Army Had No Knowledge Of Shala Bhatu Capture For 3 Weeks

Army Had No Knowledge Of Shala Bhatu Capture For 3 Weeks

3 October 2013
The Daily Excelsior
Fayaz Bukhari

Srinagar: Army had no knowledge about the capture of Shala Bhatu village on the Line of Control (LoC) in Keran sector of North Kashmir for first three weeks and came to know about it when their patrol was fired upon by the militants on September 21, sources said here. Highly placed sources said: “The village Shala Bhatu spread over around 1.5 square kilometres on the LoC in Keran sector was captured at least a month ago in early September by 30-40 militants assisted by the Pakistani Special Forces.” Describing the sequences of the events, the sources said: “The 20 Kumaon regiment of Indian Army were handing over charge to the 3-3 Gurkha Regiment in the Shala Bhatu area when the village was captured. The 20 Kumaon left the bunkers that were used to check infiltration of militants from Pakistan abandoned and militants who have a launch pad on the Pakistan side of Shala Bhatu village took advantage and crossed a stream that acts as LoC between the two countries and captured the village and the bunkers. When the new regiment, 3-3 Gurkha, went to patrol the area during the night intervening September 21 and 22, it was fired upon.” A security force official said that abandoning the bunkers on the LoC is a major tactical failure. “They should have not left the bunkers unmanned when the unit was moving out”, the officer opined. Sources further said that the militants have supply line from Pakistan side intact and Army is planning a major operation against them to clear the village. “The ruins of the abandoned houses, big boulders, dense forest cover and its undergrowth is providing them cover”, said the sources. The captured village is beyond LoC fence, erected by Army inside Indian territory around 1.5 kilometeres away from LoC in 2003 as an counter-infiltration obstacle to stop infiltration of militants from Pakistan. The Shala Bhatu hamlet, inhibited by around two dozen families fled to Pakistan in 1990 when militancy started in Kashmir. They set up a new hamlet across a stream that acts as an LoC between India and Pakistan in the area. “Army moved its para-commando unit and fresh troops to the area and have cordoned the village from Indian side. So far no heavy weapons were used either by militants or the Indian Army. Five Army men were injured in the small arms firing in the standoff that has entered into 10th day today”, said the source. Sources said that unless Army uses heavy weapons the infiltrators can’t be dislodged. They said using of Air Force may not work here as the village is right on the LoC and can involve Pakistani troops who are guarding the LoC on their side. However, General Officer Commanding (GOC) Srinagar based 15 Corps, Lt General Gurmit Singh yesterday denied that the village has been captured by militants. “We are in total control of the operation which was launched on September 24. The reports of our posts being captured by the infiltrators are absurd,” he added.