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4 Indian soldiers, 1 suspected militant killed in Kashmir

AP/UNB . India
23 Nov 2023 17:42:36 | Update: 23 Nov 2023 18:03:57
4 Indian soldiers, 1 suspected militant killed in Kashmir
— Collected photo

Four Indian soldiers were killed in a gun battle with rebels fighting against New Delhi's rule in disputed Kashmir, officials said Thursday. The Indian army said one suspected militant was also killed.

The fighting started Wednesday, days after Indian troops started searching for militants in dense forests based on information that at least two rebels were hiding there, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with official policy.

Intermittent firing at regular intervals continued for all of Wednesday, the official said. Troops continued their search Thursday in the mountainous and forested area of southern Rajouri district near the highly militarized Line of Control that divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.

Two officers were among the four Indian soldiers killed. An officer and two of the soldiers were from a special forces unit, the military official said.

The army wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that rebels were also injured in the gunbattle and were surrounded by Indian troops. It did not specify how many militants were in the battle.

Lt. Col. Suneel Bartwal, an Indian army spokesman, said one militant was killed in the operation on Thursday. He said the militant was a Pakistani national, a trained sniper and an expert in handling explosives, and had been operating in the area for past one year.

There was no independent confirmation of the gunbattle.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety.

Militants in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi's rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

New Delhi insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

But since 2019, anger has intensified in Kashmir after New Delhi ended the region's semi-autonomy and drastically curbed dissent, civil liberties and media freedoms while intensifying counterinsurgency operations.

A militant group, the People's Anti-Fascist Front, or PAFF, claimed responsibility for Wednesday's operation in a statement on social media.

The group emerged after 2019 and has since remained active mainly in high mountainous forests of Rajouri and Poonch areas where its militants have carried out some of the deadly attacks against Indian troops.

Last week, government forces killed seven militants in two separate counterinsurgency operations. Also, Wednesday's fighting came two months after major gunbattle in nearby Anantnag killed three Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer and his deputy, and a police officer. Two militants were killed in the weeklong operation.