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The Deadly Kupwara Gunfight —all versions and sagas

Baghial

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Feb 17, 2017
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April 5 was the deadliest day of 2020 in Kashmir so far. Kashmir witnessed most number of killings in a single day since the February 2019 SVIBED attack in Pulwama when more than 40 Indian paramilitaries were killed after a local 20 year old Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber struck their convoy. Per Indian security forces, on April 5, 5 Indian Special Forces soldiers and 5 LeT militants were killed in jungles of Northern Kupwara town, close to the Line of Control (LoC). Following the killings many official and unofficial stories popped-up from Kupwara, every story telling its own version. I spent some time going through different stories and versions in Indian media, different social media/ open source platforms and put them all in a single piece. I ask some questions too.

  • Open Source Intelligence version
Per Indian security forces, in the wee hours on April 1, a group of 5 militants infiltrated from Qasim II Post in Neelum Valley on the Pakistani side into Keran, Kupwara on the Indian side of Line of Control (LoC). Indian Army claims, their movement was detected by a “special radar” on the same day at 1300 hours (approx.). The ‘’special radar” that allegedly detected the group was probably a censor package (classified) or just a patrol party that detected footprints in the pristine April snow. Indian Army pressed drones into action to trace the militants. Again, these would have been UAVs equipped with thermographic cameras operated by Indian Air Force from one of its bases in the Kashmir valley, not the regular DJI Phantoms ordered from Amazon. Indian regular soldiers from 8, 2 Jat and 5 Bihar regiments deployed in the area launched a massive manhunt to trace the militants. The first contact with militants was made on April 1 at 1500 hours (approx.) in extreme bad weather and unforgiving terrain in Zurhama forest range. Exchange of fire took place from both sides. No damage was reported on the either side on the first contact. The contact with militants was lost soon after. The militants strategically dropped off their heavy loads and vanished in the never ending terrains of Keran. Indian regular soldiers continued the hot pursuit without any success for four days, facing challenges in the harsh weather and the even harsher terrain.


India Para Special Forces Squad 1 being dropped in Kupwara forests on April 4. Their last drop, last photograph alive. (Local Media Twitter)




After four days, on April 4, India Army decided to call in two teams of its elite killer machines, the Para 4 Special Forces from elsewhere in the valley and dropped them in the hunting zone at 1245 hours. The Paras are trained and equipped for ops in such tough environments unlike regular soldiers. The Special Forces narrowed down the location of hiding militants to a narrow gorge, possibly after detecting their footprints and following the trail. The exact location of the militants could have also been provided by IAF’s UAVs that would have been tracking the militants for four days. The contact was re-established after four days, this time by Indian Special Forces, and the wilderness of Zurhama forests lit up with gunfire, roaring from the automatic Kalashnikovs used by militants and the Israeli IWI Tavor, American M4 Carbine assault rifles and MGL’s used by Indian Special Forces. Indian Special Forces, in what may or may not have been a close combat, took causalities in the initial standoff, at least three of them were killed on the spot including a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO/ Squad lead) and many were injured, two of them would later succumb to their injuries at Indian Army’s base hospital in Badamibagh, Srinagar (local security officials account). An entire team of Indian Special Forces was finished in a moment, or wiped-out in military language. The team was not an ordinary team. They had taken part in the alleged 2016 cross-LoC ‘surgical strike’ in Uri sector of northern Baramulla town. The first firefight ended in a moment after killing of an entire Special Forces team (no confirmation on the causality count, including the injured) –then more than two teams of Indian Special Forces were called in and dropped at the gunfight site to provide reinforcement. They would have also been called in from elsewhere in the valley. They eventually killed the militants, the ones who might have survived the initial volley of bullets blazing from the guns of two teams of Indian Special Forces, could have been some of them or all of them. However, per some accounts, the first squad of Indian Special Forces walked straight into an ambush. So, if that was the case, maybe none of the militants would have been killed or injured in the first firefight.

Even though all five militants were killed, their plans of reaching deep into the hinterlands of Kashmir were thwarted, destroying their mission, the Indian Army, at least in their internal review, would classify the Kupwara Ops as a failed operation, for losing an entire team of elite and celebrated Special Forces, taking many causalities. Para Special Forces were inducted in the ops because unlike regular soldiers they are trained, equipped and made for close combats in harshest of circumstances. The Kupwara operation should have been a regular day at office for them. It is the day they wait for always. They were expected to eliminate the target and not take any damage. Nobody in the war room would have thought that an entire elite team of Para Special Forces will return from Kupwara, in body bags.



