In the worst attack on the army in many years, heavily armed terrorists suspected to be from Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed stormed an army base in Uri in Kashmir killing 17 jawans early today, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to assert that those responsible "will not go "unpunished.
Located barely a few kilometres from the Line of Control and some 70 km from Srinagar, the base was subjected to the brazen attack by four terrorists at around 5.30 am, causing heavy casualties in the Dogra regiment which lost 17 of its men. 20 more army personnel were injured, some critically, and were airlifted to the army base hospital in Srinagar.
After the three-hour gunbattle, four terrorists were killed and army was combing to ensure there were no other terrorists. Most of the army casualties resulted from the fire in tents in which jawans were sleeping.
India reacted strongly to the deadliest attack on the army in Jammu and Kashmir in a quarter-century-old insurgency that sparked an outrage with Modi strongly condemning it.
"We strongly condemn the cowardly terror attack in Uri. I assure the nation that those behind this despicable attack will not go unpunished," Modi tweeted.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh pointed a finger directly at Pakistan, saying it is a "terrorist state" and should be isolated while Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ram Madhav said days of strategic restraint are over and suggested that "for one tooth, the complete jaw" should be the policy after the attack.
Soon after the news of the attack broke, Army Chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag rushed to Uri followed soon by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who cut short his Goa visit.
Parrikar was briefed at army's headqarters in Srinagar.
Leaders across the political spectrum including Congress President Sonia Gandhi condemned the attack. President Pranab Mukherjee said India will not be cowed down by such attacks and that it will thwart the evil designs of terrorists and their backers.
The attack at the administrative base of the 10 Dogra, which top army officials described as a "serious setback", was launched at 0530 hours and ended at 0830 hours with the killing of four terrorists and martyrdom of 17 soldiers.
Explosions and gunfire erupted as the militants attacked the camp, which is located barely few metres away from the army's brigade headquarters in Uri town.
The jawans of the Dogra Regiment were sleeping in a tent which caught fire due the explosion. The fire also engulfed the nearby barracks, official sources said.
Director General Military Operations Lt Gen Ranbir Singh called up his counterpart in Pakistan expressing "serious concerns" over Pakistani marking found on the equipment used by four "foreign" terrorists.
"All four killed were foreign terrorists and had carried with them items which had Pakistani markings. Initial reports indicate that the slain terrorists belong to Jaish-E-Mohammed tanzeem," Lt Gen Singh said in a brief statement to the media at South Block in Delhi.
He added that since "some the terrorists had some items with Pakistani markings, I have spoken to Pakistan DGMO and conveyed our serious concern on the same".
He said that the terrorists had fired incendiary ammunition along with automatic fire of small arms that led to army tents and temporary shelters catching fire.
"There have been a total of 17 army fatal casualties. Of these, 13-14 casualties have been due to these tents/shelters having caught fire," he said.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh also called an emergency meeting in Delhi.
Lt Gen Ranbir Singh said that four AK 47 rifles and four Under Barrel Grenade Launchers along with a large number of other war like stores were recovered from the group of heavily armed terrorists.
He said that the operation for clearance of the area is still in progress and a very deliberate search is being carried out in the entire area around the military complex in Uri.
"As such, complete details of the operation are not yet available. However, the operation is being carried out by the Indian Army in a very professional manner and the army personnel have displayed exceptionally high standards of courage and gallantry while neutralising the terrorists," Lt Gen Singh said.
Amid reports that intelligence agencies had warned of a possible attack, he said all the intelligence agencies are working in close synergy with the security forces and regular intelligence inputs are received from concerned agencies and necessary action is being taken accordingly.
He said Army chief Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag has visited the site of operation and taken an "on the ground" assessment of the situation.
"We salute the supreme sacrifice made by our brave soldiers following the highest traditions of Indian Army," he said.
The army in a statement earlier in the day said a group of heavily armed terrorists targeted the rear administrative base of a unit at Uri.
"The administrative base had 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 sacrifice of 17 soldiers who were martyred in the operation," the statement added.