The Indian Army has killed over 60 terrorists, uncovered several bunkers and seized huge stocks of arms, ammunition and medicines in a phased operation in the remote Hill Kaka region near Surankote town in Jammu and Kashmir.
The operation, codenamed Sarp Vinash, the fourth phase of which is still continuing, started in the month of January. They are being carried out by the Romeo Force of the Rashtriya Rifles and supported by Special Operations teams.
Army officers, however, were quick to clarify that the presence of such a huge number of militants for so long a period should not be compared to Kargil intrusions.
Hill Kaka region is a remote area, occupied during summer by migratory nomads, lying close to Pir Panjal range that divides the Kashmir valley from rest of India.
Major General Hardev Lidder, general officer commanding of the Romeo Force, told rediff.com that 40 per cent of the combing operations have been completed. Sixty-three terrorists, he said, have been killed and three apprehended. Nineteen of the killed ultras are from Laskhar-e-Tayiba, 12 from Jaish-e-Mohammed and the rest from other groups.
The army, he added, got information about the extensive nature of these bunkers after a surrendered terrorist during interrogation revealed that 300-350 terrorists were hiding in these bunkers.
The Hill Kaka area is very difficult to access with the nearest road around ten hours away by foot. "It was an ideal area for establishing safe hideouts for the guerrilla operations that they (terrorists) wanted to carry out," Major General Lidder said.
Giving an example of the tough nature of the operation, Major General Lidder said the army had to use a helicopter gunship to bust a bunker situated at the highest point on the Derawali Ridge.
The army, he said, faced several constraints, including the inability deploy troops on a long-term basis due to lack of access.
When the first phase of Operation Sarp Vinash began on January 29, the first thing the Romeo Force did was to construct three helipads in the region, at heights between 10,000 and 11,000 feet. Twenty kilometres of mule track was also laid, besides the setting up of storage dumps.
As part of preparations for the first phase a 'deliberate misinformation' campaign, an army officer said, was also carried out to mislead the terrorist groups.
In the second phase from April 1-15, the army set up several bases around the Hill Kaka region, while preventing the migratory population from entering the area.
Hill Kaka area is one of the permanent locations of migrant communities such as Bakariwals and Gujjars, who climb up during summer to graze their cattle. In winter, they vacate these places.
The government, in fact, is engaged in resettling and reimbursing the migratory communities, the cost of which is estimated to be Rs 7.5 crores.
The third and crucial phase in which the army started the occupation of the Hill Kaka area began on the night of April 21
By about 0530 hours IST next morning, Major General Lidder said, the army had killed 13 terrorists and arrested three of them. The rest had fled the area.
Of the three held, two are young boys, who were forcefully taken away from their homes for militant training, he added.
The fourth phase, which began on May 3 and is continuing, has seen the army carry out massive search operation in and around the area.
A satellite phone was also seized from one of the hideouts. "Several calls were made, some of them to Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pakistan and even to the Gulf region. They were very well connected, talking to all sorts of people in all sorts of directions," Major General Lidder said.
The army has found 94 hideouts and a whopping 7000 kilogrammes of rations. "That after they spent the entire winter period there," General Lidder said.
The army also found several bunkers, including some as deep as 60 feet by 20 feet that could hold up to 50 terrorists at one time. They have also found paper detailing expenditure running into almost Rs 1.8 crores.