19 days on, militants still hiding in Manigah forest

It is turning out to be one of the longest anti-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

For the past 19 days, security forcesbacked by choppers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and special forces are hunting for the militants hiding in the dense forests of Manigah in the border district of Kupwara.

The operation was launched on November 13 after the security forces got a tip-off about the presence of militants in the jungle. A joint team of the Indian army and the police swiftly launched the cordon andsearch operation to hunt down the militants.

So far, the security forces have shot dead one militant of the group that was responsible for the killing of Colonel Santosh Mahadik, the commanding officer of 41 Rashtriya Rifles who was leading the operation against the militants in the forest. Another militant of the group was found dead in the jungle probably due to cold weather. A Lieutenant Colonel of 160 Territorial Army is among the five soldiers and policemen wounded in the operation so far.

Manigah is a bowl surrounded by mountains and dense forests. There are rocks and thick foliage which helps the militants to camouflage and escape the prying eyes of the security forces. Besides ultras, security forces have to battle the poor visibility and inclement weather.

Thousands of men from army, counter-terrorism unit of Jammu and Kashmir Police and commandos from the special forces have cordoned off around five square kilometre area to smoke out the ultras hiding in the jungle.

“Cordon and search operation is on. It is one of the longest operations in Kashmir. There has been intermittent contact (exchange of firing) with militants. They (ultras) may be hiding somewhere. Operation to hunt them down is on,” Colonel NN Joshi, defence spokesman at Srinagar.

Security forces, however, are surprised about how the militants could survive for so many days given the sub-zero temperature and shortage of the food in the jungle.

“It is extremely difficult to survive in these conditions. Temperatures are below the freezing point. Ultras cannot light a fire because smoke will automatically blow their cover. They cannot leave the jungles for food because there is a heavy cordon. We are trying to unravel this mystery,” said an intelligence official.

The long operation has taken political overtones with Awami Ithaad Party president and MLA Langate Sheikh Abdul Rashid asking the government to intervene and lift the siege.

“There seems to be no justification and logic for continuing the crackdown despite the cold weather. Civil and police administration should intervene and get the siege lifted without further delay so that the inhabitants of the area heave a sigh of relief,” he said.

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