| Soldiers take a break from the Kathua gun battle. (AFP)
Jammu, Sept. 5: The army pressed a helicopter into service to locate the seven militants holed up in the jungles of Ghatti of Kathua district, south of Jammu, as the face-off entered the fourth day today.
The chopper conducted two or three sorties over the forests to prepare a graphic picture of the topography and thus help chalk out a fresh strategy to end the second longest gun battle in over a decade of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, official sources said.
State director-general of police Gopal Sharma and some senior army officers directly supervised the sorties conducted late this afternoon, the sources said. The area of operation reduced to 1.7 sq km from 4 sq km as special columns of Jammu and Kashmir light infantry launched searches this afternoon, they said.
A source said the forces had resorted to “wait and watch” strategy to choke food and water supply as “the militants may have made safe hideouts and planted mines around them to stop advancement of security forces”. “That is why we are going in a planned manner to delay the operation to avoid casualties.”
A defence spokesman said: “The operation in Kathua has been deliberate, considering that time is not at a premium as also to ensure that the task is achieved with the least casualties to our troops. The required action is being taken to trap and eliminate all terrorists.”
The lull from early yesterday that had followed the exchange of fire and grenades since Tuesday afternoon — when the militants in army uniforms had infiltrated across the International Border — broke late last night.
The retaliation resumed with a bang just as security forces were beginning to suspect that the militants had been killed or run out of ammunition.
During a brief lull early this morning, hundreds of army, CRPF and police personnel advanced towards the militants, believed to be of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Special units of the army came under fire as soon as they started closing in. Intermittent gunshots could be heard at the site through the day.
Till today, the militants have used four to five grenades and fired 300-350 rounds, indicating they are saving ammunition for a prolonged battle.
Defence sources said security forces had at first wrongly assessed the likely quantity of ammunition in the possession of the militants. The forces decided to go for the offensive when the gun battle dragged on, they said.
Yesterday, 300 army personnel had joined the operation to end the longest encounter in the state since the Charar-e-Sharief gun battle that had lasted nine days. So far, one policeman has been killed and 11 persons — including five police personnel, a village defence committee member and two militants — have been injured.
According to sources, the encounter began on a tip-off by sarpanch Devinder Singh, who was kidnapped by the militants but managed to give them the slip. Local police and members of the village defence committee had then chased the militants into the forests.
The army today claimed to have killed 33 militants after the Border Security Force gunned down Gazi Baba in Srinagar on Saturday. Baba was the Jaish-e-Mohammad operations chief in Kashmir.