In Kashmir, a56-hour-long gun-battle, the longest in recent years, left three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel including an inspector-rank officer, two policemen, two militants and a civilian dead while at least eight residential houses and three cowsheds suffered damage, CRPF official said.
The slain civilian, identified as Waseem Ahmad Mir, 22, of Sagipora Handwara was killed when forces fired bullets and pellets on protesters near the encounter site on Friday, according to local residents. Quoting a police spokesman in Srinagar, news agency PTI reported that bodies of both the militants were recovered from the site of the encounter and they were affiliated to the Lashkar-e-Toiba. “One of the militants killed in the encounter has been identified as a foreigner from Pakistan, while the identity of the other is being ascertained”, the news agency quoted the spokesman as saying.
He said a CRPF man, Sham Narayan Singh Yadav, who was injured in the exchange of fire on Friday, succumbed to injuries on Sunday, taking the number of forces’ fatalities to five.
Two CRPF personnel—inspector Pintu and constable Vinod and two policemen, selection grade constables Naseer Ahmad and Ghulam Mustafa Barah, were killed in the gunfight on Friday, the spokesman said.
Deputy inspector general of police, north Kashmir range, SulaimanChowdhary said the operation was a “complex one” as it took place “in a congested area”.
“To avoid civilian casualties, the operation got overstretched and ended up after three days,” he said.
He said while the cordon-and-search operation (CASO) was launched on Thursday midnight, the hiding militants opened fire on a search party of the forces, triggering an encounter.
“The gun-battle started on Thursday midnight after militants fired upon the search party. During the operation, civilians were evacuated from the encounter site,” Chowdhary said, addressing a press conference at Handwara.
He said the police had “specific information” about presence of militants in the area, following which the Handwara police, army’s 22 Rashtriya Rifles and CRPF launched a CASO.
Officials say the Babagund operation was one of the longest gun-battles between militants and forces in northern Kashmir in recent years. The casualties on the forces’ side—five personnel—were highest in a single encounter in northern Kashmir in the recent years, they said. Following the “complexity” of the operation, the elite para-commandos from 3rd and 9th battalions were called in to join the encounter, an official said.
A police official, who was part of the operation, said soon after a house was blasted by the forces, there was a complete calm for some hours on Friday. “Due to this clam, the forces thought that the militants had been killed. But as a search party came close to the debris of the flattened house, the militants who had shifted to another attachment, fired indiscriminately, resulting in death of two policemen and two CRPF personnel. The third CRPF man succumbed to his injuries at a hospital on Sunday,” he said.
Meanwhile, around 25 members of five families were trapped in the operation and had taken shelter in a local house.
The trapped residents had called the district officials to inform them that they were running short of medicine and baby food.
Two ambulances and a water tanker were dispatched to the area Sunday morning on instructions of the district officials but they were not allowed to move towards the encounter site and were halted half a kilometer away, a group of local residents said. “We are held up here since Sunday morning as forces do not allow us to move towards the encounter site. We are carrying baby food, milk and medicine for the residents who need these items desperately,” said a health official. The water tanker and ambulances were allowed only after the operation was over in the afternoon. Meanwhile, as the forces were withdrawing from the area, hundreds of youths appeared in the area and started pelting stones at the forces personnel, who, in turn, lobbed scores of teargas shells and fired pellets to disperse the protesters. The clashes continued for some time.
A trail of devastation.
The three-day-long gun-battle between forces and militants in this small hamlet in northern Handwara area has left behind a trail of destruction.
Local residents told Greater Kashmir Sunday that they would never forget these three days as “every day was no less than a doomsday for us”.
“We have never witnessed such a fierce gun-battle, where the entire area shook with countless blasts and brought pain and agony to many families,” they said, recollecting what they called “the horrific time” since Thursday midnight when forces cordoned off the area following “specific information” about presence of militants.
“We haven’t slept since Thursday night when forces sealed all entry and exit points to the area,” said Muhammad Asif, a local resident.
“With every blast, we lost hope of our survival,” he said.
As the gun-battle was over on Sunday afternoon, thousands of people—apart from affected families whose shelters were razed to the ground with explosives—rushed to the area.
Seeing their homes flattened, the families started wailing to see their destroyed dwellings.
Several families, according to the police, had been evacuated from the area. “I rushed to see if my house is intact, but I was shell-shocked when I saw it razed to the ground,” said Raja Begum.
The families rummaged through the mounds of debris to see if they can retrieve anything in order.
There were only scattered bricks, broken window panes and some kitchen items that most of the affected families could lay their hands on. A relative of Fayaz Ahmad Shah, whose house was completely damaged in the encounter, said: “They have lost everything. We don’t know where they will go in this harsh winter. How will they survive?” Amid chaos and confusion at the encounter site, people were seen consoling the affected families.
As the dusk approached, locals started to prepare food for the affected families.