Details coming out from the site of encounter in Handwara, Pulwama district, suggest that the security forces didn’t go for the kill on the first instance just because they wanted to shield the locals, who were being employed as ‘human shields’ by the terrorists holed up in the spot.
Army sources say that it was on May 1 that the security forces first confronted the holed-up Pakistan-backed terrorists. After locating the unknown number of militants in the Rajwada forest area, the Indian Army party, supported by Jammu and Kashmir Police, attacked the spot. However, the troopers partially held their fire, after they witnessed that at least 11 civilians, including five women, were being used as cover by the militants.
While one militant was injured in the exchange of fire during the May 1 encounter, the others militants, using the women as 'human shield', managed to flee the spot.
On May 2, on receiving information about the militants hiding in a cowshed, a team of Indian Army, led by Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, the Commanding Officer of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, reached the Rajwada forest area in Handwara.
On this occasion, the team first ensured that at least 10 civilians present in the area first leave the site without harm. “The team didn’t want any hostage situation,” say sources.
While they were successfully able to save the civilians, Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh and Lance Naik Dinesh from the Army, along with Jammu and Kashmir Police Inspector Qazi Pathan, had to lay down their lives.
Three terrorists have also been gunned down in the encounter, which was ongoing at the time of publishing this report.
So far, three terrorists, including the head of Lashkar-e-Toiba’s local affiliate (LeT) Haidar, have been neutralised by the forces.