Kathua’s mountain road echoes tale of deadly ambush, troops’ resilience

Machedi (J&K): Bloodstains on the road and helmets, bullet shells, vehicles with shattered windscreens and flattened tyres... A day after terrorists ambushed an Army patrol, a wooded mountain road on Tuesday told the story of fierce resistance by troops and a gunbattle that carried on for several hours.

On Monday, five Army personnel were killed and five injured when heavily armed terrorists hurled a grenade and opened indiscriminate fire on two army vehicles around 3.30 pm on the Machedi-Kindli-Malhar mountainous road near Badnota village, about 150 km from the district headquarters Kathua.

It was the fifth terror attack in Jammu in a month, an escalation in the relatively peaceful region compared to Kashmir Valley officials attributed to attempts by Pakistani handlers to reignite terrorism.

Recapping what had happened, officials said the soldiers displayed courage and resilience despite facing casualties and engaged them for several hours.

The terrorists, believed to be a group of three, are likely to have taken cover of the thick foliage on a hill to surprise the troops who retaliated immediately, responding with gunfire and fighting back till the terrorists disappeared into the dense woods, they said.

The search for the terrorists, which was suspended late Monday because of heavy rain, resumed on Tuesday with joint search parties of the Army, police and CRPF launched from various directions, including Kathua, Udhampur and Doda.

The Army’s elite para-commandos and sniffer dogs joined the search operation while drones and helicopters were also pressed into service for surveillance, officials said.

Amid the telltale signs of the violence, were the two vehicles, parked about 300 metres away from each other. Given the state of the road, officials said they were probably not going at too much speed and came under fire while they were taking a turn.

Villagers also played a crucial role in the operation, joining rescue efforts to evacuate the casualties. There were anti-Pakistan protests in several areas as agitated villagers took to the streets to condemn the terror attack.

“A civil bus passed the road about 10 minutes before the attack. We heard a loud explosion and initially took it as a tyre burst but the subsequent heavy firing made us realise that an encounter has started,” Puran Chand Sharma, a villager who runs a shop just a few metres from the scene, said.

The heavy firing continued till 5 pm followed by intermittent firing for another one hour.

“About 12 villagers were at my shop. We hid ourselves inside to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. After the firing stopped, we rushed to help evacuate the casualties,” he said.

Vijay Kumar, another local, said this is the first terror incident in the village since cross-border terrorism broke out in Jammu and Kashmir over three decades ago.

“We have not noticed any movement of terrorists in our area having over 100 families,” he said. In his view, the terrorists might have reached in the bus that had passed by a short while before bullet fire rang out.

Kathua Senior Superintendent of Police Anayat Ali Choudhary, who reached the spot hours of the incident, is camping at Lawang-Machedi along with other officers to supervise the anti-terrorist operation.

“Efforts are on to track down and neutralise the terrorists. The joint search parties have fanned out from all sides and it is a matter of investigation how the terrorists reached the area,” a police official said.

Director General of Police R R Swain is personally overseeing the anti-terrorist operation in the dense forest area, connected to Basantgarh in Udhampur district where several encounters have occurred in the past.

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