Four terrorists of a Pakistan-based outfit stormed a military base in north Kashmir’s Uri near the Line of Control (LOC) early Sunday morning, killing at least 17 soldiers and wounding about 20 before being gunned down in a three-hour encounter.
The pre-dawn attack — one of the deadliest of its kind in recent years — surprised soldiers in their sleep as the heavily-armed terrorists first attacked a diesel-refilling unit, lobbing 17 grenades in 3 minutes, sparking a blaze that burnt many tents in a 150-metre area.
About 13-14 casualties were due to tents and shelters having caught fire. The army deployed helicopters to airlift injured soldiers to Srinagar for treatment.
Army Chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag rushed to Uri, about 100 km from state capital Srinagar, followed soon by defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who cut short his Goa visit. Mr Parrikar was briefed at Army’s headquarters in Srinagar.
Echoing the nation’s anguish, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that those behind the attack would not go unpunished. “We strongly condemn the cowardly attack. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished,” the PM tweeted.
The terrorists lobbed grenades at tents and barracks housing soldiers, before opening fire with automatic weapons. “We were woken up from deep sleep by loud sounds of blasts and gunfire. When we peeked through the windows we saw the battalion headquarters in flames,” said Irshad Ahmed, a local journalist. With the first light, Uri residents also saw a thick cloud of black and grey smoke rising above the base.
Sunday’s attack that lasted from 5:30 am to 8:30 am was one of the bloodiest on soldiers since terrorists killed 30 soldiers and their families in a suicide attack at Kaluchak in Kashmir in 2002.
The attack is likely to squeeze space for Indo-Pak dialogue, souring ties between the nuclear-armed neighbours, as it triggered calls for a fierce retaliation. Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the PMO, said: “Not responding to such terror attacks will be cowardice.” Of the 17 slain soldiers, 15 were from Bihar Regiment and two belonged to 10th Dogra.
Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, who said that all four killed were foreign terrorists carrying weapons bearing Pakistani markings, called up his Pakistan counterpart to convey India’s ‘serious concerns’. The terrorists carried AK-47s, grenade launchers and a big cache of grenades.
He said the evil designs would get a befitting reply. Lt Gen Singh said Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) could be behind the audacious sneak attack, while other officials said it could also be Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).
The attack may also jeopardises hopes of peace returning to the violent-hit Valley where more than 80 civilians have been killed in clashes with security forces since militant Burhan Wani’s encounter killing on July 8.