With no disrespect to Indian Army, its claims and its intel, I would be rather skeptical on the exact date of infiltration and the exact point of infiltration. However, my assessment can be totally wrong. The food and administrative stores that militants abandoned suggests that militants were in for a long haul, not on a 48-hour trip to Kashmir. The food supplies recovered from them would have lasted for many days, easily for two weeks. They were professionals, they had carried enough stock, medical supplies knowing that the terrain and jungles are still piled up with snow, the weather still very bad, and maybe after crossing the LoC they could be stuck somewhere in the harsh weather, and that is probably what might have happened after they infiltrated into the Kashmir valley, could be days before they were actually detected by a censor package, thermal censors or by footprints by a patrolling party, the exact date of which is not known, April 1, per Indian security forces. The location (34°39’03.6″N 74°10’53.1″E) where the final gunfight began and ended, suggests they had already covered a large area undetected. If the weather were not bad, the militants may not have halted their pursuit, could have even infiltrated successfully in 4 days.

Militants don’t generally infiltrate while the mountains and jungles are still covered under snow. However, this group chose an interesting timing and maybe wanted to take their chances, hoping to take some cover from the bad weather and chaos created by coronavirus pandemic. For these militants, to survive for at least four days (could be more) in such harsh weather and difficult situation in substandard gear, most of which they had already abandoned in the first contact to lose weight, to gain speed. Two of them wore woollen gloves to protect their hands from severe cold/ frostbite, three of them wore nothing, battling hunger, harshest of terrain, UAVs, helicopters, and severe Hypothermia. They wouldn’t have been able to light a fire to warm themselves in that terrain and to avoid detection —and then to inflict such heavy damage on elite Indian Special Forces in what should have been a one-sided combat, a clean ops, suggests how seriously and strongly they were trained, both mentally and physically. And, if two of them or three of them, or all of them turned out to be Kashmiris, it is a confirmation that they had received no ordinary training, but serious tactical and professional training by no ordinary trainers, The SSG maybe! The militants were definitely not a part of a suicide squad, not infiltrating for a suicide attack. Two of them, or three of them or maybe all of them had spent years in Pakistan/ its controlled Kashmir, training and learning combat and survival tactics. Their plan would have been to reach deep into the hinterlands of the valley, probably the southern part, and probably lead the new militant outfit, The Resistance Front (TRF). Their kit, recovered by Indian Army (details of which were available in media) was not a kit of a suicide squad. Their numbers neither.


Materials recovered by India Forces from the heavy-loads abandoned by militants on April 1
Per Indian Security Forces, this was a group of Lashkar-e-Taiba, 3 of the 5 militants killed were Kashmiris who had travelled to Pakistan legally as citizens via Wagah-Atari in Punjab, in 2018, only to return illegally as deadly militants via Kupwara to trigger what would become the deadliest gunfight of the year till date. Indian Security Agencies identified the three Kashmiri militants as Sajad Ahmed from Daramdora, Shopian, Adil Hussain from Liver Anantnag, and Umar Nazir, also from Liver Anantnag, all of them unsurprisingly from the volatile South Kashmir.



However, per open source intelligence available on various platforms on the internet, that I accessed, the newly created militant outfit ‘The Resistance Front’ (TRF) owned all the five militants killed in Kupwara, identifying only two of them as Kashmiris, Sajad Ahmed from Daramdora, Shopian and Sartaj Ahmed from Yaripora Kulgam, both of them had travelled legally to Pakistan via Wagah-Atari border in Punjab two years ago. The Hindu report citing Indian security agencies, had no mention of Sartaj Ahmed as one of the militants killed in Kupwara gunfight, or one of the men who travelled to Pakistan legally via Wagah-Atari! I also accessed their photos and video messages, the first message featuring (Sartaj Ahmed from Kulgam), probably shot in the planning stage of the infiltration, exclusive details and quick analysis of which is available on my Twitter feed. Militants make multiple infiltration bids and keep trying until they succeed or die in the process. It is not clear if this was the first attempt for these militants or they had tried previously too. The pictures of the dead bodies released (leaked) by unofficial sources, that I accessed, had their faces covered. However, in another set of photographs, faces of two dead militants were uncovered. I was able to match face of one of them with Sajad Ahmed from Shopian, confirming he was indeed one of the militants killed in Kupwara. Another militant whose uncovered face I accessed, did not seem to be a Kashmiri. There are possibilities that all five of the militants killed could be Kashmiris, or just two of them or three.

Dead bodies of five militants killed in Kupwara gunfight
Per Indian security forces, TRF is a newly created militant outfit, working under the patronage of LeT. However, per my research through information available in the open source, TRF claims to be an ‘indigenous’ militant group “working to free Kashmir from Indian occupation”, denies any association with LeT. So, it is unlikely that some of the militants killed in Kupwara could have been Pakistanis/ Foreigners. However, the probability cannot be ruled out. Indian security forces took the DNA samples of all five militants before burying them at an undisclosed location in Kupwara. So, it won’t be hard to figure out how many of them were actually Kashmiris. I am not sure how long the process can take though.


