Militants Melt Away Despite Heat Being On
8 September 2003
The Indian Express
Ghati: Seven days after intensive operations in this densely forested ravine in the Ghati area, security forces today called off their search saying the holed-up militants-estimated to be seven Lashkar members-have escaped. 'After a thorough search of the forests above Ghati village by the troops over a period of time, we have not come across any terrorist, dead or alive. Therefore, the search operation is being called off,' a police spokesman said. But a sizable presence of the Army and the police will be maintained in the area, he said, to 'generate a sense of security among the people and to help respond to any information regarding the movement of the suspected terrorists.' Sources said the militants appear to have escaped in three groups on Friday, under the cover of night and rain: two towards Udhampur and another to Lohai Malhar in Kathua for a possible onward journey to Doda. Stray incidents are being cited as evidence of this: • Abduction of a 45-year-old Hansraj by some militants at village Dhamal near Lohai Malhar on Saturday evening: The villager was blindfolded, taken some distance and then released unharmed. • A heavily armed militant stopped an Army jawan, Major Singh, in the village of Malaman near Jakhole and asked him directions to Bhaderwah. When Singh refused to oblige, the militant brought out his gun. The jawan overpowered the militant and snatched his AK-47 but the militant escaped after attacking Singh with a 'sharp-edged weapon.' • At village Dadooni, which also falls in Jakhole, another militant tried to abduct a youth identified as Ganesh who was on his way to his maize fields last evening. When Ganesh raised an alarm and his father came running along with his rifle, the militant fled. The police spokesman admitted to having received information about movement of militants at both these places and said that search parties have been sent out. Over the weekend, an additional 400 specialised Gorkha soldiers-equipped with mine detectors and sniffer dogs-had joined nearly 2,000 security personnel. Hundreds of policemen, local residents and Village Defence Committee members had joined in, along with helicopters. To confuse the security forces, the militants had sent various messages across the border on wireless set, saying four to five of them have been killed or it was very difficult to escape. The GOC of 16 Corps, Lt Gen T P S Brar, had on Saturday mentioned these intercepts but said that the search would continue unless they found the bodies or ensured that the militants were not there at all. Meanwhile, questions are being raised in New Delhi over the level of 'actionable intelligence,' since almost a brigade strength of troops drew a blank after having tried all available technical intelligence aids - thermal imagers, Night Vision Devices and helicopters. Sources said the joint operation of the Army, CRPF and local police was ultimately reduced to a cordon and search operation since aerial reconnaissance failed to pick up any anything. One reason could be the treacherous terrain and the dense foliage.