The Indian Army suffered one of its biggest casualties in peacetime operations on Sunday as 17 soldiers were killed and more than 25 injured in an attack on an army camp in Uri, in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Nine of the wounded men are believed to be in critical condition.
The fortified complex near the Line of Control – which houses an infantry battalion under the operational control of Army’s 12th brigade – came under assault around 4 am. It is believed a group of four militants snuck into the base and began firing indiscriminately and lobbing grenades. Army officials believe the militants had crossed the Line of Control hours earlier and were lying in wait nearby.
By one in the afternoon, the Army declared that all four militants had been killed.
Security officials believe the attack was well-planned since the militants appeared to be aware that an infantry battalion was moving out of the transit camp while a new one was coming in. “The handing and taking over of an operational area is very sensitive time,” said a senior army officer familiar with the operation, “as new troops come into an area, while the old ones prepare to leave.”
Normally, infantry battalions are cautious during a handover along the Line of Control, since Pakistani troops have been known to launch attacks on forward posts during this brief period. On Sunday, the new troops, living in tents, were taken by surprise when four militants attacked the camp. The assault occurred just before the last sentry takes over, which is a time of vulnerability.
Of the 17 killed, 15 were from the advance party of 6th battalion of the Bihar Regiment, and two from 10th Dogra.
Not since the attack on an Army camp in Kaluchak, near Jammu, in May 2002 has the Indian Army seen so many casualties. Back then, militants had stormed into the family quarters and killed 31 people, mostly kin of the army personnel posted there. Following that attack, the Indian Army had identified the three militants killed in the attack as Pakistani officials.
On Sunday, hours after the Uri attack, Indian intelligence sources had come up with a hypothesis based on intercepts and preliminary intelligence. They claimed that that the attack, likely a fidayeen (suicide) mission, was probably carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a banned terrorist group that operates from Pakistan and was involved in the coordinated attacks on Mumbai in 2008.
Some Indian intelligence analysts say the Pakistani civilian leadership has been insisting for a while on ending support to terror in the Kashmir Valley. However, they claim that the Pakistani military leadership in Rawalpindi does not agree with Islamabad: the military feels that ratcheting up violence will increase pressure on New Delhi and force it to react, which, in turn, will compel the international community to intervene. The military leadership is also said to be wary of behind-the-scenes discussions between India and Pakistan at an upcoming United Nations summit.
The attack in Uri is resonant of an assault two years ago. On December 5, 2014, an army camp in Mohura, Uri, was attacked by six militants at 3 am. While the militants were killed, eight Indian Army soldiers, including Lieutenant Colonel Sankalp Kumar, lost their lives along with several men from the Jammu and Kashmir police.