from about a dozen militant hideouts in the Rajouri-Poonch border belt in the past six months, ahead of the beginning of the gunbattle at Bhatti Dhara in Mendhar in Jammu and Kashmir. The gunbattle between the holed-up militants and security forces in Mendhar — 210 km north of Jammu — entered its seventh day on Wednesday.
Like in the bunkers abandoned by Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry-backed militants during Kargil War in 1999, the stores were found stocked with supplies of rice, flour, sheep skin, arms and ammunition, gas cylinders and utensils. Radio sets have also been recovered.
This indicates the militants were stocking up for a long time for major attacks in future. Brigadier Gurdip Singh, the Brigadier General Staff of 16 Corps, said the militants were “hiding in natural caves” and had not erected bunkers.
The militants “seem to be from JeM (the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad) based on the intercepts we have got,” he said.
Sources confirmed fears of more than one or more “war-like store” depots at the disposal of the militants.
Brigadier Singh said that, along with the stores and the cave cover, extreme weather conditions, including dense fog, were causing difficulties in bringing the “operation flushout” to its logical end.
“We are trying to avoid casualty. The area is very rocky and filled with natural caves. That’s why it is taking time,” Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor said.
Three jawans and four militants have been killed.
“Let’s leave the strategy to the military leadership… The basic approach is to flush out the militants with minimum casualties,” Defence Minister A.K. Antony said.
Antony said that the Poonch stand-off shows “there is no serious attempt by Pakistan to dismantle terror outfits working across the border”.