THE Gadole Kokernag encounter which continued for seven days, finally came to an end with the killing of the second militant Uzair Khan on September 19. However, the kind of fatalities the security forces received during the encounter is a reality that needs to be analysed honestly with complete transparency, and lessons need to be drawn to avoid recurrence of such unsolicited human loss.
Reports of foreign terrorists spotted in the area had been doing the rounds for a couple of months now. There were even specific inputs that a group of foreign terrorists accompanied by a local terrorist from the Shopian area, was present in the Kokernag forests. It has also come to the fore that the nomads grazing their livestock in the upper reaches of the Kokernag area had noticed movement of terrorists in the dense forests on many occasions during the last few months and the message of presence of terrorists in the forests was passed on through locals to the police and the security establishment. However, the message was ignored as a mere hearsay.
There were some other indicators that could have been used as a lead by the security establishment to launch multiple operations by generating specific human and technical inputs. The notorious local militant Asif Rashid hailing from Tral in Pulwama district was killed in an encounter in Sagam Kokernag. Tral has a vast and dense forest area which always poses a greater challenge to the security forces during operations.
In fact there are some senior police officers of operational background who have said it on record that the Tral forest area is the most challenging one in the entire Kashmir valley and that is precisely why the shelf life of terrorists operating in Tral area is on the higher side than others. Still Asif Rashid was reportedly roaming in the Kokernag area for a while.
Even he and Uzair gave a flip to the security forces on many occasions in the area. For me, Asif Rashid’s presence in Kokernag area cannot be seen in isolation. It was the first indicator suggesting that terrorists were consolidating in the area.
Last year, on specific inputs of the Jammu and Kashmir Police about the presence of Uzair Khan and Asif Rashid in the Famar valley, the Core Commander, 15 Core, Lt. Gen. Ujla had dispatched a special team of paragliders from Awantipora for a special operation. The terrorists, however, escaped unhurt from the scene deep into the forests. Soon after the operation, Uzair and Asif had moved towards the plains and on their way, picked up a policeman Umar Mukhtar from Gawran Police post and released him after 15 hours near Village Sof Sagam. Finally, Asif was gunned down in the same area by the security forces.
There are reports that foreign terrorists reaching the Tral area are quickly dispatched to Anantnag district using Tral-Pahalgam-Chatargul-Kashwan route.
As per the locals in Gadol village, Uzair was accompanied by at least 3 FTs at the encounter site viz the Gadol Gorinad forests.
It was technically and strategically wrong on part of the security forces to approach the site from right under the nose of the hiding terrorists. The terrorists were clearly watching the movement of the security forces from the height and had laid an ambush to target the approaching security personnel. According to locals, it was self-inflicting to cross the stream and ascend the hill in order to launch an attack on the hiding militants when they were watching the movement from the top. They had planted powerful mines and on seeing the security forces led by three gallant officers ascending after crossing the river stream, the terrorists detonated mines triggering deadly blasts resulting in huge casualties among the security forces. The forces later used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target those areas in the forest where they suspected the militants were hiding, but the damage was already done.
According to locals, the security forces could have used the alternate route: safer and easy-to-approach. Though long, there is a designated route to reach the top of the Gorinad peak-Dooru-Kapran-Dard Desa. If adopted, the security forces could have easily reached the Gorinad top and from there the hiding terrorists could have been easily targeted. It was the safest route for the security forces. If approached from the top, the terrorists could have been neutralised in the shortest possible time with the least chance of casualties from the security side. “It was not the Kargil War of 1998 where you had no chance of reaching the top, the forces would have used the Kapran-Dardesa route and sat on the head of the hiding terrorists,” said a local on condition of anonymity. “I am sorry to say, the operation was ill-planned, thus the damage,” he said, adding, “the hiding militants anticipated the action, detonated the mines, opened fire upon the forces, killing two Indian Army officers and a DSP of Jammu and Kashmir Police instantly whereas another jawan was critically wounded who later succumbed to the injuries”.
By approaching from the foot of the hiding militants, the operation became not only fatal, it continued for seven days during which security forces fired hundreds of mortar shells and rockets and targeted suspected militant hideouts with hi-tech equipment. They even dropped explosives using advanced drones, making it a war-like-situation, a senior police officer of operational background told Kashmir Central. He said one terrorist is believed to have escaped unhurt from the scene despite such a huge bandobast.
The J&K police initially claimed that the militants had been spotted and cornered. At least two to three militants, including Uzair Khan of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, were killed and their bodies retrieved. Earlier, sources said, the body of a soldier, who was reported to be missing earlier, was spotted but couldn’t be retrieved yet, as it was near a cave where the militants were hiding.
On Monday, two bodies, including that of a missing soldier, were recovered from the Gorinad forest.
That said, there is a pattern in insurgency activities. South Kashmir districts of Kulgam, Pulwama and Anantnag are vulnerable owing to the fact that there are many foreign terrorists that have been roaming in the upper reaches of these districts for quite some time. And they follow a definite pattern in carrying out lethal attacks on security forces.