Thursday, February 22, 2018

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18 Feb 2018 | 12:58 AM[ + read story ]

Majid Jahangir in Srinagar & Sumit Hakoo in Jammu

THERE are many borders in J&K besides the 350km-crisscross LoC along Kashmir and 394 km along Jammu. Over the past few months, these are the ‘other borders’ that have brought into sharp focus the suddenness of attacks, the death-aspiring psychopathic assailants, the quick-footed fearless responses, and in some cases, martyrdom. The formalized borders have had holes from where it all begins. The twin-front ferocity does not, and will never, deter the men — our men — even if it comes to taking on the enemy with bare hands, even if it means paying for one’s life. And no, they are not paid to die; these are the finest men, whom Krishna called ‘immortal’in the Gita. Their dharma is to fight on, their karma is to let us live. 

First, the conflation of recent incidents: In September 2016 when Kashmir was in the midst of an unrest triggered by militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing, a four-member fidayeen (suicide) squad of Laskhkar-e-Toiba stormed an Army base in Uri close to Line of Control. The attack left 19 soldiers dead. This was a reminder of the post-Kargil strategy of militants to infuse new life into armed insurgency. The Uri attack triggered surgical strikes from the Army.

The surgical strikes may have been a morale booster, yet aspirants of death from across the border wanted more. At least 30 security men have been killed in such suicide attacks. On New Year eve the security apparatus found that two local Kashmiris were part of a Jaish-e-Mohammad fidayeen squad on a CRPF camp at Lethpora in south Kashmir.

The Tribune profiles some of the men whose bravery and fearlessness is unparalleled.

Madan Lal Choudhary (50), JCO, J&K Rif

Martyred; survived by wife daughter and son

Feb 10: Choudhary stood like a wall against a hail of bullets fired by terrorists when they stormed the fortified Sunjawan military camp in Jammu. Choudhary belonged to Bakrak village in Hiranagar (Kathua district), some 65 km from Jammu. He fought with suicide attackers with bare hands before being shot dead. He not only saved his family members but others  as well in a residential area stormed by suicide attackers belonging to JeM.

Eyewitness Sandeep Choudhary, JCO’s nephew, was present in the apartment block when the attack took place. He and other members of his family had gone out shopping in Jammu for his marriage, due in April. Around 5 am Saturday, the sound of gunshots woke up the JCO and his family. “As the terrorists lost time engaging the JCO, other families in the quarter were alerted and blocked their doors. Choudhary’s action prevented a massacre,” says his son, an officer cadet undergoing training.)

Commandant Iqbal Ahmad (45), CRPF

June 5, 2017: He belonged to the 45th CRPF Battalion months after his predecessor Chetan Cheeta was injured in a fierce gunfight in north Kashmir’s Bandipore district in February 2017. In the first week of June, Commandant Ahmad had risen for sehari (the customary pre-dawn meal in preparation for fasting) when message flashed about the fidayeen attack. He was nearly 200 metres from the camp. Without caring to take up his meal, Iqbal picked up his rifle and launched a counter-attack.

“At least two terrorists had taken up position near the camp. They were firing to help the other two to storm the camp. As the gunfight was on, there was an electricity outage. We ensured that fidayeen don’t storm the camp. In the gunfight, all four fidayeen were killed,” says Ahmad, a resident of Allahabad, UP.

Gunner Rishi Kumar, Army’s Field Artillery Regiment

April 27, 2017: Kumar survived a bullet by a whisker as it hit his bullet-proof patka causing temporary unconsciousness. A group of three fidayeen had stormed an artillery garrison at Panzgam close to LoC in Kupwara district. At the crack of dawn they attempted to enter the living area of the camp; they could not. As the gunfight continued, Kumar regained his senses and targeted two approaching suicide attackers and shot them dead.

Srinagar-based defence spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia said Kumar did not forget his training lessons even in a death-like situation. “He waited for the terrorists to come within range before he pulled the trigger,” the spokesman said. After running out of ammunition, he moved out of the bunker and tried to pick up the weapon of a slain militant. A bullet from the fleeing militant hit and wounded him. Kumar belongs to Ara district (Bihar).

In the gunfight, Captain Ayush Yadav and two soldiers were killed along with two fidayeen militants.

Constable Praful Kumar (26), CRPF

June 5, 2017: Praful Kumar of 45th Battalion repulsed a fidayeen attack in June last year on his camp housed at Sumbal Bandipore in north Kashmir. Four suicide attackers were killed before they could storm the CRPF Battalion headquarters. Constable Kumar was from Delta Company and was on sentry duty on a picket at the main gate. The attackers tried to cut the barbed wire to storm the camp at 3.30 am. Kumar got suspicious when he saw stray dogs barking near the camp. 

“I used my search light to find out what was happening. I noticed that when I switched off the light, the dogs barked loudly. When I switched on again, I saw a militant near the fence coming out of the bushes. I instantly fired at him and pressed the alarm to alert others in the camp,” says Kumar. Constable Kumar is from Munger (Bihar) and was in the Valley since 2012.

Constable Dinesh Raja K (24), CRPF

June 5, 2017: The constable from 45 Battalion along with Constable Praful Kumar repulsed a major suicide attack in north Kashmir. Hailing from Tamil Nadu, Raja was in the watch tower when his colleague Kumar frantically used search lights as stray dogs started barking. “I saw two militants in bushes trying to enter the camp. We engaged them before the Quick Action Team came in,” he recalls. “After they (fidayeen) were injured, they came near the main gate of the camp and opened heavy fire to get inside the camp. We retaliated and eliminated two of them in the initial gunfight.” Constable Raja has been posted in the Valley since 2016. 

Constable Raghunath Ghait (27), CRPF 

February 12, 4 am: It was snowing in Srinagar. Constable Raghunath Ghait of F Company of Central Reserve Police Force’s 23 Battalion was on a sentry duty at the picket to guard the camp at congested Karan Nagar locality in the city. 

A high alert had already been sounded in the wake of death anniversaries of Parliament attacker Afzal Guru and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front founder Maqbool Bhat. Only two days ago militants had carried out a fidayeen attack on an Army base in Jammu. Also at a stone’s throw, a sensational militant attack took place on Feb 6 that left two policemen dead. A top Pakistani LeT militant Naveed Jaat had escaped.

Around 4.30 am, he noticed two armed men with rucksack bags coming from a house and approaching the camp. “The militants were nearly 20-25 feet from the camp. I fired 30-35 rounds. The two retreated into darkness,” Ghait said. The constable informed others on guard duty and his officer. A Quick Action Team of the CRPF arrived and the police cordoned the area. After nearly four-hour search the two militants were cornered in an under-construction multi-storey house close to the CRPF camp. In the initial gunfight, a CRPF constable was killed. The 30-hour gunfight ended with killing of the two militants. The CRPF would reward Ghait, a resident Maharashtra, with an out-of turn-promotion.

OUR WARRIORSHE LIVES ON: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat pays tribute to Captain Kapil Kundu, who was killed along the LoC in shelling from the Pakistan side, in New Delhi. PTI
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