In its first official statement about the Keran operation, the Indian Army said 35-40 heavily armed guerrillas had attempted to infiltrate at multiple points on the night of September 23-24.
"Although it is too early to prove the direct involvement of the Pakistani Army, the border action team (BAT) was involved in helping the terrorist infiltration", Lieutenant General Gurmit Singh, commander of the army's Srinagar-based 15 Corps, told reporters here.
BAT is a group of 20 to 25 heavily armed and motivated guerrillas used by the Pakistani Army to facilitate infiltration across the border in Jammu and Kashmir, army sources said. Subsequent press statements by the army said around 15 of the guerrillas had been cordoned off and "eliminated".
The army also said the recovery of the bodies of the slain guerrillas was not the priority since the operation had been launched to foil the infiltration bid and to ensure that the guerrillas lying inside the cordon would not be allowed to escape.
"A controlled and effective cordon is in place. Rest assured we will not allow them to escape", the army said in another statement as the operation continued for a week in the area.
In two separate gunfights in Fateh Galli and Gujjardur areas during this period, the army foiled two other incursion bids, killing seven guerrillas while the operation against the those lying inside the cordon at the Shallabato area entered its 11th day.
The army strongly dismissed media reports that Shallabato had been taken over by the guerrillas or that some pickets vacated by the army in the area had been taken over by the guerrillas.
"All the army's pickets in Shallabato are intact. Reports suggesting that we have vacated some pickets in the area are absurd", a top army officer in Srinagar said.
As two brigades (approximately 6,000 soldiers) continued the operation and searches in the Keran sector to "clear a 3.5 square kilometre cordoned area" of the remaining guerrillas, the head of the army's Northern Command, Lt.Gen. Sanjiv Chachra visited the area to review the operation.
On Tuesday, the army commander held a press conference inside the headquarters of 15 Corps in the Badami Bagh cantonment area in Srinagar city to say that he had given directions to call off the concerted search operation. The cordoned off area had been thoroughly searched and there were no guerrillas there now, he added.
The army commander said in reply to a question about the bodies of the slain guerrillas that they could have been dragged back while the remaining guerrillas who had entered the Indian side of the LoC could now be used for other infiltration attempts.
The seniormost army officer in Jammu and Kashmir said it was ridiculous to think that such a large infiltration attempt could have been made without the help of the Pakistani Army.
The army chief, General Bikram Singh, said in Hindon, near Delhi, on Tuesday that the incident was a "desperate infiltration attempt", adding that seven guerrillas had been killed during the Keran operation.
Did some of the guerrillas lying inside the cordoned area manage to cross back to the Pakistan controlled side of Kashmir? Did they have the time and convenience to ensure that the bodies of the slain guerrillas could be dragged back to remove traces of their presence on the Indian side for 14 long days?
Interestingly, the army said the killing of guerrillas in Gujjardur and Fateh Galli had happened while "foiling two other infiltration bids".
If the guerrillas killed in Fateh Galli and Gujjardur had been part of the group already cordoned off in the Keran sector, how could these two firing incidents be labelled as two other infiltration bids?
These are questions which need to be answered by the army although alarmist reports that the Keran position had become another Kargil like situation have been finally proved wrong, with even Chief Minister Omar Abdullah rubbishing the suggestion.
(Sheikh Qatoom can be contacted at email@example.com)
--IANS (Posted on 10-10-2013)