Jawans during the search operation to flush out militants in Keran sector of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday. (PTI)
Srinagar, Oct. 8: The army’s headline-making operation at Shala Batu village, where it purportedly cordoned off 30-40 infiltrators including Pakistani troops for 15 days, ended today without a single intruder captured or body recovered despite claims of militant casualties.
The Northern Command chief, Lt Gen. Sanjiv Chachra, mentioned no specific cordoning of the village in Kupwara’s Keran sector as he briefed the media in Srinagar today, saying merely that a “massive infiltration bid” had been foiled.
“They (the infiltrators) were encountered at varying points, some ahead of the fence (at the Line of Control) and some on the fence,” he said.
Chachra’s comments would imply the intruders had been pushed back rather than surrounded. Had there been a cordon, the failure to find any militant, dead or alive, would have implied the intruders had broken through the army ring.
Lt Gen. Gurmeet Singh, the 15 Corps commander and Valley army chief, who had earlier spoken of a “cordon” around Shala Batu, stood silently by Chachra’s side today as the superior officer did the talking.
Chachra chose his words carefully, saying the “search” operation had been called off but the counter infiltration deployment in the area was being strengthened, prompting fears that the militants might still be somewhere nearby.
The Northern Command chief endorsed the earlier army claims about some militants having been killed during the fortnight-long siege but said the bodies may have been dragged away by their comrades.
Chachra added that the last exchange of fire with the militants at Shala Batu had taken place four to five days ago.
On October 2, Singh had claimed that 10 to 12 militants had been killed in the village but denied the bodies could have been dragged away.
“In this area of 9,000 to 10,000 feet (altitude), such a difficult area, you want to carry something of 50 to 60 to 70 kg? It is not an easy job,” he had said.
Singh had all along maintained that a group of 30 to 40 militants were surrounded in Shala Batu after infiltrating on the night of September 23. He had said the group included Pakistani special forces.
The army’s statements over the past week or so had fanned speculation of a Kargil-like situation and media reports about the intruders occupying Indian Army posts and villages —which the army denied.
Chachra today did not say anything about Pakistani soldiers being part of the infiltrating group but insisted on the Pakistani army’s complicity in making the infiltration happen. “When a large group infiltrates, you mean to say that it can be without the complicity of Pak army? This is ridiculous,” he said.
“We have carried out the searches. We are aware that the area has been cleaned upů. I have now given directions to call off the concerted search.”
He said eight militants’ bodies had been recovered in the Keran area but these militants had been killed not at Shala Batu but during infiltration bids at other places in the sector.
Chachra said no inquiry had been ordered into any possible lapses during the operation.
“What is an inquiry ordered for? This is an ongoing operation. We should be proud of what they (the troops) have done and what they are prepared to do in future,” he said. Five soldiers were injured in the operation.