He looked out into the grey shroud blowing off the cauldron of cloud below, watching two dark dots move up the Bhui nar — a stream leading up to the wall of concertina wire, battlefield radar and thermal sensors on the Line of Control (LoC). They were just bears, playing on a small patch of ice that had survived the summer. Sipahi Vaibhav Kumar’s fingers didn’t, however, come off the trigger guard on his assault rifle.
Last week, seven men, camouflaged inside the cloud, made their way up a stream just like this, their backpacks stuffed with packets of Sooper Egg and Milk Cookies, Nimko masala-mix, medicines, grenades and ammunition, sparking off the biggest counter-infiltration operation since 2009.
Five of the terrorists, and three soldiers, have since died in the fighting that continues to rage in northern Kashmir’s dense Kalaroos forest — a battle that is part of a larger war sparked by growing infiltration across the LoC ahead of elections to Jammu and Kashmir’s legislative assembly.
Exchanges of fire at forward posts have become more frequent through August; exchanges the Army says result from the Pakistan military’s support for infiltrating groups.
The LoC, many in the Army fear, might be about to catch fire — and Vaibhav Kumar and his comrades, stationed at the 4,100-metre post on top of the Khanabal ridge, are manning the ‘great wall’ that is meant to keep the flames out of Kashmir.
The Kalaroos battle
Last week, when rifleman Ghulam Ahmad pushed open the door of an earth-and-stone shepherds’ hut near the Gurdaji stream, not far from his hometown in Kupwara, he started a battle that now involves hundreds of troops.
Local residents had seen strangers moving up the stream, and the 53 Brigade despatched troops to search the area. The patrol saw frightened women and children fleeing the meadow around the hut.
Minutes later, as Ahmad entered it, he would learn why.
Naik Neeraj Kumar, a resident of Khurja in Uttar Pradesh, was standing next to Ahmad when the bullets hit his buddy, shattering the soldier’s hip. Kumar fired back, killing three terrorists. But as Kumar dragged Ahmad out of harm’s way, he was himself shot at from up the hill — and killed.
The survivors of the group, suspected to be from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, fled into the forests, abandoning their backpacks and radio sets. Intelligence sources have told The Indian Express that the dead, or one of the survivors, appears to be