Security forces wipe out LeT top brass, but militant outfit still enjoys vociferous support in Kashmir

Contrary to claims made by security forces, that a leadership vacuum has been created in the ranks of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) after the killing of its Kashmir chief Abu Ismail, the militant outfit still commands respect in the Valley and continues to draw local youth to its ranks.

After the death of Ismail, police officials believed that two of his associates, Abu Furqan and Abu Mawya, who were also involved in the attack on Amarnath pilgrims in July that left seven dead, are capable of taking over as LeT commanders. Pakistan national Mawya has been active for the last one year in militancy-infested South Kashmir, and is seen to be a natural successor of Ismail.

Abu Ismail was gunned down in Kashmir last week. Image courtesy: CNN-News18

Abu Ismail was gunned down in Kashmir last week. Image courtesy: CNN-News18

But what worries the security agencies even more is the steady rise in the number of militants drawn to the LeT. Half of the 224 militants presently active in Kashmir belong to the LeT, while the others are from other organisations, including the Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). In areas of south Kashmir like Pulwama, Kulgam, Shopian and Anantnag, most of the LeT cadre comprises local youth, said a senior police official.

The officer added that the outfit was short of neither local support nor youth willing to join its cause, especially in south Kashmir. "In south Kashmir, a majority of LeT militants are local youth, while in north Kashmir, the cadre comprises mostly of foreign personnel," said officials.

The LeT has been responsible for a series of major strikes in Kashmir, and its cadre has been targeting army personnel travelling in convoys on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway. These frequent attacks by the militants have become a matter of grave concern for security agencies in Kashmir, which have begun issuing instructions on carrying out joint patrols on the highway by the police, CRPF and the army.

Sources have said that most of the militant strikes done by the LeT in Kashmir were by Mawya and Furqan. "There are at least three militants, Mawya, Furqan and Rehman, who are high value targets for us, but Mawya could take over as LeT chief. He has been responsible for all major attacks in Kashmir in the last one year, and was associated with Abu Ismail as well," said a police official.

Police officials said the LeT militants' enhanced fighting capabilities let them easily escape from encounter sites. Abu Ismail had remained elusive for such a long time, because he kept slipping away from encounter sites where security forces had laid traps for him. His predecessor Abu Dujana had also switched sides but remained associated with the Zakir Musa-led Al-Qaeda cell, Ansar Ghazwatul Hind.

However, inspector general of police, Kashmir range, Muneer Khan, said that a strong intelligence network has enabled the security forces get one up on the militants. "It's difficult for the militants to survive once they try to get out of the areas they routinely operate from," he said.

Elaborating on the operational strategy of the LeT and how it is different from the JeM, security officials said LeT militants escape from encounters and survive longer. "JeM instead carries out fidayeen attacks on camps of security forces and inflicts heavy casualties. JeM men launch more fidayeen attacks and also get killed more," said an official, adding that JeM has about 25 militants in Kashmir.

"There is also a militant outfit named Tehreek Ul Mujahideen (TuM), which only boasts of three militants in its ranks. But it still is active in different areas of the state. Every militant outfit comes with its own different strategy. For instance, Burhan Wani was active on social networking sites. Foreign militants of the LeT come highly trained, and they impart these learnings to local militants as well," said a senior police officer.

What makes the fight doubly difficult for the security agencies is the large number of militant outfits which operate in Kashmir. "Since militants operate in different groups, it's difficult to gather much information about them. It's especially tough when it comes to JeM, since it comprises mainly foreign militants who don't even mingle with the local population," lamented a police official, comparing them to foreign LeT militants, who depend on locals to develop their "hideouts".

Updated Date: Sep 16, 2017 19:25 PM

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