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Kathua ambush: Truck driver, 50 others detained

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Jammu: The manhunt for the terrorists responsible for the ambush in Kathua district, which resulted in the tragic death of five army personnel, has led to the detention of a truck driver and 50 others for questioning, officials said on Wednesday.
According to officials, the truck, which was initially close behind the ill-fated army vehicles on the Machedi-Kindli-Malhar mountainous road, slowed down near Badnota village in Lohai Malhar when the terrorists opened fire from two different directions. Five army personnel including a Junior Commissioner Officer, were killed in the ambush on Monday.
Suspicion has been cast on the civilian tipper driver, with authorities investigating whether he intentionally delayed the convoy by requesting a pass on the culvert.
“The role of a civilian tipper, which slowed down the speed of this convoy, has come under investigation as it is perceived that the driver deliberately asked for a pass on the culvert.
“Usually, army vehicles are given preference in these areas but the tipper still asked for a pass which slowed down both vehicles,” an official said on condition of anonymity.
A massive search operation, conducted by the army and police, is on amidst heavy rain in dense forests across four districts.
The operation, launched from Kathua, Udhampur, and Bhaderwah, has resulted in the detention of 50 individuals for questioning in connection with the ambush, the officials said.
Efforts are being made to track down and neutralise the terrorists believed to be hiding in the forest, they said.
In a related development, a search operation is underway in the higher reaches of the Doda district following a gunfight between terrorists and security forces.
Army and police personnel are deployed in dense forests in various parts of Udhampur, Samba, Rajouri, and Poonch districts, with fresh searches initiated in several areas on Wednesday morning.
Residents of Badnota village and neighbouring areas have expressed concern over their safety in the aftermath of the ambush, calling for the establishment of village defence groups to combat terrorist threats.
Local residents have urged the government to provide weapons and training to enable them to support security forces in the fight against terrorism.
The search teams, supported by helicopter and UAV surveillance, are using sniffer dogs and metal detectors in dense forest areas. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is assisting police in the probe, while special forces units are conducting surgical operations in specific locations.
“The residents, united in their resolve for peace and security, stand ready to assist security forces in eradicating terrorism from the region,” an official said.
The call for empowerment through training and armament underscores the community’s determination to safeguard their homeland against such acts of violence, the official said. “The government should provide weapons and training to us, we are ready to fight shoulder-to-shoulder with our forces against the terrorists,” Jagdish Raj, a local, said. Punkaj, a 20-year-old student, said the terrorist ambush has caused fear among the local populace but “the situation changes altogether when you have weapons in your hands”. “We can swiftly move into the forests and help tackle the threat of terrorism,” he said, demanding a special recruitment drive for the local youths of the area. Shahid Ahmad, who claimed to have moved from the higher reaches to Machedi due to terror threat, said Muslims and Hindus of the area want peace and are ready to assist security forces in wiping out terrorism.
“Our eyes filled with tears at the loss of our soldiers. Such an attack had never happened (here) even during the peak of terrorism over two decades ago,” he said, adding that the government should provide weapons and training to them to fight the menace. Ahmad said innocent villagers, who have moved with their livestocks to the upper reaches, are compelled to provide food to terrorists as they are threatened at gunpoint.
“We are with our forces in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

Soldiers fired 5,189 rounds, forced terrorists to retreat

JAMMU: Taken by surprise when heavily armed men ambushed their convoy but quickly gathering themselves, jawans of the 22 Garhwal regiment fired more than 5,100 rounds to protect their injured colleagues and forced the terrorists to retreat into Kathua’s wooded hills, officials said.
Two days after the terror attack that martyred five Army personnel and injured five in Kathua district, officials began piecing together the events – of what happened when the ambush took place and in the more than two hours of continuous gunfire that followed before reinforcements came in.
The terrorists opened fire on two Army vehicles on the Machedi-Kindli-Malhar mountain road near Badnota village, about 150 km from the district headquarters of Kathua in Jammu region. The soldiers facing heavy a barrage of bullets put up a stiff fight, firing incessantly to prevent more casualties and stop the terrorists from seizing their weapons and inflicting further harm.
Officials are looking at the evidence on the site, the bloodstained helmets, the bullet shells and the vehicles with smashed windscreens and flat tyres, and talking to the injured soldiers to understand how that fateful July 8 afternoon panned out.
The terrorists, believed to be a group of three, positioned themselves at two different locations and targeted the vehicles and the Army men, an official in the know said.
The attack, the fifth in Jammu in a month and signalling an escalation in violence in the relatively peaceful region compared to Kashmir Valley, started around 3.30 pm.
“Despite facing gruelling physical and mental challenges, the Garhwal regiment soldiers of the Indian Army unleashed a barrage of 5,189 rounds on the terrorists, forcing them to flee the scene,” an official told PTI.
The injured jawans are undergoing treatment at the army hospital in Pathankot.
Among them is rifleman Kartik Singh. His right arm was punctured in several places by shrapnel from a grenade launched by terrorists but he was undeterred and continued the fusillade with his left arm until his weapon jammed.
His was only one of the stories of courage.
“The soldiers showed unwavering bravery and selfless dedication to duty, even in the face of grave injuries,” said an official.
“The precise and relentless counterfire instilled panic among the terrorists who were forced to retreat, and allowed for reinforcements to secure the area,” he added.
“Despite sustaining initial setbacks and injuries, the brave soldiers of the Garhwal regiment embodied their motto ‘Yudhaya Krit Nishchaya’ (Fight with determination), standing their ground for more than two hours,” an official said.
Kashmir Tigers, a shadow outfit of the banned Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Jammu region has been shaken by a series of recent ambushes and terror attacks, particularly in the border districts of Poonch, Rajouri, Doda, and Reasi.

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