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Five soldiers killed in J&K terror attack, Army says firing, likely use of grenades

Five soldiers killed in J&K terror attack, Army says firing, likely use of grenades

Five Army soldiers were killed Thursday afternoon in Poonch district of J&K when their vehicle was fired upon by “unidentified terrorists” who “took advantage of heavy rain and low visibility in the area”, the Udhampur-based Northern Command said in a statement.

“The vehicle caught fire, due to likely use of grenades by terrorists,” it said. The incident took place around 3 pm when the Army vehicle was moving between Bhimber Gali and Poonch in the Rajouri sector.

“Five personnel of the Rashtriya Rifles unit deployed for Counter Terrorist operations, in this area, have unfortunately lost their lives in the incident,” the Northern Command said.

“Another seriously injured soldier was evacuated immediately to the Army Hospital at Rajouri and is under treatment,” it said. “Operations are in progress to locate the perpetrators. Further details are being ascertained.”

While this update was issued at 6.45 pm, the Army, in an earlier communication, had said the vehicle “caught fire”, leading to the casualties.

At 6.33 pm, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, in a Twitter post, said: “Anguished by the tragedy in Poonch District (J&K), where the Indian Army has lost its brave soldiers after a truck caught fire. In this tragic hour, my thoughts are with the bereaved families.”

The dead have been identified as Hav Mandeep Singh, L/Nk Kulwant Singh, Sep Harkrishan Singh and Sep Sewak Singh from Punjab, and L/Nk Debashish Baswal from Odisha.

According to military sources, the vehicle was part of a small convoy of two-three vehicles, and the attack was likely a “planned ambush”.

“The terrorists had identified the area in advance and planned an ambush. They fired at one of the vehicles, which hit the diesel tank, and it caught fire,” an official said.

It is not immediately clear how far the other vehicles were from the one that was attacked.

The attack comes amid discussions between the military leadership and the government on a proposal to withdraw Rashtriya Rifles troops from the Valley hinterland and let the CRPF fill in the gap.

With an RR sector moving to eastern Ladakh earlier, there has already been a partial thinning of troops in this area, sources said.

In January, Army chief General Manoj Pande had said that while the counter-insurgency grid in the Valley is strong, there have been instances of infiltration attempts in areas south of the Pir Panjal range. Rajouri sector, where the attack took place Thursday, is south of the Pir Panjal range.

He said that the ceasefire agreement reached between India and Pakistan in February 2021 is holding well along the Line of Control and western borders, even as cross-border support to terrorism and terror infrastructure continues to remain an issue.

Thursday’s attack comes a week after Union Home Minister Amit Shah, on April 13, reviewed the security situation in J&K. He also reviewed the preparations of the G20 meet, scheduled to be held in Srinagar in May, and asked all agencies to work in a coordinated manner for the event’s success.

Soon after the attack, security forces cordoned off the area and stopped movement of vehicular traffic on the Bhimber Gali-Surankote road. A massive search operation has been launched to track down the terrorists, officials said, adding that people have been advised by the administration to take the Mendhar route to travel to Poonch.

J&K’s Lt Governor Manoj Sinha expressed “anguish over the loss of lives of brave Army personnel in a tragic incident in Poonch”. “Their rich services to the nation will never be forgotten,” he tweeted.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said the country is united against terrorism. “Strongly condemn the terror attack on an Army vehicle in Poonch District, Jammu & Kashmir. Our deepest condolences to the families of 5 Rashtriya Rifle bravehearts. Our prayers for the injured personnel. We are united against terrorism,” he said in a Twitter post.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too said: “News of the martyrdom of 5 of our soldiers in the terror attack in Poonch is very sad. I pay my humble tributes to the heroes and express my deepest condolences to their families.”

The attack came 18 months after terrorists killed nine soldiers in the Bhata Durian and Chamrel forests in October 2021.

Meanwhile, sources said that the border districts of Poonch and Rajouri, after a spell of peace, have started reporting movement of terrorists.

In twin terror attacks on January 1-2 this year, two suspected terrorists had killed seven and injured 14 people in Upper Dangri village of Rajouri district. These attacks had come a fortnight after the killing of two civilians under mysterious circumstances outside an Army camp at Muradpur near Rajouri on December 16 last year.

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