Clarity on militant casualties in the raging Kokernag gunfight eluded security forces on the fifth consecutive day even after their purported hideout, concealed under a thick cover of trees on a hill, caught fire on Sunday.
Security forces continued to relentlessly pound the hill in Kokernag’s Gadole believed to be sheltering the militants who killed three officers on Wednesday. Loud explosives could be heard in the villages around the hill.
The operation had started on Tuesday night and has claimed the lives of Colonel Manpreet Singh, Major Ashish Dhonchak and deputy superintendent of police Humayan Bhat. One soldier is missing.
Dense vegetation on a stretch of the hill, believed to be sheltering the militants and which has borne the brunt of the military assault all these days, was destroyed in an intense blaze.
The authorities, through informal channels, released the drone footage showing the fire.
Official sources, however, said there was no clarity on militant casualties, if any.
“We are treading cautiously to avoid further casualties. The area has been cordoned and time is on our side,” a police officer said.
The authorities are already facing uncomfortable questions, with the casualties and the duration putting a question mark on the much publicised all-is-well narrative.
The operation has turned out to be one of the most prolonged military engagements in Kashmir in years.
Security forces are using the most sophisticated technology, including weaponised drones and have deployed thousands of troops, including para commandos, to hunt down “two to three militants” hiding in the hills.
Officials said a portion of the forest had caught fire on Saturday but it was doused by a drizzle.
Worries for the security establishment mounted on Sunday after two accidental firing incidents, one close to the encounter site and another in far-off Bandipora district, killed a soldier and injured two jawans.