HT THIS DAY: Sept 19, 2016 — 17 soldiers killed in Kashmir, PM Modi vows action
Srinagar/New Delhi- Heavily armed militants attacked an army base in north Kashmir early Sunday (September 18) and killed 17 soldiers, triggering calls for a swift retaliation that could squeeze the space for any détente between India and Pakistan.
The dawn raid surprised soldiers in their sleep as attackers lobbed grenades and set fire to tents and shelters. The blaze killed 12 troopers and the rest died in the gunfight, sources added. TV images showed helicopters flying to evacuate the wounded and smoke billowing from the mountainous base at Uri, which houses about 12,000 troops.
Soldiers killed four “fidayeen” — or commando-style gunmen willing to fight to death — after an hours-long gunbattle to end what was the worst single attack on the army in years. More than 20 soldiers were wounded, some of them seriously.
The attack jeopardised hopes of peace returning quickly to Kashmir which has been rocked by two months of violent protests in which 86 people have been killed and thousands injured. Sources said the raid was part of a fresh wave of infiltration by militants from across the Line of Control, the heavily militarised de-facto border with Pakistan.
CALL FOR RETALIATION
A top army official said the attack pointed to the involvement of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad, which was also blamed by India for the Pathankot airbase attack in January. Islamabad denied any involvement.
Sunday’s attack led to calls for an aggressive response, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowing to punish those behind the “cowardly” and “despicable” attack. No one has so far claimed responsibility but home minister Rajnath Singh hit out at Pakistan, calling it a terrorist state that needed to be “identified and isolated”.
Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, director general of military operations, said the militants could be from the JeM as some of the equipment recovered from them had Pakistan markings. He said four AK-47rifles, four under barrel grenade launchers and ammunition were found on the dead militants.
Islamabad rejected the charge with the foreign office saying that New Delhi always blamed Pakistan for such incidents even before completing a probe.
The attack is likely to further roil Kashmir that army sources say has seen scores of infiltration attempts since protests broke out against insurgent leader Burhan Wani’s killing in July.
The Uri attack came within hours of the Uttarakhand police chief revealing that the Centre had sent out an alert for possible terrorist strike on defence installations in North India.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar visited Srinagar for a meeting with top army commanders and home minister Rajnath Singh cancelled scheduled trips to Russia and the United States. Army chief Dalbir Singh and northern command head DS Hooda also rushed to Uri. Home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi will visit Srinagar on Monday.