Acknowledging that the hostile conduct of locals was causing higher casualties in the Kashmir valley, Army chief Bipin Rawat has warned those attacking security forces during anti-terrorism operations of "tough action".
The stern message from Rawat came a day after three soldiers faced heavy stone-pelting at Parray Mohalla of Bandipore in north Kashmir when they were about to launch an operation against terrorists holed up there.
Alerted by the stone-pelters, the militants got an opportunity to fire hand grenades and empty a few magazines from AK-rifles into the advancing troopers, leaving three jawans dead and some others, including a Commanding officer of CRPF, injured. One terrorist managed to flee the area.
General Rawat said security forces in Jammu and Kashmir were facing higher casualties due to the manner in which the local population was preventing them from conducting the operations and "at times even supporting the terrorists to escape".
"We would now request the local population that people who have picked up arms, and they are the local boys, if they want to continue with the acts of terrorism, displaying flags of ISIS and Pakistan, then we will treat them as anti-national elements and go helter-skelter for them.
"They may survive today, but we will get them tomorrow. Our relentless operations will continue," the Army Chief told media persons in New Delhi, sending out a stern message to those who support terrorists.
Rawat's assertion came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he paid last respects in New Delhi to three of the four soldiers, including a major, who were killed in two separate encounters in Kashmir on Tuesday.
The Army chief said if "they do not relent and create hurdle in our operations, then we will take tough action."
The Prime Minister, in a tweet, said, "Paid tributes to the brave men who lost their lives fighting terrorists in J&K. India will always remember their valour & sacrifice."
General Rawat said those supporting terror activities are being given an opportunity to join the national mainstream but, if they continue with their acts, security forces will come down hard on them.
"We are giving them an opportunity, should they want to continue to (do what they are doing now) then, we will continue with relentless operations may be with harsher measures. And that is the way to continue," he said .
Four terrorists were gunned down in two separate encounters on Tuesday. Four army personnel, including a Major, were also killed in the encounters at Handwara and Bandipora.
Photograph: Kamal Singh/PTI Photo