17 Indian soldiers killed in militant attack on Kashmir base
Heavily armed militants killed 17 soldiers in a pre-dawn raid Sunday on an army base in Indian-administered Kashmir, the worst such attack for years in the disputed Himalayan region.
The rebels attacked the army brigade headquarters housing hundreds of soldiers in the town of Uri, close to the de facto border with Pakistan. They were armed with grenades and automatic rifles, an army official said on condition of anonymity.
Four militants were also killed during the gunbattle with security forces that saw tents and other temporary shelters for the soldiers catch fire, the army said in a statement.
The encounter resulted in “heavy casualties. We salute the sacrifice of 17 soldiers who were martyred in the operation,” the statement said.
The raid was the worst such attack for many years in the territory, where an armed rebellion against Indian rule erupted in 1989.
Rebels stormed an army camp in the Uri area in December 2014, killing 11 soldiers and police officers.
Soldiers are now searching the base, 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of the region’s main city of Srinagar, for any more militants, the statement said.
Several injured soldiers have been airlifted to a military hospital in Srinagar, according to an army officer. Large numbers of soldiers are stationed at Uri after finishing their tour of duty of the disputed Muslim-majority region.
The region is in the grip of deadly unrest that has lasted for more than two months. Protesting residents are clashing almost daily with security forces in the worst such violence since 2010.
At least 87 civilians have been killed and thousands injured in the protests against Indian rule, sparked by the killing of a popular rebel leader in a gunbattle with soldiers on July 8.
The government has been coming under growing pressure over the level of casualties during the protests and over the security forces’ use of shotguns loaded with pellets which can blind demonstrators.
Thousands of angry demonstrators defied a curfew on Saturday in Kashmir to attend the funeral of a schoolboy whose body was found riddled with pellets, sparking fresh clashes with security forces.
Kashmir has been divided between India and its arch-rival Pakistan since the two gained independence from British rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in full and have fought two of their three wars over the region.
On Sunday residents of Uri town saw smoke billowing from the nearby army base after dawn and heard continuous rounds of heavy gunfire, while army helicopters circled overhead.
The militants first attacked a frontline base close to the heavily fortified border with Pakistan known as the Line of Control or LoC before moving onto the brigade headquarters at Uri, army spokesman Colonel S. D. Goswami said.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh was holding a high-level security meeting in New Delhi, according to reports, after earlier saying he was cancelling his planned trips to Russia and the United States.
The raid comes months after militants launched an audacious attack on an Indian air force base in the northern state of Punjab that left seven soldiers dead in January.
India blamed that attack on a Pakistani-based militant group. It came days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on a landmark visit to Pakistan, raising hopes of improved ties.
Several rebel groups have been fighting Indian troops, seeking independence for the region or its merger with Pakistan.
Soldiers have been deployed in Kashmir for decades and currently number around 500,000.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.