In the bloodiest encounter in Kashmir so far this year, two policemen, three soldiers and five militants suspected to have recently crossed the Line of Control were killed in a gunbattle in a forest in Kupwara district that started a day earlier, officials said on Wednesday.

A police spokesperson identified the slain policemen as special police officer (SPO) Mohammad Yousuf of Kachama village of Kupwara, and selection grade constable Deepak Thesoo of Nagrota of the Jammu region. Another SPO, Javaid Ahmad ,was injured and his condition was said to be stable.

The dead soldiers were identified as Sepoy Ashraf Rather of 160 Territorial Army and Naik Ranjeet Kholka of 5 Bihar Regiment. The third soldier was yet to be identified.
“Bodies of five militants have been recovered and further details regarding them are a matter of investigation,” said Shamsher Hussain, senior superintendent of police, Kupwara.

Police officers said on condition of anonymity that the five are probably affiliated to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group. An official confirmation was still awaited.

According to the police, five heavily-armed militants suspected to be part of a “freshly infiltrated group” on Tuesday opened fire on a search party that retaliated, sparking the gunbattle. Army and Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) troopers and the police had launched the search after receiving specific information of militant presence in the areas.

“A huge cache of arms and ammunition and other incriminating materials, which include AK 47 rifles and grenades, were recovered from the encounter site,” the police spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that because of the “thick vegetation and low visibility” at the site of the encounter, security forces are “mopping the area with due caution”.

In a statement, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti expressed “solidarity with the bereaved families of the deceased and prayed for peace to the departed souls”.

The death toll is the highest yet in an encounter in Kashmir this year after the attack on a CRPF camp in Lethpora in volatile south Kashmir on December 31-January 1, in which five troopers and three militants were killed.

In January, a group of at least five militants trying to infiltrate into India from across the Line of Control (LoC) were gunned down by security forces. It was said to be the first infiltration bid of 2018, and the five were members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad.