New Delhi: In the region that has recently shown promising signs of peace and progress, Jammu and Kashmir, the tragic killing of three high-ranking security force officers from the Army and the Jammu and Kashmir Police during a terror ambush in south Kashmir has reignited concerns about the resurgence of militancy in the area. This incident and a couple of previous incidents this year, raise questions about whether militants employ new strategies and tactics to challenge the prevailing peace narrative.
In a message on micro-blogging site X, Kashmir Zone Police said, "In solemn valour of Col Manpreet Singh, Major Ashish Dhonak and DSP Humayun Bhat who laid down their lives leading from the front during the ongoing operation. Our forces persist with unwavering resolve as they encircle two LeT terrorists, including Uzair Khan."
In solemn tribute to the unwavering valor of Col Manpreet Singh,Major Ashish Dhonak & DSP Humayun Bhat who laid down their lives leading from the front during this ongoing operation. Our forces persist with unwavering resolve as they encircle 2 LET terrorists including Uzair Khan— Kashmir Zone Police (@KashmirPolice) September 14, 2023
The search operation continues for the second day, running in the Kokernag area.
Official sources have reported that on September 12, 2023, troops from the Rashtriya Rifles 19th battalion, in collaboration with the Jammu and Kashmir Police, initiated a search operation in the Gadole forest area of Kokernag in Anantnag district. The operation had to be temporarily halted due to darkness, resuming on September 13.
Tragically, on that day, heavily armed terrorists launched an ambush against the security forces front party led by Col Manpreet Singh, the Commanding Officer of RR 19 Bn. In the ensuing firefight, Col Manpreet, Major Aashish Dhonchak, and Deputy Superintendent of Police Humayun Bhat sustained critical injuries and later succumbed. Three additional soldiers were reportedly wounded. Despite continued firing, no terrorists have been neutralized, possibly taking advantage of the dense forest cover.
The Resistance Front, a terrorist group affiliated with the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, claimed responsibility for the attack. This incident occurred just a day after another encounter in Rajouri in the forested mountains of Pir-Panchal in the Jammu region, where an army search dog, a soldier, and two terrorists were killed.
These recent actions by terrorists indicate a shift in the terrorist strategy. It appears that these foreign militants, residing in forested mountain caves, have received extensive training, and are better equipped to sustain themselves away from populated areas.
Similar incidents, such as the ambush that killed three soldiers during a search operation in Kulgam district of South Kashmir on August 4, 2023, and the militants' escape during a cordon-and-search operation in Parigam, Pulwama district, on August 21, 2023, have occurred in South Kashmir. The last two years saw similar terrorist ambushes in Rajouri and Poonch, raising alarm bells.
A concerning pattern has emerged: militants lure security forces into the deep forest and launch ambushes. This pattern has been observed in Kulgam, Anantnag, Rajouri and Poonch districts, located on the other side of the south Kashmir range of high mountains, where shepherds primarily reside during summer.
In Jammu's Poonch, Rajouri districts, on the southern side of the Pir Panchal Mountain and Reasi, five ambush attacks since August 2021 have claimed the lives of 24 soldiers, including officers.
According to senior Army officers at the Northern Command headquarters, 46 terrorists have been killed in various encounters in Jammu and Kashmir in the last eight months, with only nine being local militants. It indicates that indigenous militancy has been largely eradicated, with the current and future challenge being Pakistan-trained foreign terrorists.
The challenges faced by security forces in Rajouri and Poonch are exacerbated by the region's rugged terrain, which includes ravines, dense forests, mountains, and accessible mountain passes. Ethnic and religious similarities between foreign militants and the local population allow them to operate covertly, unlike in Kashmir, where linguistic differences can raise suspicions. In the Pir Panchal region, terrorists have also targeted civilians.
In contrast to earlier years when local militants offered little resistance, the current trend involves foreign militants, driven by religious ideology and narcotics, fighting until their demise.
Over the past two years, terrorists, who cannot confront security forces and often flee in Kashmir Valley, have shifted their focus to softer targets, such as outsider labourers and minority civilians.
Over the past three years, the J&K government has successfully conducted a sustained campaign against militant supporters and overground workers. Providing shelter and hideouts to terrorists in urban or rural villages has become nearly impossible, leading to numerous arrests, property seizures, and dismissals from government services.
Pakistan continues infiltrating foreign terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir to disrupt the region's improving internal security conditions. The Northern Army Commander, Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi, emphasized Pakistan's attempts to hinder progress in the area despite the growing number of tourists visiting Jammu and Kashmir.
The recent resurgence of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, marked by a shift in tactics and a focus on foreign terrorists, poses significant challenges to the security forces and the region's stability. The security troops also need to shift their gear and strategy to avoid falling into the trap and use more human intelligence in mountainous areas rather than depending on technology or artificial intelligence. The efforts to maintain peace and security in the region continue to be tested, and the situation remains challenging.