Uri, Jammu and Kashmir: Imran Shah was sleeping in the attic of his house in Parampila village overlooking the bowl-shaped Uri town when a sudden explosion woke him up at 5.30 am on Sunday morning. He went back to sleep thinking that it was the army carrying out firing drills across the river Jhelum, just 500 meters from his house in the northern most part of Uri.
But, minutes later, he was shaken out of his sleep again by the rattling gunshots and loud explosions which continued for almost thirty minutes before that brief lull. “As the explosions continued, I woke up and told my father the army camp has caught the fire,” Shah, 16, told Firstpost on Sunday morning outside his house as plumes of smoke continued to rise from three spots from the Army’s 12 Infantry brigade in the border town of Uri in north Kashmir's Baramulla district.
“At 6 am, there were several explosions one after the other and we left the house," Shah said, "My neighbours gathered outside their houses and then someone said militants have attacked the army camp,'' he added.
Another Uri resident Shareef Khan, said he mistook the loud explosions for shelling from across the Line of Control (LoC) — Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), something which was normal till late Nov 2003, when a ceasefire between India and Pakistan provided the much-needed relief from the daily shelling for the residents of this town.
Villages failing along the LoC in Uri have been at the cross-hairs of Pakistan artillery many times in the past after the start of militancy in Kashmir in 1989, but a fragile peace prevailing on the LoC since 2003 has changed the live of thousands of people who have been living on the edge for decades.
The shells would land in the market, and crash on residences of people. In 1999, the shells fired from the PoK sides also reached the brigade headquarters, where militant made one of the most brazen forays to date in the more than two-decade old militancy in Kashmir.
But never had armed militants, in the past, from across the LoC launched such a daring attack on the Army headquarters here or in the main town of Uri.
"When the explosions happened, I rushed to check on my mother in another room,'' Khan said. ''It was about 5.30 am then I heard the blast again and went to the mosque,'' he added. Khan also said that by the time he had returned home, it was clear that something terrible was happening inside the brigade headquarters.'' Then word spread that militants had stormed the headquarters.
Sunday's attack on 12 Infantry Brigade, the first in more than two decades of conflict in valley, was carried out by four alleged Jaish militants, who, intelligence sources said, had infiltrated hours before the attack.
The attack on this garrison town has come as surprise and shock for the people and security officials. Uri town is ringed by mountains from all sides and has a strong fence with latest sensors and lights that shine real bright in the night, making it easy for the army patrols to detect human movement. The sensors and thermal imagers also make it almost impossible for the infiltrators to sneak in without risking detection and elimination at the earliest.
Yet, the puzzle of how four heavily armed militant could sneak into the rear side of the brigade and blast their way into the barracks of sleeping soldiers and unleash death has baffled many.
“The terrorists fired incendiary ammunition along with automatic fire of small arms that led to army tents, temporary shelters catching fire,'' said Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Lt Gen Ranbir Singh.'' The tents located in the complex were to house additional troops inducted due to routine turnover of units.”
“Since the terrorists had some items with Pakistani markings, I have spoken to Pakistan DGMO and conveyed our serious concerns on the same,” Singh said.
The militants, according to intelligence sources, crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in the wee hours and rolled over from the top of the hill to reach the base of the barracks where the soldiers were sleeping in two tents.
“The soldiers were sleeping in tents for paucity of space,” an army officer told Firstpost. “6 Bihar was to replace 10 Dogra and because of the paucity of space, the soldiers were sleeping in a tent as there was not enough space to accommodate the soldiers," he said. “The terrorists opened indiscriminate fire on the sleeping Jawans and threw grenades towards the tents that caught fire,”
The lives of the residents of Uri and army are intertwined. The latter is also a source of livelihood for many locals many who literally thronged the entrance of the brigade headquarters in front of the heavy posse of reporters and TV channels covering the attack live.
Syed Abdul Majeed, a resident of Uri town, said in the peak militancy years, there used to be daily skirmishes on the LoC between militants and security forces. But the militants never barged into army camps in the main town.
“When I heard militants have attacked the camp I could not believe it,” Majeed told Firstpost as helicopters airlifting injured soldiers hovered over the town with the number of dead soldiers increasing steadily.
By 11 am, 17 soldiers were confirmed dead and 25 others injured. The condition of two soldiers remained critical at the army’s base hospital in Srinagar.
Taha Rashid, who was sitting outside the signboards reading, stop, 200 meters from the headquarters, said he heard soldiers crying for help after two tents caught fire and as explosions continued one after another.
“I don’t know why the soldiers were inside tents when attacks took place,'' he said. '' The tents smouldered for hours after they caught fire.''
Initial reports indicate the militants crossed the LoC early morning and straight away headed for the camp. “As far as I understand this group of militants entered Kashmir and carried out the attack the same day,” an intelligence officer said.
In Srinagar, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti condemned the attack saying the deadly attacks was aimed at triggering “fresh violence and creating a war-like situation in the region.”
Mufti said the heightened tension in the wake of Uri attack is set to further vitiate the atmosphere in and around Jammu and Kashmir amid increasing Indo-Pak hostility. “Unfortunately, people in Jammu and Kashmir, who are already mired in an agonising situation shall have to bear the maximum brunt of the fresh attempts being made to step up violence and trigger fresh bloodshed in the State,” she said.