Forces launched a “major offensive” against militant outfit Jaish-e-Muhammad after the February 14 attack that left 40 central reserve police force (CRPF) personnel dead, a top army officer said on Monday, and asserted that the “key conspirator” of that attack was among militants killed in a gunfight in Tral yesterday.
Addressing a press conference here, the general officer commanding (GoC) of the army’s Srinagar-based 15 corps, lieutenant general KJS Dhillon, said that after the Lethpora attack, the first operation against Jaish was launched on February 18 in which two militants of the outfit, including a top commander Kamran, were killed. Since that attack happened, 18 militants were killed and these included 14 from Jaish alone, he said.
“The joint assault on Jaish was launched to prevent recurrence of February 14 attack,” Dhillon said.
In a gunfight in Pinglish village of southern Tral area, a top Jaish commander Mudasir Khan alias ‘Muhammad Bhai’ was killed and he was the “main conspirator” of the suicide attack on CRPF convoy at Lethpora on February 14, the GoC said. “Another militant killed in Pinglish was identified as Khalid of Pakistan.”
Dhillon said after the February 14 attack, forces decided to go after the Jaish and “succeeded in the mission.”
He said the “main target” of the forces after the Lethpora attack was the Jaish leadership and its militants.
“In the Pinglish encounter, searches are going on. It was a clean operation and no forces personnel received even a scratch,” he said. “The operations against the Jaish leadership and militants will continue in the coming days.”
Speaking at the press conference, Kashmir range inspector general of police Swyam Prakash Pani said that Mudasir was active for the past one year and the “brain behind recruiting local boys into the outfit.”
“With his killing and the killing of other Jaish militants, a significant dent has been caused to the outfit,” Pani said. “There are serious investigations going on against Jaish. The material recovered from the site of encounter will be shared with the National Investigation Agency.”
Asked how many local militants were involved in the Lethpora attack, the GoC Dhillon said that “lots of positive leads are being investigated” and “it is not feasible to reveal the exact details.”
In response to a query, he said Jaish has been their primary target “but we are also very much after Lashkar and Hizb militants.”
“Out of 18 militants killed recently, 14 belonged to Jaish but four others belonged to Hizb and Lashkar.”
Asked about the “exact role” of Mudasir in the February 14 attack, the GoC said he was the “main brain behind the attack and that is beyond any doubt.”
“He was one of the key conspirators who helped and coordinated the Lethpora attack,” he said.
Asked by a reporter whether the Lethpora attack has been “avenged” with the killing of Mudasir, inspector general of CRPF Zulfikar said he won’t use the word avenge “but whosoever would pick up gun against the country is the enemy and would be killed.”
“CRPF has lost 2000 men in Kashmir so far. We are a peacekeeping force,” he said.
About recruitment of local youth into militancy, the IGP Pani such recruitment was “down, given the miniscule number of missing complaints in police stations and decline in the trend of youth posing with a gun on social media”.
“There is a malicious campaign being run on social media to lure youth into militancy and we are taking note of that and measures have been taken to counter that,” he said.
GoC Dhillon added that over the past couple of months, the “overall militancy recruitment is down.”
On movement of forces’ convoys and halting of civilian traffic for the same, he said appropriate measures have been taken to “ensure people-friendly convoy movements.”
“We have decided that the convoy flow should be in a manner where civilian vehicles don’t have to wait for more than two or three minutes,” he said. “There is no harassment to the civilians while they are stopped for convoy movements.”
Asked why casualties on the forces’ side in gunfights with militants have increased of late, the GoC said that officers “lead from the front and all those casualties took place in the initial exchange of fire.”
“We ensure civilians are evacuated and collateral damage is prevented. We take the responsibility to ensure there is no civilian casualty during encounters,” he said.
On damage to residential houses in gunfights, the GoC said that militants prefer to remain inside houses where they take shelter.
“They keep on firing from inside and as a result the houses suffer damage,” he said. “We would love to engage the militants, as witnessed in the past many encounters, in an open field to avoid damage to the residential houses. But that’s only possible when militants would come out.”
About contradictory statements of the police and the army about the number of militants killed in Tral gunfight yesterday, the GoC said the search operation was still on in Pinglish.
“We recovered three weapons from the site of the encounter. Since the debris is being cleared, details may emerge further,” Dhillon said.
The army has claimed that three militants were killed while the police say they recovered only two bodies.