Screen-grab from TRF’s official channel on Telegram, owning militants killed in Kupwara
The Resistance Front (TRF) surfaced for the first time during the 2019 lockdown, in October when it owned a grenade attack in Srinagar. It has since allegedly carried out and owned at least twelve attacks, most of them grenade attacks in Srinagar and South Kashmir, and a low intensity blast in central Budgam district. The last attack owned by TRF was on April 18 in Sopore, Baramulla in which 3 CRPF personnel were killed and 3 others were injured after a lone militant with an assault rifle attacked them while they were on duty to enforce lockdown imposed to stop spread of coronavirus pandemic. TRF’s threatening/warning posters have surfaced at multiple locations in south and north Kashmir during the 2019 lockdown. Per a local journalist on Twitter, one of the posters surfaced in Qazigund area in southern Anantnag district recently in March. The pattern of attacks suggests it has a pan-Kashmir network, from North to South, and its modus operandi and structure could be different from other militant outfits operating in the valley. It maybe using lone wolves to carry out grenade attacks, not necessarily active militants, but over ground workers (OGWs), and not necessarily all connected to a single command on ground. Its strength remains unclear. However, judging by the size of arrests and the seizure of weapons of TRF by Indian security forces recently on March 23 in Kupwara, it is clear that TRF enjoys support across the LoC in Pakistan controlled Kashmir/ Pakistan.



TRF could be the future of militancy in Kashmir, an experiment, a new chapter to change the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir to ‘indigenous’, not Pakistan based, or at least to make it look like that. ~75% of the militants usually active in Kashmir are local Kashmiris, but some would argue that banners of Internationally banned Pakistani militant outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in Kashmir takes out the Kashmir reference and hijacks the ‘freedom-fighter’ tag. I tweeted once about it in 2019, during the lockdown. I had seen it coming for a long time, right after the 2019 Pulwama attack by a local JeM militant. JeM, after the deadliest Pulwama attack mostly stopped its attacks following the heat and backlash that Pakistan faced at the hands of global community since JeM is officailly based out of Pakistan, even though the suicide bomber was a Kashmiri. JeM owned very little attacks carried out by its militants post Pulwama attack, under a different name, a local name. TRF could be next Hizb-ul-mujahideen of Kashmir, which claims to be an ‘indigenous’ “freedom-fighter” group, has 100% Kashmiri fighters in its ranks, but hasn’t achieved much or anything militarily, or could be its replacement. Also, more importantly, Pakistan based militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) have become a liability on Pakistani deep-state and might be in the process of dissolution. Per open source intelligence, JeM went underground in Pakistan following the Pulwama attack.

TRF, with its supporters and possible sponsors across the LoC in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir/ Pakistan, might be working to smuggle assault rifles, arms and ammunition into Kashmir to recruit the local youth. The supply lines that smuggled assault rifles and other ammunition for local Kashmiri militants were mostly closed post 9/11 by the then Pakistan Army Chief, General Parvez Musharraf. I am of the opinion that if there are only a few hundred militants in Kashmir, it is only because of the unavailability of the assault rifles and other ammunition. Otherwise, every OGW would be a militant. The growing number of rifle snatching attempts, cases from Indian Security forces in recent years is a clear indicator that many militant commanders were, probably still are following the policy that anyone who wants to become a militant has to bring in his own assault rifle. OGWs exist in thousands. In 2018 alone, ~800 OGWs were arrested, their numbers are only on the rise. A report by Crime Wing of J&K Police in 2019 revealed that despite the arrest of 800+ OGWs in 2018, their number was on the rise in 2019. Per the same report, there were 23 militants active in Kupwara in 2019, and an estimated 500 OGWs working for them. In first three months of 2020, 62 OGWs were arrested, 80 till date, 28 of them were working for LeT alone.


One of the emblems released by TRF in its media releases
There are no details available on TRF’s leadership yet or its spokespersons. However, one of the known commanders of the militant group in Kashmir, per TRF’s media channels on social media platforms, goes by the nom de guerre ‘Abu-Anas’. TRF also posted his audio message recently, the highlights of which are posted on my Twitter feed. His real identity is not confirmed. However, per some OSINT accounts, he is a militant from a Pulwama locality, the erstwhile sanctuary of LeT in South Kashmir, now dominated by JeM. The second known commander of the group goes by the nom de guerre ‘Commander Hamza’ who recently issued a statement on a fake video attributed to Hizb-ul-mujahideen (HM) in which a masked man posing as a HM militant calls TRF an “Indian Conspiracy” to hurt the “jihad” in Kashmir, and asks Kashmiris, especially the youth to boycott TRF.



How TRF emerges from here and what happens to LeT, would be clear by this summer as TRF possibly tries to excel its ops, and more info about the group is revealed. LeT hasn’t carried out any attacks or owned any attacks for a long time in Kashmir now. Its strength has shrunk too. It is not clear what is the current sate of LeT or its policies and plans.

Updated on 27/04/2020: Abu Anas was Asif Ahmed from Kakapora locality of Pulwama. He was killed in a gunfight with Indian security forces on April 27 along with two of his associates in Lawarmunda, Qazigund area of Anantnag district.

  • Indian Army Version
Per Indian Army spokesperson – Statement 1 on April 4 (from local media): “the terrorists sneaked into this part of Kashmir and were trapped in Zurhama forest of Kupwara. After four days of pursuing, all the five militants were neutralised while in the gunfight, soldiers suffered injuries too. Alert troops braving inclement weather and hostile terrain, eliminated all five terrorists attempting to infiltrate across the Line of Control (LoC) taking advantage of bad weather. Among the injured soldiers, one was KIA on the spot, others succumbed to their injuries.” The slain soldiers have been identified as: (1) Subedar Sanjeev Kumar No. JC413798Y from Himachal Pradesh. (2) Haveldar Davendra Singh No. 13625231Y from Uttarakhand. (3) Para trooper Bal Krishan No. 13633013P from Himachal Pradesh. (4) Para trooper Amit Kumar No. 4093303X from Uttarakhand. (5) Para trooper Chattarpal Singh No. 1487156H from Rajasthan.

Giving further detailed account of the encounter and the sequence of events, Indian Army’s Lt. Gen. BS Raju, Commander, 15 Corps in a video statement on April 6 at 2200 hours in his beautiful accent said (transcript), “Operation Rangdouri Behak was an operation conducted over 5 days by our formation, in which we were successfully able to neutralise five terrorists who had infiltrated from Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Upfront, I must complement my men who were successfully able to complete this operation inspite of extremely challenging weather and terrain. The infiltration happened on April 1, early in the morning and this particular bid was immediately detected by the battalion deployed along the LoC, who as per SOP immediately gave a chase. The battalion inspite of extremely challenging conditions was able to make contact with terrorists at approximately at 1300 hours, and the brief contact firefight that took place, the terrorists abandoned their heavy loads and were able to bolt down into a deep gorge. By late evening, the formation responsible for that particular area was successfully able to isolate the terrorists in the north along the LoC and in the south along the Shamsbahari ridge. Over the next two days, on the second and third of April, the formation conducted multiple helicopter and UAV sorties to get better situation awareness. They also used this time to isolate terrorists, both from the east and west, thereby completely isolating the terrorist column. On the fourth of April, by midday, based on the information available with us, the likely location of terrorists, Para Special Forces were dropped in the close vicinity by helicopters. As this column was approaching the target area, one of the terrorists, who probably was a guide started to return back towards the LoC, and ran straight into the stops of LC Battalion and he was neutralised immediately. The Special Forces who were approaching the target area, in extremely challenging terrain, in very high snow levels and over extremely steep slopes, were able to make contact with the terrorists late in the evening. In the ensuing firefight that took place over the next 5-6 hours, the Special Forces managed to kill the balance of four militants. In this particular operation, we were able to recover 5 AK-47 rifles, along with arms and ammunition, 2 UBGLs, 2 pistols, Satellite radio communication equipment, BHF equipment, along with large quantity of administrative stores”.



One of the accounts in the Indian Media (The Print) claims that “Indian Special Forces followed the trail of terrorists, it took them to a cornice, a mass hardened snow at the edge of a mountain. As the soldiers stepped on it, it broke and three of them including Kumar, the squad leader fell into a frozen rivulet. The terrorists were hiding at the same location, the gunfight broke, the two soldiers who had managed to evade the fall jumped in seeing the firefight. In the close combat that ensued, four terrorists were shot dead, one managed to run a few meters before being shot dead with a bullet in the back.”

In another video message, Special Forces soldier who identifies himself from the Squad 2 of Indian Special Forces that was dropped along with the Squad 1, says (transcript), “On April 4 we were informed that 4-5 terrorists have escaped from here. So, we were dropped in that location from a helicopter. We landed in chest-deep snow. It took us 30 minutes to start after landing. Meanwhile, we checked our kit and followed the track of terrorists. We followed the track for 4-5 hours. We found their signs and started moving tactically. We followed the footprints further, spotted them and fired at them with MGL (probably referring to Milkor MGL). However, the militants jumped into a deep gorge, and when we moved forward to check, it shaped into two corners, we (Squad 2) were on one corner and Squad lead Sanjeev Kumar’s squad (Squad 1) was on another corner. We stood there, and suddenly there was a slide and two members of Squad 1 fell into the gorge. Squad lead along with other men jumped into the gorge to save them and encounter with terrorists started in the deep gorge. It was a fierce gunfight, a hand-to-hand fight. JCO Sanjeev Sir got hold of a terrorist and started screaming, his men went forward to save him without knowing if the terrorists were killed or not. Some of the terrorists were hiding, and as soon as they (Squad 1 members) went down to save JCO Sanjeev Sir, terrorists fired at them too. They (squad 1 members) without caring for their lives, killed the two hiding terrorists too. When we saw them in the morning, JCO Sanjeev Kumar (Squad 1 lead) was glued to a terrorist.” The video has been edited for unknown reasons by ANI or Indian Army.

Analysis and Questions

Those who follow Special Forces, would be surprised from the official and unofficial accounts of Indian Army on the Kupwara gunfight. When Special Forces are dropped for an ops, many hours are spent in the briefing/ war-room to plan the tactics and every single move, a detailed plan is laid on the paper. Prior to dropping the killer machines in the kill zone, an exhaustive target reconnaissance is carried out. It includes details of the topography, weather, potential hazards to avoid accidents, assessing the capabilities of the enemy and every other detail. Indian Army had four days to analyse the area. Indian Army Commander in his video statement says that for four days multiple helicopter and UAV sorties were carried out to assess the detail, to create situational awareness. So, Special Forces wouldn’t have been dropped in the confirmed kill zone without feeding them every single detail. They would have already been aware that by the edge of the mountain, there is a narrow gorge, an unsafe zone. The Special Forces would have had eyes in the air, UAVs or helicopters feeding them real-time details. Or, going by the soldiers account, they were informed about the mission and flown to the kill zone on the same day. He uses the word “escape“, which suggests that Para Special Forces may not been given enough time to plan their mission, were rushed into the ops since 4 days had already passed and Indian Army wanted to finish the ops ASAP, fearing the militants may ‘escape‘/ have ‘escaped‘.



Let’s assume that pocket of terrain in the kill zone was not captured by helicopter/ UAV sorties and not analysed in the briefing/war-room or for some reasons the Special Forces had no eyes in the air. Indian Army’s version is that the Para Special Forces squad led by JCO Sanjeev Kumar (Squad 1 lead) were following footprints that took them to an ice cornice, it crashed and three of them fell straight in the frozen stream or gorge. 1. It is unusual that the ice cornice remained intact when militants passed through it, but crashed when Para Special forces stepped on it. 2. Per Indian Army (The Print), two of the soldiers who evaded the fall jumped off the cornice straight into the frozen gorge and a sudden gunfight ensued. Again, it is very strange tactics. Even the regular trooper, or a paramilitary or even a policeman who has served in Kashmir or any highland would know that one of the biggest defences, one of the most lethal weapons a fighter in mountains has, is the height, taking the high-ground. If a soldier has an advantage of height, it is as good as having a dozen comrades fighting by your side. So, why would seriously trained, tactically aware Para Special Soldiers not know that and choose to abandon the high-ground, jump straight into the frozen river bed or gorge, and not take out the militants easily from the high ground using their state of art weaponry? One would argue that they jumped to save their comrades, but again, they were better placed at height to take out the militants rather than jumping into the gorge, a suicidal move. One doesn’t expect a Special Forces soldier to misread the situation like this.

Versions of different Army officers do not match, everyone has his own version. Per Indian Army’s Lt. Gen. BS Raju, Commander, 15 Corps: “As Special Forces were approaching the target area, one of the terrorists, who probably was a guide started to return back towards the LoC, and ran straight into the stops of LC Battalion (regular infantry) and he was neutralised immediately.” So, Commander 15 Corps, confirms that one of the five militants ran towards the LoC and straight into the LC Battalion, which means he was not killed by approaching Special Forces, but regular LC Battalion, certainly not few meters from where the four militants were killed, and was certainly not shot in the back (as claimed in the Print Account citing Indian Army sources). He ran into the LC Battalion, not away from them. They would have shot him in the face.

The size of ammunition that Indian Army claims to have recovered (details of which were shared in the local media) does not look like something that would have lasted in the gunfight for 5-6 hours. Indian Army released pictures of administrative stores recovered from the militants, but for some reasons did not release the pictures of the weapons recovered from them after they were killed. In other gunfights, they always do and sometimes call for a press conference.



I am not a tactical expert, but my assessment is that it may not have been a close combat at all, at least not in the first firefight between militants and the Para Special Forces. The militants hiding in the terrain would have heard the low flying helicopters, and maybe spotted the Paras at landing and set-up an ambush or were already placed tactically. The Para squad (s) led by JCO Sanjeev walked straight into it and were killed within moments without causing any damage to the militants. One of the accounts attributed to an anonymous Indian Army officer suggests it too. Per unofficial TRF accounts on different platforms, the militants contacted their handlers via ‘advanced communication system’, right after the gunfight confirming the details of the firefight. While I have no reasons to believe a militant account, I have reasons not to take Indian Army account at its face value either. The battle in Kashmir is fought, not just on the ground, but on paper too. It has always been battle of narratives in this part of the world.

Indian Army Commander in his video message says that the firefight lasted 5-6 hours. So, if the 5 Indian Para troopers fell/ jumped in the gorge with no cover, how did they fight for 5-6 hours late in the evening inside a narrow gorge? If they were the Squad 1, ‘the squad that allegedly killed militants and in the process got killed’, and if it was a hand-to-hand combat, how did it last for 5-6 hours? I reckon it is clear that militants were killed by either Squad 2 who were also dropped in the kill zone along with Squad 1/ or by the reinforcement squads who were dropped following the firefight involving first two squads of Special Forces and the militants.

I am not sure if there are any armies in the world, certainly not this part of the world who can be vocally self-critical in this context, bold enough to own a miscalculation, a failure that resulted in wiping-out of an entire team of Special Forces, a celebrated team. Losing an entire squad of Para Special Forces to militants with substandard gear, starving for 5 days in subzero temperatures, was never expected to happen. Hence, maybe the snow cornice, the frozen stream version to turn a loss into victory, to keep the “josh” high. I assume the internal review, debriefing of the ops would be different than what was out there in the media. Also, knowing how armies in this part of the world work, we may also see some announcements soon. However, again that would be for external world. The internal review would be totally different. Indian Air Force lost two Garud commandos in a counterinsurgency ops in Bandipora in 2018. They made a change in their SOP and never suffered any damage again. I am sure Indian Special Forces will review what happened in Kupwara and make changes in their SOP too. However, this is not for the first time that Indian Army lost an entire team of Para Special Forces in Kashmir. In 2009, again in Kupwara, Indian Army lost eight soldiers including a major in a similar ops involving LeT.



The Indian army commander in the video statement also claims that Para Special Forces made contact with hiding militants late in the evening. Late in the evening would be after 7 pm, which is the current sunset time in the region. In Jungles and on terrains, the visibility vanishes even before the sun sets in the plains. So, in current season, late in the evening, in a narrow, deep gorge, in a forest would be as good as night/ very poor visibility to the naked eye. I am not sure if Special Forces would continue the mission late in the evening, and not halt the ops for night? The militants with no NVGs, thermal scopes wouldn’t have been able to fight a squad of Special Forces at late in the evening, in a jungle, let alone wiping them out after a gun battle that stretches to 6 hours.

In another video message, Special Forces soldier who identifies himself from the Squad 2, claims his squad saw the Squad 1 taking a fall into the frozen gorge, indicating both the squads may have been together and close on the hot pursuit, not approaching the target from different directions, which makes sense to me, though I am not a tactical expert. However, he also punctures the other official narratives of Indian Army which claim that Special Forces following the footprints of militants, fell into the narrow gorge accidentally and militants hiding down there fired at them triggering an unexpected and sudden firefight in which five Special Soldiers and five militants were killed.

The above narration of sequence of events by a Special Forces soldier, a purported eyewitness of the firefight, punctures the narrative of Lt. General BS Raju, Corps Commander, 15 Corps, who in his video briefing said “As Para Special Forces were approaching the target area, one of the terrorists, who probably was a guide started to return back towards the LoC, and ran straight into the stops of LC Battalion and he was neutralised immediately. The Special Forces were able to make contact with the terrorists late in the evening. In the ensuing firefight that took place over the next 5-6 hours, the Special Forces managed to kill the balance of four terrorists“. The soldier in his narration does not mention the incident involving a feeling militant running towards Line of Control (LC) and straight into an LC Battalion (regular soldiers) who killed him immediately. The soldier’s narration also rejects the claim that firefight lasted for 5-6 hours. Listening to his narrative makes one believe it happened quick. He also claims that they saw the bodies in the morning, which again punctures the narrative that some soldiers were injured and evacuated to Army’s base hospital in Srinagar. If gunfight started late in the evening on April 4 and stretched for 5-6 hours, and if the Squad 2 saw the bodies in the morning, seriously injured soldiers wouldn’t have survived till morning. They would have all died on the spot. TRF unofficial channels also claimed that militants had armour-piercing bullets in their kit. So, the body armour, helmets wouldn’t have provided any protection to Special Forces. Armour piercing bullets were used by JeM for the first time in December 2017, in Pulwama, in a suicide attack. It has since been used multiple times, only by JeM, killing dozens of Indian security forces. This would be the first use of armour-piercing bullets by non-JeM militants. It has become a security nightmare in Kashmir for Indian Forces. Indian security leadership tried to reinforce an extra layer of armour shield in the armour vest used by its soldiers, but faced resistance from its soldiers due to its excessive weight. Carrying extra weight reduces flexibility.



