In one of the deadliest militant strikes on forces in Kashmir in the recent past, four heavily-armed 'fidayeen' (suicide attackers) stormed an Army's brigade headquarters in Uri town of north Kashmir's Baramulla district in an audacious pre-dawn strike on Sunday, killing at least 17 soldiers while leaving 20 others injured, four of them critically, officials and reports said. Four militants were also killed in over three-hour-long gunfight.
Sources in the Army said four of the injured soldiers were critical and one of them was airlifted to New Delhi for specialized treatment. The rest of the injured are being treated at Army's 92-base hospital in Srinagar.
The Uri attack comes barely eight days after four militants took shelter at a mini-secretariat near Army's 93 Brigade headquarters in Poonch area of Jammu province and started heavy firing, killing a policeman and injuring two others. All the four militants were killed in the gunfight that had lasted for two days.
The Uri fidayeen attack has taken place at a time when Kashmir is witnessing an anti-India uprising amid complete shutdown that entered its 72nd day on Sunday. At least 86 people have been killed so far in the uprising triggered by the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8.
The Uri attack, according to a senior Army officer, took place at 5:25 am as the militants, armed with automatic rifles and grenades, stormed the Army's battalion headquarters of 10 Dogra regiment in Uri town—over 100 kms north of summer capital Srinagar.
"The militants attacked with the first light of the day. Four Army barracks got gutted in the encounter while many makeshift barracks were also destroyed," Army officials in Srinagar said.
According to a statement issued by the Army's Northern Command, which is based in Udhampur district in Jammu region, a group of heavily-armed militants targeted the rear administrative base of a unit in Uri early in the morning. "In the counter action, four militants have been eliminated and combing operations are in progress," the statement read. "The administrative base had large strength of troops of units turning over after their tour of duty, who were stationed in tents/temporary shelters which caught fire, and resulted in heavy casualties. We salute the sacrifice of 17 soldiers killed in the operation."
Another statement from Army's Srinagar-based 15 Corps headquarters said three of the four militants were killed in the first 15 minutes of the attack while the fourth one was killed later.
"At least 13 soldiers died after they were trapped in the tents due to the blaze caused by the explosives used by the militants," the statement said.
A senior army official posted in Baramulla said the militants, who were four, seemed to have infiltrated on the very morning "with the sole motive of inflicting heavy causalities."
"We are ascertaining the route used by the militants while they sneaked in. They were highly-trained and right away targeted the tents in which soldiers were sleeping," he said. "By 8:30 am, we were able to kill all the four militants."
Army sources said four barracks and many tents in which soldiers were sleeping were burnt as militants fired indiscriminately at these accommodations. "The fire later engulfed the nearby barracks, destroying at least four of them. Later, they (militants) took positions and continued throwing grenades and fired from automatic rifles," they said. "13 soldiers died due to the fire in tents in which they were sleeping. Four others succumbed later."
Army said four AK riffles, grenade launchers and "war-like stores" have been recovered from the slain militants.
"Some important documents, maps and GPS equipment have also been recovered from the slain militants, who seem to be foreigners. We will analyze and conduct a thorough inspection of the items recovered from their possession," the Army officials said.
They said preliminary reports suggest that militants had sneaked in from an area near Salamabad stream in Uri. "It is believed that the four militants had cut the fence before making their way into this side," they said.
The Army admitted that the Uri attack is first of its kind in recent years wherein they have suffered huge loss of soldiers. In January this year, seven forces personnel were killed when six militants attacked Pathankot air-base in Punjab.
Today's attack comes two years after militants carried out a similar attack at Mohra in Uri sector. 10 security personnel were killed in the attack that took place on December 5, 2014.
'MOPPING OPERATION ON'
Army sources said mopping operation was going on in the area to ensure it is completely sanitized. "This is a routine procedure to ensure the affected area is free and safe. Helicopters are also being pressed into service to ensure complete sensitization of the area. The Army is professionally conducting the combing operation of the entire area, including the military complex in Uri," a source said. "Combing operation is an essential part of every operation. It may continue for a day or more. There may be some scattered unexploded shells or grenades thrown by the militants. The area has to be cleared in a very professional way."
'INQUIRY LIKELY INTO LAPSES'
A top Army official disclosed to Greater Kashmir that a high-level inquiry would be ordered into the Uri attack soon after bodies of all the soldiers would reach their native places for the last rites. "Yes there will be an inquiry to check the loopholes, if any, before, during or after the attack," he said. "Every incident leaves lessons behind. We will surely go for a detailed inquiry as to how the militants managed to sneak in and what were there plans, and also whether there were any lapses from our side."
Locals in Uri woke up to a frightening morning on Sunday. They said they heard heavy firing at 5 am. "Since firing is nothing new for us, we thought it is some ceasefire violation or routine drill going on. The firing didn't stop for at least 45 to 50 minutes. We also heard big sounds of explosions," said Abdul Aziz Khan, who resides in Uri town.
Abdul Jabbar, a nomad from Jabla village of Uri, said the firing reminded him of the initial days of heavy exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani army. "We thought a war has started as firing and explosions were not stopping. The entire Uri town woke up to a very frightening morning. I remember firing stopped at 8:20 am," he said.
Suebedar Karnail Singh; Havaldar Ravi Paul; Sepoy Rakesh Singh; Sepoy Javra Nunda; Naiman Kujur; Sepoy Upjan Rao; Havaldar (Chef) N S Rawat; Sepoy (Painter) Ganesh Shankar; N K SK Vidharti; Sepoy (Chef) Ghorai; Lance Naik G Shanker; Sepoy (chef) G Dalai; Lance Naik R K Yadav. Sources said the identity of four slain soldiers was yet to be done.
"The slain soldiers belonged to 10 Dogra and 6 Bihar regiments," sources said.