Uri/New Delhi, Sep 18 (IANS) Terrorists of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) outfit attacked an army camp near a brigade headquarters here in Jammu and Kashmir early on Sunday in the worst attack on any military base in the state in a decade that left 17 soldiers dead, officials said.
Over two dozen soldiers were also injured in the audacious sneak attack, which Home Minister Rajnath Singh blamed on “terrorist state” Pakistan and called for its isolation. The death toll may rise as some of the wounded soldiers were critical and hospitalized in Srinagar, about 70 km away.
All four heavily-armed fidayeen or suicide attackers, who barged into the camp near Uri town at 5.30 a.m., were killed in a battle that raged for two-and-a-half hours, military officials said.
Echoing the nation’s anguish, Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned the “cowardly terror attack” and assured “the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished”.
Modi refrained from saying who was to blame for the bloodbath but Rajnath Singh did not mince words.
“I am deeply disappointed with Pakistan’s continued and direct support to terrorism and terrorist groups. Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such,” the minister tweeted.
The Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, said in Delhi that the army found some articles with “Pakistan markings” from the slain terrorists.
“They were all foreigners and belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammed,” he said.
Uri is near the Line of Control (LoC), which divides Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The camp attacked on Sunday is close to the headquarters of the army’s 12 Brigade.
According to military sources, the terrorists entered the camp from the rear after cutting the barbed wire fencing — without the sentries getting alerted.
The gunmen then resorted to indiscriminate gunfire from AK-47 rifles after quickly spreading in different directions inside the camp.
They also hurled grenades at tents where soldiers were asleep, catching them unawares.
At least 14 of the 17 casualties, according to Gen Ranbir Singh, occurred due to a fire after militants hurled grenades at temporary structures in a mountainous terrain of Uri.
The exact number of troops inside the camp was not known but a source estimated there must have been around 200. Most of the infantry battalion is deployed on the LoC.
The attack sent huge columns of black smoke rising into the sky.
A statement from the Northern Command said “heavily armed terrorists targeted the rear administrative base at Uri” and that four terrorists died in the counter action.
“The base had a large strength of troops of units turning over after their tour of duty who were stationed in tents/temporary shelters which caught fire and resulted in heavy casualties. We salute the sacrifices of 17 soldiers who were martyred.”
Unofficial sources said most dead soldiers were from the Bihar Regiment. Two soldiers of the Dogra Regiment also died.
No guerrilla group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack came amid an ongoing civilian unrest in the Kashmir Valley that has left nearly 90 persons dead in the last two and half months.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said the “attack was aimed at triggering fresh violence in Kashmir and creating a war-like situation in the region.
“The heightened tension in the wake of the Uri attack is set to further vitiate the atmosphere in and around Jammu and Kashmir amid increasing India-Pakistan hostility,” she warned.
Within hours, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Army Chief General Dalbir Singh flew to Srinagar.
In a sign that Sunday’s attack would further worsen the India-Pakistan relations, Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, said: “Not responding to such terror attacks will be cowardice.”
A military expert, retired Lt. Gen. Raj Kadyan, said it was time to teach Pakistan a lesson.
Calling the attack the “most serious in the last decade”, he said: “The response required is a tough one. The army should launch a strike at a place and time of its choosing. Retribution should be quick and severe.”