JAMMU (TIP): The twin terror attacks on September 26 along the busy Jammu-Pathankot national highway brought back memories of deadly strikes in the past in the townships along the road that links Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country. Residents of Hiranagar (Kathua) and Samba woke up to the sound of gunfire and grenade explosions at terrorists first struck at a police station before moving to an army camp in audacious strikes in quick succession. Locals in the two towns fear more such strike. Memories of the may 14, 2002 attack at an army station in Kaluchak that killed 38 people including soldiers and their family members, are still fresh in their memory. “More terrorists might have sneaked into the Indian side and they might try to accomplish their evil designs,” said Des Raj, a resident of Samba. “We have no other option but to stay awake during nights as we fear more terrorists may have sneaked into the Indian side. In the past, we have witnessed many attacks in Samba,” said Sunil Singh, another villager. Apprehensions of the more similar terror attacks from the locals have some reasons as people living along Jammu Pathankot Highway have some horrifying memories to further substantiate their fears regarding terror attacks. Residents of Kathua also remember the Ghatti encounter of September, 2003 in Kathua between the Army and the Lashkar-e-Toiba militants that lasted more than a week. They also recalled the 12-hour encounter during a terror attack on the family quarters in the cantonment at Kali Mandi in Samba on May 11, 2008 which left six people, including a photojournalist, two army jawans and two women dead.

Has the Army lowered its guard?

NEW DELHI (TIP): The Army seems to have let its guard slip both at the border as well as the hinterland in Jammu and Kashmir this year. From beheading of soldiers along the Line of Control to cross-border ambushes, from attack on convoys to camps, the Army has been literally caught napping. Much like the beheading of an Indian soldier and mutilation of another’s body by a Pakistani ‘border action team (BAT)’ in the Mendhar sector on January 8, the five Indian soldiers killed in the Poonch sector on August 6 could not even open fire in the wellplanned cross-border ambush. The Army swung into action only later with retaliatory fire across the LoC.

In between, on June 24, another eight soldiers were killed and several others injured when their military convoy was attacked by militants in Hyderpora on the Jammu-Srinagar- Muzaffarabad highway. Again, the soldiers failed to respond effectively. What makes the terror strike on the 16 Cavalry unit camp in Samba on Thursday morning all the more worrisome is that the Army had received intelligence inputs recently that jihadi outfits, on the instructions of their Pakistan handlers, were trying to “widen the arc of terrorism” to engulf the Jammu region as well. “Alertness levels, however, were quite low. The terrorists had a free run for close to two hours from the first attack on the Hiranagar police station to the Samba camp around 20 km away. Information did not flow swiftly despite the Unified Command structure in J&K. No red alert was sounded. No barricades or roadblocks were set up,” said a senior official.

The terrorists, in fact, seemed to have had a relatively easy entry into the armoured regiment camp at Samba after killing the solitary sentry on duty at the officers’ mess gate, the first of the three gates to the camp, on the highway from Hiranagar to Samba. The rudimentary perimeter defences, with no fortified defences, electronic surveillance devices and other security measures, proved no obstacle for the well-armed militants. This is not the first time that Army camps have been targeted by fidayeen (suicide) squads in J&K. The deadliest was the massacre at Kaluchak in May 2002, which left 31 people dead and many more wounded, at the height of the Army’s forward deployment during Operation Parakram in wake of the terror strike on Parliament. After the initial assault plan in January 2002 was deferred, India came close to war with Pakistan for the second time that year after the Kaluchak incident.

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The first such major fidayeen attack was launched against the Badamibagh cantonment in Srinagar in November 1999, which left nine soldiers dead. In 2003, there were successive attacks on the Sunjivan camp near Jammu in June, which left 12 soldiers dead, and the Tanda Army camp in July, which killed another eight soldiers, including a brigadier. The latter attack also injured the then Northern Army commander Lt-General Hari Prasad and Nagrota-based 16 Corps commander T P S Brar, among others. But the lessons, it seems, have not been learnt properly.

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