February 2017 News

Deadly Ambushes, Well-trained Militants Have Caught The Govt, Forces Unawares

27 February 2017
David Devadas

New Delhi: The portents for this year are getting worse in Kashmir. Among the highlights of the past week, a cordon and search operation had to be called off owing to fierce stone-pelting, and a jeep-full of army men were mowed down by militants in the middle of the night. Both events took place in south Kashmir, where the uprising that followed the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani last July was most intense. The uprising, led mainly by teenagers, lasted four months. It kept south Kashmir, and also some other parts of the Valley, shut down. The attempted cordon-and-search operation was near the highway that runs south from Nowgam (at the edge of Srinagar) to Pulwama. Instead of cooperating with the search operation, boys from the locality beat the soldiers with stones. Significantly, this happened near the home of a teenager who was shot during last year's uprising. The soldiers, who shot him, were in a convoy which was stopped by heavy stone-pelting on the morning after the uprising erupted in the second week of last July. Residents of the area have been deeply upset since, for they insist the boy was on his way home with a bag of bread for breakfast, and was not part of the stone-pelting mob. This is not the first time stones have been lobbed at soldiers trying to cordon an area. As is already well known, stones have been thrown even during gunfights between soldiers and militants. Those who have tried to lay such cordons have done well to back off in the face of stones. Firing would have sparked angry protests across other parts of the Valley, paving the way for another potential mass uprising. The other event - which has already been reported - occurred in the Shopian district. A large number of soldiers had gone to try and capture a militant at night. They evidently went on the basis of false information, meant to trap them. They were ambushed on their way back from what had been a wild-goose chase. The attackers evidently had meticulous intelligence even in the dead of night - 2 am. As if it were a minutely choreographed move, they let some army vehicles pass before they emerged from a village bylane just as the only open jeep in the convoy was coming up. First they shot the driver. When the jeep came to a halt after rolling to the edge of the road, the attackers directed automatic fire at all eight soldiers, including two officers. Then they fled as the headlights of the next vehicle came round a corner. Eight soldiers were wounded. Three died. Another two were in critical condition. These events confirm three things that have been emerging clearly over the past four years during which the new militancy became obvious. One, the new militants are extremely well trained. Two, they have superb intelligence. And three, they have the fearless backing of young (and other) people who are not themselves armed. It is tragic that various sorts of 'security experts' dismissed these trends as inconsequential when they first emerged. The village where the ambush took place is home to Yousuf Falahi, district president of the Geelani faction of the Hurriyat (freedom) movement. Falahi addressed hundreds of public meetings in the area during last year's uprising, but was rescued by the fierce reactions of local residents on several occasions when the police tried to detain him. He was finally arrested from Srinagar on 13 December. Local residents say that nine boys from the area have taken up arms - many of them after Burhan was killed. A very senior army officer confirmed that it was the work of local boys. It is shameful that the army, intelligence agencies, 'security experts' and their political bosses have been taken by surprise. For the trend has emerged over four years. One soldier was killed when a similar ambush was carried out at Voterpora, down the same road, in the summer of 2015. Then too, the soldiers had been returning from a cordon and search operation. That attack took place during the day, rather than in the dead of night, like this one. Either way, it apparently did not concern the powers that be very much. The country will pay a terrible price for that complacence.