Security forces during an encounter with the militants near the Chanjmullah area of Handwara in Kupwara district of North Kashmir. PTI photo
Srinagar: An Army colonel who led from the front during a fierce and close-range gunfight with militants in the woods of Handwara area in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district on Saturday night was along with three other Armymen and a police sub-inspector found dead early on Sunday.
The others who laid down their lives while fighting militants include an Army major and two corporals and a sub-inspector of the J&K’s police Special Operations Group counter-insurgency unit, Army and police officials said.
Two militants were earlier gunned down by the forces, one of whom was a top commander of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba from Pakistan. An Army jawan was also injured and hospitalised.
The Army said a family taken hostage by the militants was rescued and evacuated to safety by Col. Ashutosh Sharma and his team they engaged in the gunfight.
The authorities suddenly lost contact with the Army-police team during the cordon-and-search operation in Handwara’s Chanjimullah area. While reinforcements including Para commandos were rushed there, they couldn’t move in due to hostile weather and darkness.
As word spread on Saturday night itself that all five members of the team might be killed, the Army said the operation was still in progress, and that the reports were speculative. Police sources said the guns had fallen silent on Saturday evening itself.
At first light Sunday, the troops on entering the area where the fighting had taken place found the bullet-riddled corpses of Col. Sharma and his team members — Maj. Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh and Lance Naik Dinesh and police sub-inspector Qazi S.A. Pathan — strewn round. Officials said the bodies of two militants were also found. They were later identified as Asif Reshi, a resident of Gund Chabootra village of Handwada, and Hyder alias Iqbal, a resident of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir.
The two were buried in a cemetery in the Sheeri area of Baramulla district in the presence of a magistrate on Sunday afternoon. Defence spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia said the Army-police operation was launched after the security forces got an intelligence input saying "terrorists were taking civilians inmates of a house in Chanjimulla hostage".
He said: "A team comprising five Army and J&K police personnel entered the target area occupied by the terrorists to evacuate the civilians. It successfully extricated the civilians. However, in the process, the team was subjected to heavy fire by the terrorists."
Army and police officials said the militants had come to Handwara to receive an infiltrating group from Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Col. Sharma was the commanding officer of 21 Rashtriya Rifles and had been decorated for gallantry twice in Kashmir.