Signalling a new insurgent strategy, at least three small militant groups have continued to engage the Army after surprise attacks on security forces, by retreating into heavily forested ranges of Handwara, Kupwara and Bandipora. Operations against them have continued for weeks.
The longest operation against these militant groups is not the ongoing 17-day stand off in Kupwara’s Manigah area but the one carried out in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district. Militants killed a soldier there on October 28 and have engaged security forces thrice since then, before fleeing into the woods of the Bhutoo Forest Range. The group has since played cat and mouse with the Army and the police.
A top Army commander in Srinagar told The Hindu that four or five militants were holed up in the upper reaches of Bandipora.
“They are not coming down into the urban pockets. The group has split itself into smaller groups and constantly move from one village to another within the forest range and get supplies,” said the Army officer, on condition of anonymity.
Around 60 km away from Bandipora, another Hizbul Mujahideen group of between four and five, is holed up in the Handwara forest range ever since it led a surprise attack on October 5, leaving four soldiers , in Hafruda Forest range.
The second fire fight with the same group took place on November 22 in Bhuvan area of the Hafruda range. The Hizb, in a statement, hailed the batch for “successful attacks on the Army.”
The third LeT group, which has lost two militants — one in crossfire and one to the cold — in November, is holed up in Kupwara’s Manigah forest. The group engaged the security forces in fire fight five times this month. Colonel Santosh Mahadik of the Rashtriya Rifles was killed and two soldiers were injured in the on-going operations.
General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps Lt General Satish Dua, believes that around 10 militants are holed up in Manigah.
“They are continuously fighting with the forces to cross the reception area and to come into the hinterland,” said Lt. General Dua recently.
The Army, which has laid siege to large swathes of forest range and villages in Manigah, is waiting for the onset of winter to make its job easier.
“With each passing day things are becoming more difficult for them to sustain in the forest. We see it as a positive point,” said Colonel Manish Kumar.
Siege triggers ire
The continuous siege of populated areas, however has come under criticism from human rights activists and political leaders.
“It has triggered distress and crisis for thousands of villagers. There seems to be no justification and logic for continuing the crackdown for 18th consecutive day, despite ongoing chilly cold weather,” said MLA Engineer Rashid.
He accused the Army of putting inhabitants of Humandar, Manzhar, Manigah, Kashmiri-Manigah, Hajinakah, Behaksabha, Halmathpora, Gonipora, Bhatpora, Joktiyal, and Trumbnad to inconvenience.
“The education of children has also been badly affected,” he claimed adding, “nobody from any other village is being allowed to enter the area and many families have been forced to migrate.”
Activists and politicians have criticised the continuous siege
of populated areas