When the Indian Army’s 20 Kumaon Regiment vacated its outpost at Shala Bathu on 23 September to pave the way for the takeover by 3/3 Gorkha Rifles, little did they know that dozens of militants were waiting to mount the biggest incursion attempt across the Line of Control (LoC) since the 1999 Kargil War. The militants were quick to capture the outpost in the Keran sector and dig trenches to consolidate their position, in the process occupying an area spanning 5 sq km. And they managed all this without the help of covering fire from the Pakistan Army’s two posts located at Kismat and Saheli.
It took the Indian Army a fortnight to regain the territory. Army sources claim that seven militants were killed and the rest were forced to return to Pakistan. But by staging the “deliberate” incursion and engaging the army for as long as they did, the militants may have already fulfilled their basic objective: to give the clearest signal that the Kashmir Valley is in for a fresh cycle of deadly jihad.
In a recent interview to a Pakistan daily, Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin had conveyed this much. “We don’t operate in cities and towns. We attack border posts, supply lines and cantonments,” he had said.
Army officers admit that the Keran incursion was designed to push in more militants at multiple points along the LoC while seeking to divert the Indian Army deployment at Shala Bathu. Four militants were killed when the army foiled an infiltration bid at Fateh Gali area of Keran sector, 25 km west from Shala Bathu. Similarly, three militants were killed in an infiltration bid at Gujjar Tur, located 30 km away from Shala Bathu.
On 8 October, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Command, Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra declared the operation over. He denied that the militants had occupied any territory, but admitted that 30-40 militants had made “multiple point bids” to enter India but had been repulsed. “There were 30-40 militants who had come in. They were foiled, some of them have fallen,” he said.
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