by Saima Bhat
SRINAGAR: The Halmatpora encounter was finally over after 48 hours. It led to the killing of three army men, two SOG personnel and five militants. This was one of the major operations in 2018 given the number of casualties reported in the encounter that took place in Check Fatehkhan forests on March 20 afternoon.
As per police sources, three militants were killed on the first day of the encounter, and two more fell on Wednesday. All the five were laid to rest late night Thursday at 1 am, at Rangward Chokibal, which is almost 60 kilometres away from the encounter site. Imam Ahmad Khan, a local Imam led the funeral prayers, official sources said.
The hospitals which operate around the site of the clash suggested that there has not been a post-mortem of the slain militants and no DNA samples have been preserved. Preserving samples for DNA is a mandatory process.
As per the police sources, ‘the encounter started when a group of five newly infiltrated militants were crossing over and two local militants had gone to receive them.’ But they were fired upon by a joint team of army, the Territorial Army (TA) and the CRPF. “Two locals managed to escape but the newly infiltrated group were caught in action.”
The encounter witnessed the killing of five personnel from the counterinsurgency grid: One, however, is missing and has been identified as Abdul Majeed Bajad.
The deceased were identified as Havaldar Zorawar of 3 JAK Rifles who was attached with 160 Territorial Army (TA); Mohammad Ashraf Rather of same TA battalion, Naik Ranjeet Khalho of 5 Bihar who has died of a sharp cut on his neck, while two SOG men have been identified as Mohammad Yousuf Cheche (SPO) of Kachama, Kupwara and Deepak Pandit of Nagrota, Jammu.
Four more officials including Sub Inspector (SI) Harvinder Singh, Javaid Ahmad of SOG, one army soldier and a CRPF trooper are reported injured. They have already been evacuated to the hospitals.
The IGP Kashmir SP Pani, while speaking to media on the sidelines of a wreath-laying ceremony at District Police Lines, Srinagar, termed the operation as ‘difficult’ in view of the thick vegetation and open area.
“In the process, a huge cache of arms and ammunition and other incriminating materials which include AK 47 rifles, grenades, etc were recovered from the encounter site,” Pani said that there is a strong possibility that the militants belonged to Lashkar e Toiba outfit.
Reports reaching the area suggest the fear is still prevalent in the Kupwara area. A local, Muhammad Ashraf from Kupwara, informed Kashmir Life over the phone that on Tuesday around 2 pm, his wife called him into his office and informed that firing was going on in the forests. “I preferred to come home early because it is unpredictable what will happen after the encounter,” he said.
Ashraf lives just 3kms away from the forests, where encounter was going on. When he reached home the whole area was covered by the joint contingents of army, SOG, CRPF and police.
On March 21, all roads leading to Kupwara were sealed and the civilians were not allowed to come out of their houses. “Public announcements were made suggesting people to stay indoors,” he said.
Another local added that they were not even allowed to go to offices or attend schools. All schools and business establishments were seen closed.
Finally, the encounter was over on Wednesday night at 11 pm and locals witnessed the forces started coming down from the forests at around 11.10 pm.
Early morning Thursday, the joint group of forces were again seen going towards the encounter site for the search operations but there were no restrictions in the area. Locals, however, preferred to stay home rather than going to offices. “Only females stay in our houses so I did not see it safe going to the office,” said Ashraf.
A massive search and combing operation were underway in the area as forces believe rest of the two militants must be either hiding in the forests or in the area. According to reports, the forces carried out a massive door-to-door search as well.
When contacted SHO Kupwara informed Kashmir Life that the operation is over. He gave no more information.
Meanwhile, the wreath laying event for Deepak Thusoo, a resident of Nagrota Jammu and SPO Muhammad Yousuf of Kachhama, Kupwara, was held in Kupwara and later one more event was observed in District Police Lines Srinagar for Deepak Thusoo.
Deepak Thusoo is survived by his aged parents, wife, minor children with a 12 years old son and about 07 years old daughter and an unmarried sister. Muhammad Yousuf, police said, is survived by aged parents, three sons and two minor daughters, the youngest being 05 years old.
Yousuf was first to matriculate from his village that is dominated by the Schedule Tribes.
A few kilometres away, another wreath-laying event was held in the BB Cantt, Sonwar for the three army men killed in the encounter.
“Army today paid a befitting tribute to three of its comrades who attained martyrdom during Counter Terrorist operations on March 21, 2018, in Kupwara District in which five terrorists were eliminated. In a solemn ceremony at BB Cantt, Lt Gen AK Bhatt, Chinar Corps Commander and all ranks, paid homage to the martyrs on behalf of a proud nation. In a show of solidarity, representatives from other security agencies also joined in paying their last respects to the martyrs.
Late Hav Jorabar Singh, Nk Ranjeet Khalkho and Nk Mohd Ashraf Rather sustained bullet injuries during the fierce operation in Chack Fatheh Khan Forest in Halmatpora of Kupwara district. They were provided immediate first aid and evacuated to hospital but unfortunately succumbed to their injuries. Martyr Hav Jorabar Singh, 45 years of age, had joined Army in 1993 and hailed from Village Rait in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh. He is survived by his wife and three children.
Coming from Village Dudhakhuti in Ranchi, Jharkhand, the martyr Nk Ranjeet Khalkho was 33 years old and had joined Army in 2001. He is survived by his parents, a brother and three sisters.
Martyr Nk Mohd Ashraf Rather was 35 years of age and had joined the Army in 2004. He belonged to Village Reshigund of Kralpora in Jammu and Kashmir and is survived by his wife and a daughter.
The mortal remains of the martyrs were flown for last rites to their native places, where they would be laid to rest with full military honours. In this hour of grief, the Army stands in solidarity with the bereaved families of the martyrs and remains committed to their dignity and well being.”