India: Escalating Losses In J&K – Analysis


By Ajit Kumar Singh

On December 21, 2023, four Army personnel were killed and another two were injured in an encounter with terrorists at Dhatyar Morh between Dera Ki Gali and Bufliaz, falling under the jurisdiction of Surankote Police Station in Poonch District. According to reports, the terrorists, whose number is believed to be between three and four, had taken positions atop the hill from where they targeted the Army vehicles which were transporting personnel to the site of a cordon-and-search operation. 

On November 22-23, four Army personnel, including two captains, identified as Captain M. V. Pranjal of 63 Rashtriya Rifles and Captain Shubham Gupta of 9 Para Special Force, were killed and three other Army personnel, including a Major, were injured during a counter-terrorist operation in the Kalakote area of Gulbagh Forest in the Rajouri District. Two Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) foreign terrorists, trained in Afghanistan, were also killed during the encounter. A fifth soldier, who had been injured during the operation, died on November 23.

On September 13, 2023, Colonel Manpreet Singh, Battalion Commander of 19 Rashtriya Rifles, his company commander Major Aashish Dhonchak and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Humayun Bhat, were killed in a counter-terrorist operation in the Kokernag area of Anantnag District. Meanwhile, another soldier, who was reported missing on September 14, was confirmed dead on September 15. The terrorists managed to escape. 

On August 4, 2023, three Army soldiers were killed during an encounter with terrorists in the Hallan forest area of the Manzgam Block in Kulgam District. Upon receiving information about the presence of militants, Security Forces (SFs) launched a search operation. They were fired upon during the intensified searches, triggering an encounter. The terrorists managed to escape.

On May 5-6, 2023, five soldiers of the Indian Army’s Special Forces were killed and an officer was injured (name not stated) when militants triggered a remote-controlled Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast in the Kesari Hills forests in the Kandi area of Rajouri District. The incident occurred during a combing operation by the SFs against perpetrators of the April 20, 2023 Poonch attack. Later, on May 6, a terrorist was killed and another was injured. One AK 56, four magazines of AK 56 rounds, one pistol with magazines, three grenades and one ammunition pouch was also recovered from the encounter site.

On April 20, 2023, five Army soldiers were killed and another was injured when terrorists targeted a moving vehicle of the Army with grenades and small arms’ fire at Bhatta Durrian in the Mendhar area of Poonch District. According to reports, one of the terrorists managed to stop the truck by throwing grenades while another opened calibrated fire towards its fuel tank, triggering a massive blaze in the vehicle. In the meantime, a third terrorist opened fire at the soldiers on-board. The terrorists managed to escape.

Since the February 14, 2019, Pulwama Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) Attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel – the highest fatality figure for SFs in a single attack since the commencement of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in 1988 – the State/Union Territory (the State of J&K was made a Union Territory in 2019) has recorded at least 15 major attacks (each involving three or more fatalities), including the six mentioned above, targeting SFs, resulting in the killing of 66 SF personnel (data till December 24, 2023).

These 15 major attacks have been reported from seven districts: five in Kashmir Division and two in Jammu Division. The Kashmir Division districts accounted for nine of these attacks and 38 of these fatalities: Kupwara (four attacks, 18 SF fatalities), Anantnag (two attacks, nine SF fatalities), Baramulla (one attack, five SF fatalities), Srinagar (one attack, three SF fatalities), Kulgam (one attack, three SF fatalities). Jammu Division districts accounted for remaining six attacks and 28 fatalities: Poonch (three attacks, 14 SF fatalities), Rajouri (three attacks, 14 SF fatalities). The first such major attack in the Jammu Division was reported on October 11, 2021, in which five Army personnel were killed in a village close to Dera Ki Gali in Surankote, Poonch District. Since then nine major attacks (of the total of 15) have taken place, of which six (including the October 11 incident) have been reported from the twin districts of Rajouri-Poonch.

Significantly, by the end of 2011, at least seven Districts in the State had been declared completely free of militancy including Jammu. 13 Districts, according to the State Home Ministry, had reported militancy related incidents ‘in single digits’ including Poonch, Rajouri, and Jammu (Jammu had recorded three incidents in the year, though it had been declared militancy free). In January 2012, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs asked the State Government to take measures to free more Districts from militancy through 2012.

Worryingly, however, all these three Jammu Division Districts – Jammu, Poonch and Rajouri – remained terrorism-affected thereafter as well. Between 2012 and 2023, while Jammu accounted for 76 terrorism-linked fatalities (15 civilians, 22 SF personnel, 38 terrorists, one Not Specified), Rajouri recorded 93 fatalities (11 civilians, 28 SF person, 54 terrorists) and Poonch 101 fatalities (one civilian, 27 SF person, 73 terrorists).

Meanwhile, similar patterns have emerged in most of the fatal terror attacks targeting SFs since the Pulwama attack – counter-terror operations going awry. 

Indeed, reports now claim that the terrorists attacked the army vehicles on December 21, 2023, when the troops were going for a cordon and search operation following ‘specific intelligence input’ and got trapped. Earlier, after the May 5, 2023 attack (mentioned above), Jammu-based defence spokesperson Lt. Col. Devender Anand, had disclosed,

On specific information about [the] presence of terrorists in the Kandi Forest in Rajouri Sector, a joint operation was launched on Wednesday [May 3]. At about 0730 hours on Friday [May 5], a search team established contact with a group of terrorists well entrenched in a cave. The area is thickly vegetated with rocky and steep cliffs. The terrorists triggered an explosive device in retaliation. The Army team has suffered two fatal casualties with injuries to four more soldiers, including an officer. 

It is significant that most of the SF fatalities in the recent attacks have occurred in SF initiated operations, where the terrorists have entrenched themselves in fortified positions, or have hit troops in movement. These incidents have reversed the trend of declining fatalities among SFs since the recent high of 95 recorded in 2018, now reversed in 2023. 33 troopers have already bene killed in 2023 as against 30 in 2022. There were 78 SF fatalities in 2019, 56 in 2020 and 45 in 2021. Moreover, the SF:terrorist kill ratio, though it remains in favour of the SFs in 2023 as well, has deteriorated: 1:2.6 in 2023 as compared to a far more substantial 1:6.4 in 2022. 

With SF pressure in the Kashmir Valley having escalated, the terrorists are now concentrating far more in the Rajouri-Poonch region, taking advantage of the difficult terrain to draw out the SFs into deadly ambushes. In dire need of resurrection, the Pakistan-backed terrorists, have adopted new and high-risk tactics to bring a greater element of surprise to target SFs. Restoring SF dominance on the ground will require a review of the response patterns to ‘specific intelligence’ on terrorist presence or movement, and significant adaptations in operational tactics to accommodate the challenges of terrain that transfer advantage to a concealed adversary, lying in wait for pursuing forces.

  • Ajit Kumar Singh
    Senior Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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