India: Rebels Kill 17 Soldiers in Kashmir Attack

Amin Masoodi
Srinagar, India
2016-09-18
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160918-IN-Kashmir-1000 An Indian soldier takes position near the site of a gun battle between Indian army troops and rebels inside an army brigade headquarters near the Line of Control (LoC), in Uri, Kashmir, Sept. 18, 2016.
AFP

Updated at 7:57 a.m. ET on 2016-09-19

Four suspected members of a Pakistani militant group stormed an army base in Indian-administered Kashmir on Sunday, killing 17 soldiers and injuring some 30 others in one of the most lethal attacks there in recent years, officials said.

The attack was the deadliest ever on the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) state, according to the authorities.

“About 30 Indian soldiers were injured in the attack. Some of them are critical and are undergoing treatment at the army hospital in Srinagar,” Uttam Chand, Kashmir’s deputy inspector general of police, told BenarNews.

All four attackers were killed in retaliatory action that lasted over six hours after they crossed into Indian Kashmir and struck the army installation in Uri, some 70 km (43.5 miles) from Srinagar, early Sunday morning, Director General of Military Operations Lt. Gen Ranbir Singh told reporters.

The intruders were believed to be members of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), the same group suspected of carrying out a similar strike on an air force base in Indian Punjab that killed seven security personnel nearly 10 months ago.

“All four [attackers] were foreign terrorists and had carried with them items which had Pakistani markings. Initial reports indicate that the slain terrorists belong to Jaish-e-Muhammad,” Singh said, adding that he had spoken to his Pakistani counterpart and conveyed “serious concern.”

“Four AK-47 rifles, four under barrel grenade launchers and other war-like stores were recovered from the slain attackers,” Singh said. He reiterated that the adversary would be given a “befitting reply.”

The deadly assault came amid spiraling civilian unrest in Muslim-majority Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, following the killing of a top separatist leader in early July.

At least 80 people, including two security personnel, have been killed and more than 10,000 injured in almost daily clashes between pro-freedom protestors and security forces.

‘Army should have been well prepared’

The attackers sneaked into the rear base of the infantry regiment while most of the personnel were asleep and threw grenades and began firing indiscriminately, the army said in a statement.

Most of the soldiers died of severe burns after their barracks caught fire in the grenade attack, the army said. The attack took place during a change of command at the army installation located around 400 meters from the Line of Control. The LoC is the de-facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

According to a security analyst, Indian government forces could have prevented the attack because they had received intelligence reports that warned of a possible strike by militants in Uri.

“The army should have been well prepared to foil the attack right at its outset,” Israr Khan, a former senior police official in Kashmir, told BenarNews.

“Our troops should have been alert and should have immediately neutralized the militants. The fact that we suffered so many casualties reflects a certain amount of lethargy on part of the army,” Khan said.

Call to isolate Pakistan

Meanwhile, New Delhi squarely blamed Pakistan for Sunday’s attack.

“There are definite and conclusive indications that the perpetrators of Uri terror attack were highly trained, heavily armed, and specially equipped,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said via Twitter.

“I am deeply disappointed with Pakistan’s continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups. Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such,” he said.

Islamabad rejected the allegation.

“India immediately puts blame on Pakistan without doing any investigation. We reject this [blame],” Reuters quoted Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson Nafees Zakaria as saying.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack as “cowardly.”

“I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished,” Modi tweeted.

“We salute all those martyred in Uri. Their service to the nation will always be remembered. My thoughts are with the bereaved families,” he said in another tweet.

‘For one tooth, the complete jaw’

A senior leader of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called for an appropriate retaliatory action against the perpetrators.

“The PM has promised that those behind the Uri terror attack will not go unpunished. That should be the way forward. For one tooth, the complete jaw,” Ram Madhav, BJP’s general secretary in-charge of party affairs in J&K, said in a Facebook post.

In Jammu and Kashmir, state Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the attack was “aimed at triggering fresh violence and creating a war-like situation” in the Himalayan region.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in Indian Kashmir since a separatist insurgency broke out in the late 1980s.

“Unfortunately, Jammu and Kashmir residents already reeling under violence shall have to bear the maximum brunt of the fresh attempts being made to step up violence and trigger fresh bloodshed in the state,” Mufti said on Twitter.

An earlier version gave wrong information about the number of security personnel killed in the attack on an air base in Indian Punjab.

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