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India troops block Kashmir villages amid massive rebel hunt

May 4, 2017

01Srinagar, India: Thousands of soldiers and paramilitaries were Thursday engaged in a huge anti-militant operation in the Kashmir Valley, where armed militants have repeatedly attacked government forces in recent weeks.

Police said government forces had surrounded at least 20 villages in the drive, launched early Thursday in Shopian district in the volatile south of the disputed Himalayan region.

The operation targeting militants who have been hiding in the area and striking against security forces began early Wednesday morning, with security forces, comprising army, police and CRPF, marching into more than a dozen villages in the district, army sources said.

“It is an unprecedented operation,” deputy inspector general of police S P Pani told AFP. “It is impossible to capture the militants, but we hope there will be contact (exchange of fire) with them in the course of the day.”

Door-to-door search of houses, a practice stopped in the late 1990s, was re-introduced. The troops asked all villagers to assemble in a common area so a proper search of their homes could be carried out.

The cordon and search operation (CASO) followed intelligence inputs about the presence of militants, including foreign terrorists, in the area, an official said. However, no contact had been established with the militants so far.

Aiding the security forces, which included a team of concealed anti-terrorists (CAT), on the ground were drones providing real-time intelligence to the troops.

Witnesses said hundreds of residents came out onto the streets in two villages, Sug and Tarkwangan, during the search operations and threw stones at the soldiers.

One said soldiers had attacked private homes in his village with sticks and rocks. “It was scary. Many houses were damaged,” the villager told AFP by phone, requesting anonymity.

Witnesses said army helicopters were hovering over the area as the search operations were going on.

The latest operation comes after five policemen were shot dead this week in a raid on a bank van carrying cash — the latest in a series of bank robberies in the region carried out by suspected militants.

The Kashmir valley has been tense since early April when election day violence kicked off a series of anti-India protests including by students.

Popular support for the militants has also risen and villagers now regularly come out onto the streets during operations to throw stones at government forces.

(With inputs from PTI)

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