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From Mobile Silence to Narco Money for Locals, Terrorists Switch Tactics in Pir Panjal Heights – News18

Three Indian Army personnel, including a Colonel and a Major, and a Deputy Superintendent of the J&K Police were killed during a gunfight with terrorists in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday. Their deaths came less than 24 hours after another Indian Army jawan and an Army dog named Kent were gunned in Rajouri.

The latest casualties are similar to the ones suffered by the Indian Army in Rajouri, Poonch and south Kashmir in the last one year. In April this year, five personnel were killed when terrorists set fire to a truck. In May, the Army suffered five more casualties in the same area.

Officials in the security apparatus see a distinct pattern in the way terrorists are operating on both sides of the Pir Panjal, inflicting casualties.

Small Operational Groups

A group of 5-7 terrorists have been active in Rajouri and Poonch since 2021. In October that year, nine Indian army men lost their lives in the Bhatta Durian forest of Rajouri and Poonch. It set alarm bells ringing on Rajouri-Poonch being back on the radar of Pakistan-based terror group after a lull. Analysis and intelligence gathering since then has suggested that the group carries out operations in sub-groups of two to three. A local terrorist acts as a guide and is well-versed with the topography of the area. In the encounter at Rajouri’s Narla on Tuesday and Wednesday, joint forces killed two Pakistani terrorists who were described as “hardcore” by the officials on ground.

In the Anantnag encounter, Uzair Khan, a local resident who went missing in 2022, is suspected to be guiding at least two foreign terrorists. The involvement of a terrorist from Tral is also suspected.

No Interaction With Villagers

Earlier, foreign terrorists would take shelter in villages, but now they are hiding in caves and caverns located in the Pir Panjal mountains or forest hideouts. “There is hardly any interaction with villagers. Earlier, police or Army could get a tip-off from the villagers if a foreigner came to live with them. Now, one local contact helps them with provisions,” a senior officer dealing with operations told News18.

While recoveries from terrorists killed in encounters shows they carry dry food and medicines with Pakistani markings, officers say day to day essentials like vegetables and grains are brought by the local contact. In the Poonch hideout, vegetable peels and locally available polythene bags were found.

Mobile Silence

The terrorist group in Pir Panjal has also posed a tech challenge for the security grid. No mobile phones or locally procured SIM cards have been used by the group, making interception difficult. “Some parts in the Indian side of the LoC catch signals from Pakistani mobile towers. These locations have been identified and steps are being taken,” a paramilitary officer working in the area told News18.

But a bigger challenge is the use of technology like YSMS (Yeoyou Stock Market System used with iCom radio set), that first surfaced after the Pulwama attack in February 2019, wherein very high-frequency and smartphones connected with radio sets are used to communicate. Instructions via voice notes from handlers in Pakistan is also part of the modus operandi.

Money Paid for Services

In another departure from the past, foreign terrorists are now paying the local contact for the provisions and services rendered, officers said. “Earlier, the dealing was at gunpoint. Threat was used to force locals to provide them with food and shelter. Now, the local contact is paid handsomely so they also don’t inform the security grid,” an intelligence agency official told News18. A J&K police officer said Gujjars living in the villages, who were earlier the first to inform local police, are now not forthcoming with information.

Drug Money

Police suspect that money made by selling drugs is being used to pay off the locals. A number of drug consignments dropped by drones have been caught by the BSF along Punjab and Jammu borders. Police suspect that many consignments may have gone undetected. “The local contact who collects the consignment is given part share of the drugs. In return, his services are enlisted to help the foreign terrorists,” an officer said.

Guerrilla Warfare

One of the biggest changes in tactics is guerrilla warfare being used by terrorists. While previous encounters were in residential areas or orchards of Kashmir, but the battlegrounds in the last few months have been the heavily forested areas of Pir Panjal. “A change of tactics seems to be the need of the hour where the Indian forces also attack at night or without revealing themselves,” a senior operational commander said.

While such tactics have been deployed by paramilitary forces in anti-Naxal warfare, in Jammu and Kashmir the encounters have largely been Army, CRPF, Jammu and Kashmir Police jointly carrying out operations. This means larger group of personnel encircling the terrorists. In hilly forests, where the enemy often occupies the heights, the strategy, officers said, may need a relook.

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