Colonel, Major among 5 martyred while rescuing hostages in J&K | India News

SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI: Leading from the front in the Army’s best traditions, Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, a decorated commanding officer of a Rashtriya Rifles battalion, along with a company commander, two other soldiers and a policeman laid down their lives in a fierce encounter with terrorists at Chanjimulla area of Handwara in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district on Saturday evening.
The two terrorists killed in the encounter, one of whom identified by J&K police as top Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Haidar, were part of a large group of Pakistani infiltrators who had sneaked into Kashmir through the Wadarbala-Rajwara forests in Kupwara last month, sources said. Colonel Sharma and his team reached the site after receiving reports that civilians were being held hostage in a house by terrorists. In the ensuing encounter, some civilians managed to get out while some were extricated by the Army.
Col Sharma, the CO of 21 Rashtriya Rifles, with his company commander Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and J&K police sub-inspector Sageer Ahmad Pathan Qazi, were returning from a massive combing operation underway in the Wadarbala-Rajwara forests when they were informed that two to four terrorists had taken refuge in the nearby Chanjimulla hamlet on Saturday afternoon.
“Col Sharma and his small party were ahead of the security forces still deployed in the forests when they got intelligence inputs that the terrorists, clad in combat fatigues, had taken civilians hostage in one of the houses,” an officer said.
A firefight erupted around 3.45pm with the two terrorists, who were apparently hiding in separate but adjacent houses. In the ensuing gun-battle, some civilians fled the houses, while the Army said a few others were “extricated successfully” by the security forces.
The security forces, which had by then cordoned off the area, blasted one of the houses with heavy weapons responding to the gunfire. “One terrorist was killed there,” a source said.
“But the other terrorist was hiding in the adjacent two-storey house with a cow-shed. He started firing and lobbying grenades as soon as Col Sharma’s team entered that house. There was a heavy volume of gunfire,” the source said.
Col Sharma and his team then “lost contact” with security forces, including elite para commandos, who had taken positions outside. “There was no radio contact with the team inside, while one soldier had a gunshot wound on his right leg outside. When someone rang Col Sharma’s mobile, it was answered by the terrorist, who was probably injured, with an ‘Assalamualaikum’,” said the source.
With no contact with the team inside, the operation was suspended for the night amid thunderstorms and heavy rains. “Abundant precaution had to be taken because nobody knew the fate of Col Sharma’s team inside,” he added.
At first light on Sunday, the worst fears of the security forces came true as all five of Col Sharma’s team were found dead in the “house clearance” operation.
The bodies of the two terrorists, with weapons and other “warlike stores”, were also recovered and handed over to J&K police. While Haidar alias Iqbal was a resident of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the other terrorist was identified as Asif Reshi, a local from Gund Chabootra, Handwara. Their bodies were taken to Sheeri in Baramulla district and buried in the presence of a magistrate.

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