SRINAGAR: As Kashmir approached the New Year, 2017 proved violent till the last breath, literally. Well before the dawn crack, three militants had mounted an attack on a major CRPF installation in south Kashmir. By evening, when the New Year mood was visible at specific spots within and outside Srinagar, seven coffins were underway at different places for eternal rest. The operation is still on as one militant was still firing till the last reports came in. The last encounter of 2017 is heading towards 2018.

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The CRPF Training Centre building which militants attacked in Lethpora is up in flames as the firings from both the sides is going on. KL Mage: Bilal Bahadur

Officials said that three heavily armed militants managed entry into the Lethpora CRPF garrison somewhere between 2 am and 3 am. “Seemingly, they have used a breach in the wall to get in,” one police officer said. “By the time, the attack was detected, they were already in.”

Almost 3 km, on the left side of the highway, CRPF has created a huge infrastructure that comprises a cluster of multi-story buildings. It is in the rare of the Barsoo village. From a distance, it looks a high-end township. Not far away from it, is a police establishment though not as impressive as CRPF owns.

Officials said the CRPF garrison is actually the headquarters of 185 battalion. There is also a Commando Training Centre where most of the CRPF’s counter-insurgents get crash courses in managing militancy. There is a hospital as well besides lot of barracks and other offices.

“Militants came from the rare of the camp. It is sort of a deserted area and they might have taken the cover of the darkness,” one senior police officer said. CRPF officers told media that it was the deadliest attack of 2017.
Another officer said that after the militants barged in, they managed to get into the administrative office. “There were not many people, maybe 10-12 and some of them were quickly rescued,” the officer said. “The hospital is also close-by.”

The gun battle started during wee hours in which at least one CRPF man and two militants were killed. Rest of the battle resumed around noon in which one more was killed. By then, the injured had been evacuated to the hospitals where one CRPF man expired.

It was in the afternoon when the gun battle was on but the officers decided to evacuate some of the personnel who were off the scene but close to the theatre. It was during this rescue that an inspector rank officer Kuldeep Roy died of cardiac arrest.

Coffin of a CRPF man, a resident of Nowgam in Chadoora being taken to his home after wreath laying. He was one of teh five para-military men who were killed in the Lethpora suicide attack by Jaish militants. KL Image: Mehraj Bhat

Another senior officer said that two families have claimed the bodies: the family of Manzoor Ahmad Baba from Pulwama and Fardeen from a Tral village. On basis of their requests, the bullet-ridden bodies were sent back to Awantipora police from Srinagar Police Control Room. “It is just a claim and if they are identified, that is a different story,” the officer said. “It could be the first such instance in which two locals are part of a trio in a Fidayeen attack that could be the first in militant history.”
“We have recovered two bodies and both were driven to Srinagar and later back to the Awantipore,” a police officer said. “One body was taken by residents of Tral. We have not received the third body and the operation is still not over.”

The militant outfit, Jaish e Muhammad has staked the claim for the attack during the day, ridiculing the Operation All Out, the outfit said the attacks were in reaction to the killing of Noor Mohammad Tantray, one of the elusive dwarf militant leaders, who was killed by the police recently in Pampore outskirts.

Inspector General of CRPF Ravideep Sahi told Times of India that three of their personnel died of bullet injuries in the army hospital in the afternoon.

Within hours after the militants got in, the entire counter-insurgency grid was on the spot, taking the belt in a sort of siege. The internet was immediately closed down for the belt. Police said the CRPF and police decided that they will handle the operation jointly with the army from the neighbouring Victor Force headquarters offering the area security by surrounding the spot of the clash. At least one of the buildings was seriously destroyed in the gun-battle in which the CRPF used rockets. A senior CRPF officer at the wreath laying event said the militants impacted one to two buildings. He said the numbers of militants could be more than three but he has no details top share.

Top officers of the CRPF offering the final salute to the three of their colleagues who were killed in the suicide attack at Lethpora on December 31, 2017. KL image: Mehraj Bhat

Most of the journalists later drove directly to CRPF’s Humhama establishment where the top brass of the force usually comes for wreath laying. There was the delay. In the first instance, they brought the coffin of Sharifuddin Ganai, a resident of Nowgam Chadoor, who was the first target of the militants. He had bullets on his head and legs and belonged to 185 bn. After quick wreath laying, he was driven home where the funerals were offered. “We have reports that while the CRPF gave him a 36 gun salute, there were more than 1000 people who attended his funeral prayers,” an officer in Srinagar said.

It was in the second stage that other slain soldiers were driven to Humhama. Their wreath laying was delayed and they will be despatched to their families Monday morning, the first day of 2018.

The others slain CRPF include Kuldip Roy, an inspector, who died of cardiac arrest. He is a resident of Tikkar Khatrian in Hamirpur area of Himachal Pradesh.

CRPF personnel holding positions outside the camp where militants on Sunday morning barged inside the CRPF training centre in Lethpora area of district Pulwama of south Kashmir. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

The second casualty from J&K was that of Tufail Ahmad, who had bullet injuries. He was a resident of Dadasini Bala, a village in Rajouri.

Rajinder Nain, another person from CRPF was a recruit of 130 Bn who was hit by a bullet in his chest. He was a resident of Garisar village in Churuy belt if Rajasthan.

Pardeep Kumar Panda is from 132 Bn and is a resident of Liploy in Rajgangopu district of Odisha.

Three personnel of CRPF are injured but stable and out of danger. These include Narender Kumar, Malam Samadha (from 185 Bn), and Mola Ram (48 Bn). Kumar has a bullet injury in the right leg, Malam was hit by a bullet in his right shoulder and Ram has a bullet injury in his left clavicle. All the three are admitted to the army hospital.

Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti condemned the killing of CRPF jawans, including an officer.Terming the act as dastardly, she said violence has taken a heavy toll of the society in the state in terms of death and destruction, tearing apart of the social fabric, inflicting massive economic, academic and social losses besides the irreparable loss of human lives.

She paid rich tributes to the jawans of the force killed in the attack. She conveyed her sympathies to the bereaved families of the slain men.

“As the year draws to a close we get a terrible reminder of how bad things are in the valley,” NC president and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah wrote on Twitter. “My condolences to the families of the CRPF personnel killed in the attack.”

(The report was slightly editted to add more information, almost an hour after it was uploaded first)


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