Thousands of soldiers and paramilitaries were Thursday engaged in a huge anti-freedom fighter operation in Indian-held Kashmir, where freedom fighters have repeatedly attacked government forces in recent weeks. Police said government forces had surrounded at least 20 villages in the drive, launched early Thursday in Shopian district in the volatile south of the disputed Himalayan region.
"It is an unprecedented operation," deputy inspector general of police S P Pani told AFP. "It is impossible to capture the militants, but we hope there will be contact (exchange of fire) with them in the course of the day." Suspected men are frequently killed in shoot-outs with government forces in held Kashmir, but are only rarely captured alive.
Witnesses said hundreds of residents came out onto the streets in two villages, Sug and Tarkwangan, during the search operations and threw stones at the soldiers. One said soldiers had attacked private homes in his village with sticks and rocks. "It was scary. Many houses were damaged," the villager told AFP by phone, requesting anonymity.
Witnesses said army helicopters were hovering above the area as the search operations were going on. Officials say the Kashmiris ranks have swelled since July, when the killing of a popular leader by security forces sparked widespread unrest that left at least 100 civilians dead.
Since then armed encounters between rebels and government forces have been more frequent. The latest operation comes after five police were shot dead this week in a raid on a bank van carrying cash - the latest in a series of bank robberies in the region carried out by suspected freedom fighters. Last week militants killed three soldiers in a pre-dawn assault on a garrison near Line of Control.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2017