Militants today attacked an army patrol leaving a civilan dead and two personnel injured during a massive operation in Kashmir's Shopian district involving 4,000 troops, initiated by the security forces flush out militants holed up inside homes.
Door-to-door search of houses, a practice stopped in the late 1990s, was reintroduced with security forces marching into nearly villages in Shopian district, about 55 km from Srinagar, for 'Operation Clean Up' this morning, while helicopters and drones hovered over the area.
The troops, drawn from Indian Army, Jammu and Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) marched into more nearly 20 villages in the district with helicopters and drones circling the air.
The operation was launched after a spate of militant attacks in the region and was perhaps the biggest in more than a decade in the troubled Kashmir Valley, an army official said on the condition of anonymity.
After a 12-hour dawn to dusk operation, the militants struck when army troops were carrying out a "reverse sweep" of Chowdari Gund and Kellar area of Shopian this evening, official sources said.
Reverse sweep is a term used by army in which they carry out a surprise check of a location after having combed it earlier in the day.
They said the militants had laid an ambush and fired indiscriminately when the troops approached the village looking for militants.
Two jawans and a civilian, who was passing by, were injured. The civilian later succumbed to injuries. The troops returned the fire besides alerting other teams who laid a cordon around the spot.
The cordon and search operation (CASO) followed intelligence inputs about the presence of militants, including foreign terrorists, in the area, an official said. However, no arrests were made during the search.
The troops asked all villagers to assemble in a common area so a proper search of their homes could be carried out.
"We do not wish to have any civilian casualty and the measure was therefore required," said a senior army official engaged in the operation.
Aiding the security forces, which included a team of concealed anti terrorists (CAT), were drones providing real- time intelligence to the troops.
Barring a minor stone pelting incident at Turkawangan village, the operation went on smoothly earlier in the day, an official said.
After carrying out a search operation, security forces carried out a 'reverse sweep' of the entire region to ensure that none of the militants had slipped in after the earlier cordon ended.
A PCC statement, quoting party leaders Abdul Qayoom Shah and Mushtaq Ahmad Khanday, condemned the "harassment" of common innocent people.
Separatists also condemned the "excessive force and crackdown" in south Kashmir. Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik in a joint statement asked people to hold peaceful protest after congregational prayers tomorrow.
Operation after increased militant activities in region
There has been an increase in militant activities in south Kashmir with incidents of policemen being killed and banks being looted.
The operation comes four days after militants killed seven people, including five policemen, in adjoining Kulgam. Security forces belive that Umar Majeed, the mastermind of the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir Bank cash van, was also hiding in the district.
There have been four robberies within three days in Kashmir with two taking place at an interval of two hours on Wednesday.
Recently, videos of large groups of militants -- in some cases as many as 30 -- have surfaced on social media, despite ban imposed by authorities on 22 such sites and applications.
Security agencies believe that these videos were shot in south Kashmir area, especially Shopian district.
'Nothing new', says Army chief
In Delhi, Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat, who was here on a two-day visit earlier this week, said there was nothing new in the operation.
"It is nothing new. Combing operations have been going in the past as well," he said.
He said there had been an increase in militant activities in south Kashmir with incidents of policemen being killed and banks being looted.
"It is a regular operation. Every day we do it. There is nothing new. There has been bank loots and policemen have been killed. It is just to make sure that the situation is brought under control," Gen Rawat told reporters on the sidelines of an army function.
He said the Army was taking steps to check cross-border infiltration of militants from Pakistan.
"Terrorists are trying to infiltrate. Summer months have started and snow is melting. But we have counter-infiltration forces to take care of the problem of infiltration."