The army Tuesday said it eliminated the Jaish-e-Muhammad militants involved in the Pulwama highway attack in less than 100 hours. It, however, said the "exact role" of the two Pakistani militants, killed in Pulwama, in the convoy attack was being probed.
"From day one, we worked on the leads and succeeded in wiping out the Jaish leaders including the top commander of the outfit, Kamran, in an encounter at Pulwama," GoC of 15 Corps lieutenant general KJS Dhillon said here.
The second slain militant was identified as Rashid alias Gazi while the third is Hilal Ahmed, a local resident.
To a query whether Gazi was an Afghan war veteran and whether militants from Afghanistan would come to fight in Kashmir in the wake of withdrawal of US forces there, the GoC responded: "Whosoever will come with a gun from anywhere will be killed. Kashmir main bohat gazi ayay aur chalay gayay (many Gazis came to Kashmir but all were killed."
The officer said the plan of the attack was "hatched in Pakistan by Pakistan army and ISI and executed by Jaish militants from Pakistan in Kashmir along with a local conduit."
"Jaish is the baby of Pakistan army," he said.
He said that slain Kamran was chief operational commander of Jaish. "He was working under Pakistan army and ISI. What was his role and the role of another militant Gazi is subject to investigations. The investigations are in an advanced stage and we won't be able to share the operational details at this juncture," the army officer said.
Intervening, the IGP Kashmir, S P Pani said that investigations were on and once the probe is completed, details will be shared with the media about the nature of explosives used and the role of the slain Pulwama militants.
To a query why the forces suffered huge casualties in the Pulwama encounter, the GoC said that senior officers were leading from the front. "Brigadier was on leave. He cut short his leave and joined the operations by leading from the front. He got injured and is stable now. He took it on his chin. Similarly, DIG South Kashmir was also leading from the front. He too sustained injuries and is stable. All the injured at the base hospital are being provided best treatment and are stable. I am visiting them twice a day."
He said senior officers decided to lead the forces "just to ensure zero civilian casualty." "The civilian got killed because of the militant fire initially," the GoC said and appealed people to not to come closer to the encounter sites during or after the gunfight. "During the gunfight, a stray bullet can hit the civilians and after the encounter, left over explosives can cause harm," he said.
Four soldiers including a Major, a policeman, a civilian and three militants were killed in the 17-hour long encounter in Pulwama on Monday. A Brigadier, DIG of police, two captains were injured in the encounter.
Asked whether there are apprehensions of more such attacks, the GoC – flanked by IG operations CRPF Zulfikar Hassan besides IGP Kashmir – said: "This type of car bomb happened in long time and the level of such intensity was seen first time. However, similar incidents have happened in Syria and Afghanistan. We are keeping all options open to deal with these things."
Asked whether the Lethpora attack occurred due to security lapse, IG CRPF Zulfikar Hassan said that there were 22 companies of CRPF who were part of road opening parties (ROPs). "A civilian vehicle gained speed and rammed into the convoy. No security lapse was there."
On whether Jaish-e-Muhammad managed to re-group as the focus of forces was on Hizbul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba, the IGP Kashmir said last year 58 Jaish militants were killed out of 252 total militants killed. "This year so far 31 militants were killed and 12 were from the Jaish. In 2018 there was not a single attack by the Jaish. We are very much after Jaish as well," he said.