Sunjuwan army camp attack: Nirmala Sitharaman warns Pakistan for expanding arch of terror; stays mum on meet with Mehbooba

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Pakistan was resorting to ceasefire violations to assist infiltration and asserted that Islamabad was expanding its "arc of terror" to areas south of the Pir Panjal Range in Jammu region. "Pakistan will pay for this misadventure, I repeat, Pakistan will definitely pay the price of this misadventure," Sitharaman responded in as strong words as these to the questions of media persons about the Sunjuwan army camp attack in Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday.

Sitharaman was in Jammu on Monday to meet the injured soldiers and civilians and assess the security situation at the Sunjuwan military camp. She also held a brief meeting with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti over the security situation and conducted an aerial survey of the military camp in Jammu, which came under assault on Saturday.

Sitharaman, however, said infiltration across the LoC had ebbed due to the deployment of the anti-infiltration obstacle system (AIOS) and a dynamic multi-layered counter infiltration grid.

File image of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. AFP

File image of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. AFP

Thereafter, speaking at a press conference, the defence minister stated that the evidence collected thus far in the preliminary investigation suggests that the militants enjoyed local support in the area.

"The demography of the cantonment and the adjoining area indicates a possibility of local support to the terrorists before the final operation," Sitharaman said in a statement she said read out to the press. "The evidence is being scrutinised by the National Investigating Agency, which will soon furbish a detailed report," she added.

She also blamed Jaish-e-Mohammad group for the attack, claiming that there was evidence to indicate that the terrorists may have infiltrated from across the border some time back and were being controlled by their handlers in Pakistan.  "The attack was sponsored by Azhar Masood residing in Pakistan and deriving support from there in," ANI quoted her as saying.

She said the terrorists, sponsored by Azhar Masood in Pakistan, chose to attack a military station which houses both troops and their families.

The cantonment is located on the outskirts of Jammu, approximately 30 kilometres  from the international boundary in a semi-urbanised environment with a densely populated civilian locality, she said.

The counter terrorist operation at the military camp was called off this morning but sanitisation operations were still on, she added.

"The counter terrorist operation in Sunjuwan military camp was called off at 1030 hours today. However, sanitisation operations are still on," she told reporters.

"Pakistan is expanding the arch of terror in areas south of the Pir Panjal ranges and resorting to ceasefire violations to assist infiltration. The government is taking strong action," Sitharaman said.

Giving details of the military operation after the attack on Sunjuwal camp, Sitharaman said that there were intelligence inputs of a possibility of such an attack in the region, because of which Quick Response Teams (QRT) were positioned in the area, including the family quarters in the cantonment.

"The intrusion was promptly detected by the sentry and nearest QRT, who responded, and this immediate action forced the militants to split up individual positions and  thwarted an attempt to carry out a coordinated attack. The scattered terrorists reached the family quarters and occupied some of the blocks" the defence minister said.

She also said that the cleansing operation had to be done deliberately slow to rule out possibility of collateral damage as the militants were dressed in battle fatigues similar to the army's. The security forces meticulously combed through 189 flats and eliminated three terrorists, she said.

"The operation entailed the deliberate search of 26 blocks and safe evacuation of families from 189 flats which was time consuming and a challenging task”, she said.

This was successfully achieved with no fatal casualties to our troops. "Six fatal casualties, including a civilian, were caused by the terrorists due to their firing on unarmed service personnel and their dependents during the initial seizing of the residential quarters in an attempt to gain forceful entry into the family quarters," she said.

"There were some initial reports about four terrorists being involved in the operations, but the fourth militant was perhaps only a guide and it appears that he did not enter the cantonment area," she said.

"Pakistan has been violating ceasefire to help infiltrators. Activities of terrorists in the hinterlands are severely curtailed due to relentless efforts of security forces," she said.

She also claimed that the infiltration bids being aided and abetted by Pakistan were being successfully controlled by the security agencies and the government too was in the process of improving vigilance support and infrastructure in the border areas.

In the end, I wish to express my deepest condolences on the loss of lives of our brave soldiers and their families during the dastardly attack on our unarmed soldiers and assure our nation that their sacrifice would not go in vain, she said.

On her meeting with Mehbooba, Sitharaman remained tight-lipped and refused to comment on the former's earlier requests to start dialogue with Pakistan. Sitharaman, however, said that she held a "detailed" discussion with the chief minister and was grateful to her for giving her time at such a short notice.

Sitharaman said that like her, Mehbooba too had come back from visiting the hospital after meeting the injured and she was "emotionally charged" over the attack. "What sort of a system is this in which even women and children are being attacked?," Sitharaman quoted Mehbooba as saying.

"We are in a situation where there is an elected government in Jammu and Kashmir. We must work together," she said.

The defence minister also refrained from giving a detailed response to questions relating to the FIR against Major Aditya in the Shopian firing incident in which three civilians were killed. She insisted that the matter remained subjudice and that the government "stands firmly in support with the army."

"Ministry of Defence will stand by the army. We will not let them down," she said.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Feb 13, 2018 07:10:31 IST

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