The soldier’s narration also rejects the account given in The Print. The Print citing sources in Indian Army claims, “..the soldiers stepped on the ice cornice, it broke and three of them including Kumar, the squad leader fell into a frozen rivulet. The terrorists were hiding in the frozen rivulet, the gunfight broke, the two soldiers who had managed to evade the fall jumped in seeing the firefight. In the close combat that ensued four terrorists were shot dead, one managed to run a few meters before being shot dead with a bullet in the back.” -Per soldier’s narration (who is a purported eyewitness), “they spotted militants, fired at them, the militants jumped into a deep gorge, the soldiers followed them to have a look, suddenly there was a slide, two members of Squad 1 fell into the gorge. Squad lead along with other men jumped into the gorge to save the two men and fierce gunfight started.” The purported eyewitness says it was not a sudden gunfight, they had shot the militants and forced them to jump into the gorge. He also claims that all terrorists were killed by Squad 1 that fell/jumped into the gorge. Again no mention of the fleeing militant, getting shot in the back. Per, The Print account, 3 soldiers including the squad lead fell into the frozen river, and two others jumped off after seeing the gunfight. Per soldier’s narration, two soldiers fell into the gorge, and squad lead along with remaining two soldiers jumped off to save the two soldiers that had fallen, and gunfight started in the gorge.

The soldier’s account also raises questions on the claims that only one squad with 5 members was involved in the first firefight and second squad rushed to the gunfight area after hearing the gunshots. I am not sure of the tactics that Indian Special Forces follow, but I find it a bit unusual that only 5 men were together on a hot-pursuit of five militants. Ideally, Special Forces would pursue the target in buddy-pairs, with minimum 5-6 men in each squad. I am not a tactics expert, but I spoke to SMEs and they found it unusual too. The second squad would have effectively taken part in the first firefight. The solider who claims to be a part of Squad 2 and witnessed Squad 1 soldiers falling into the gorge would have taken part in the gunfight too, but for some strange reasons, his narration makes you believe that all five militants were killed by Squad 1. Squad 2 did nothing, only witnessed the firefight for 5-6 hours in the darkness of Kupwara jungles.



If there was no ambush by militants, if the two squads of Special Forces were not on hot pursuit close and together, deep inside a narrow gorge, late in the evening, friendly fire cannot be ruled out either, but again for that the Special Forces squads would have been approaching the target from opposite directions, which doesn’t seem to be the case, at least if we go by Indian Army accounts, and the militant accounts. We saw Indian Army using drones to film its ops, the recent alleged strike on Pakistani army ammunition dump and an alleged terrorist launchpad in Neelum Valley is an example, a new development. I am sure Indian Special Forces had eyes in the air in the kill zone too on April 4/5, helicopters or UAVs or both. I won’t be surprised if there is a classified footage of the ops that led to killing of a Para 4 team and five militants. However, chances of it coming out are very slim for obvious reasons.

  • The Resistance Front Version
-from unofficial channels on multiple platforms

“A team of highly trained five local mujahideēn commanded by commander Sajad Ahmed (from Keegam, Shopian) successfully infiltrated from an undisclosed point, on an undisclosed date. Indian Army detected them and gave them a chase, but couldn’t match their speed. The mujahideen on detection, dropped off their heavy loads/ food and other supplies, not ammunition (date not disclosed) and were left with no food (only some candies and biscuits in their ammunition pouches) for next 5-6 days, then contact was lost with them abruptly. When two squads of Para forces were dropped from helicopters, they had planned for laying an ambush and taking the mujahideen by surprise. However, the mujahideen spotted them at landing and laid a counter-ambush. There was no hand-to-hand combat. No mujahideen was killed in the first firefight, in which two squads of Para Special Forces were killed and many were injured, since the mujahideen made contact right after firefight on an ‘advanced communication system’. The mujahideen were killed in the firefight that erupted later on the same day, in which they inflicted unknown number of causalities on the Indian Special Forces who were dropped at the location after first two squads failed. Mujahideen reported high aerial activity and then suddenly contact with them was lost. Losing contact abruptly was very unusual since mujahideen always make contact even when injured. Indian Army may have used airpower to kill them after taking huge causalities. When the mujahideen made contact after the first firefight, they said the regular Indian infantry soldiers they encountered with, were very careful, professional and did not take any chances, did not give mujahideen any opportunity to cause any damage. However, the Special Para troopers were dropped from helicopters, were very clumsy, were talking loudly as if they were strolling on a picnic in deep snow. They were over confident and walked straight into the ambush. Mujahideen were well equipped, though not at par with the quality of the equipment that Indian Special Forces carry. Mujahideen carried original Russian made AK-47s, 5-8 magazines each, armour piercing bullets, 3-4 hand grenades, 10 UBGLs, pistols and plenty of spare ammo.”



