Jaish operative, owner of car used in Pulwama attack, killed in Anantnag encounter
Security forces in Jammu and Kashmir achieved a crucial breakthrough on Tuesday when they killed the alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) operative whose van was used in the February 14 bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Pulwama, but faced the prospect of new challenges after a spurt in militant attacks led to the deaths of at least nine soldiers in less than a week.
On June 12, five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed by militants in Anantnag – the most casualties in a single day since the February 14 incident when 40 troopers had died. A sixth person injured in the attack, J&K Police station house officer Arshad Khan, succumbed the next day.
On Monday, militants carried out a bombing in a manner similar to the February incident, causing the deaths of two soldiers who succumbed to injuries on Tuesday. Hours earlier, an Indian army Major had died during a gunfight.
Later on Tuesday, militants also lobbed a grenade at a police station in Pulwama, leading to an explosion that left three civilians with grievous injuries.
Officials in the security establishment said the increase was expected. “Over 115 terrorists — an unusually large number in comparison to past years — have been killed in the first six months. The terror leadership has been wiped out. Most terror groups are directionless. They [terror groups] had to show they are still relevant,” an official said, asking not to be named.
“In the coming weeks, operations will intensify further,” a second senior official in the counterterror infrastructure said, adding: “Money supply has been choked, terror groups have suffered huge losses, a desperate counter-action was expected. We are aware and have planned accordingly”.
JeM claimed responsibility for the February attack, which was the deadliest on Indian security forces in the three decades of insurgency in region and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war. India also bombed a terror camp in Balakot on Pakistani soil, triggering retaliation from the neighbour and a confrontation of air forces that led to the downing of jets on each side.
On Tuesday, Sajad Ahmad Bhat and Tawseef Ahmad Bhat, both residents of Marhama-Bijbehara in Anantnag, were killed in a gunbattle with a joint team of army, police and CRPF personnel who had cordoned off Marhama village and launched a search, acting on an intelligence input.
The police said Sajad Bhat was the owner of the Maruti Eeco car used in the Pulwama suicide bombing. “As the news of Sajad’s involvement spread, he escaped and joined proscribed terror outfit JeM.
A picture of Sajad carrying an AK-47 rifle was also circulated on social media announcing his joining the outfit. “Tawseef played a key role in recruiting Sajad,” a police officer said on condition of anonymity.
The February 14 Pulwama strike on the Jammu-Srinagar highway and the June 12 terror attack on KP Road in Anantnag occurred on key stretches that will also be used as routes for the Amarnath Yatra, which will begin in July.
According to experts, the number of deaths in the last week is worrying. “Due to intensity of operations, forces at times become careless which result in causalities. The incidents happened one after another and in my opinion there is failure in planning or execution,” said Brigadier (retd) Anil Gupta.
(With inputs from Sudhi Ranjan Sen in New Delhi)