-official account (from video releases)

Screen-grab from the video released by TRF in one of its official channels
April 01: “Indian Forces find signs of Kashmiri mujahideen who were self-training in Kupwara forests. As always, Indian Army rushes thousands of its troops to fight handful of mujahideen. The fight goes on for next 3 days. Thousands of equipped Indian troops fail miserably against handful of mujahideen with no food.”

April 04: “Indian Army now calls its Special Forces. The Para commandos, equipped with state-of-art gadgets. Two teams of Indian Para Commandos having 12 members per squad drop by heli, unknown to them was that they were already spotted by mujahideen.”

April 05: “Mujahideen lay counter-ambush to ambush setup by Indian (not-so) Special Forces. Both squads (12 members each) are annihilated, with 18 dead and rest severely injured.”

Quick Analysis

Firstly, the narrative of “Kashmir mujahideen were self training in forests of Kupwara” is an attempt to spin the narrative to ‘indigenous freedom-fighters’ tag. Kashmiri militants wouldn’t go to LoC to “self-train”. Secondly, there is evidence that Sajad Ahmed and Sartaj Ahmed, two of three militants that TRF owned and identified as Kashmiris, travelled to Pakistan legally via Wagah in 2018, but never returned back. So, they tried to return illegally via LoC as deadly militants in April 2020. Thirdly, TRF hasn’t shared the details of other three militants killed. If they were Kashmiris too, TRF which was quick to own the militants and identifying two of them as Kashmiris, would have shared the details/ pictures/ videos of other three militants as well, suggesting they were not Kashmiris but Pakistanis/ Foreigners. TRF also shared video messages of both Sajad Ahmed and Sartaj Ahmed, who talk like they were off to a suicide mission, probably not a regular suicide mission to attack an Indian Army installation, but the chances of dying at the LoC in an attempt to infiltrate. They probably knew they may not make it to Kashmir. So, they recorded the video messages, just in case they need it –and they did. The video messages seem to have been recorded in summers, not recently (not sure though), suggesting they may have planned to infiltrate in summer of 2019, but then pushed it to Spring of 2020, or made multiple attempts in-between.



I am also not sure how true are the claims that militants contacted their handlers on ‘advanced communication system’ after the firefight. What could the ‘advanced communication system’ be? Per Indian Army, they recovered a Satellite radio communication device. Wouldn’t Indian Army have picked the communication originating from the territory under its control? Or Indian Special Forces talking loudly. It doesn’t make sense to me. SF soldiers are serious professionals, connected to radio and they only talk in whispers and gestures. What I am sure of is that Indian Army wouldn’t use ”AirPower” to take out militants at the LoC or anywhere in Kashmir. Helicopters and UAVs are only sued for surveillance, reconnaissance, and helicopters are also used to airdrop Special Forces. Using AirPower in Kashmir is a political decision, and using it at the LoC closer to Pakistan controlled territory would escalate the situation and invite heavier anti-aircraft missiles from Pakistan, like the Aspide. So, the Airpower theory is out of equation. I don’t also buy the high casualty count claimed by TRF in its official version. However, there may have been high injuries, not killings. Hiding your KIA soldiers wouldn’t be possible in 2020.
 

MM_Haider

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thanks for updating... can someone please share link to official telegram or any other channel of TRF? this org seems quite a new
 

Baghial

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thanks for updating... can someone please share link to official telegram or any other channel of TRF? this org seems quite a new
SINCE LAST WEEK , over 6.000 acc, of suspected, TRF/JeM/LeT/HM. HAVE BEEN BLOCKED.BY RAW CYBER UNIT,
 

MM_Haider

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SINCE LAST WEEK , over 6.000 acc, of suspected, TRF/JeM/LeT/HM. HAVE BEEN BLOCKED.BY RAW CYBER UNIT,
what is ISI needs is one cyber unit to report and block the islamophobic accounts on social media .. ISI is lagging behind RAW in this..
 

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