Fighting in disputed Kashmir kills 5 Indian soldiers and 2 suspected militants

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Five Indian soldiers were killed in gunbattles with rebels fighting against New Delhi’s rule in disputed Kashmir, officials said Thursday. The Indian army said two suspected militants were also killed.

The fighting started Wednesday, days after Indian troops started searching for militants in dense forests based on information that at least two rebels were hiding there, a military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with official policy.

Intermittent firing continued at regular intervals all day Wednesday, the official said, killing four soldiers and injured at least two other soldiers.

The army wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that rebels were also injured in the gunbattle and were surrounded by Indian troops. It did not specify how many militants were in the battle.

Troops continued their search, resulting in a fresh exchange of gunfire Thursday in the mountainous and forested area of the southern Rajouri district, near the highly militarized line Line of Control that divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.

Two suspected militants and a soldier were killed in the fighting, according to another Indian army officer, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. The officer said one of the militants was a Pakistani national, a trained sniper and an expert in handling explosives, and had been operating in the area for the past year.

Two officers were among the five Indian soldiers killed. An officer and two of the soldiers were from a special forces unit, the military official said.

There was no independent confirmation of the gunbattle.

Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety.

Militants in the Indian-controlled portion have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal of uniting the territory, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

New Delhi insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.

But since 2019, anger has intensified in Kashmir after New Delhi ended the region’s semi-autonomy and drastically curbed dissent, civil liberties and media freedoms amid intensifying counterinsurgency operations.

A militant group, the People’s Anti-Fascist Front, or PAFF, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s operation in a statement on social media.

The group emerged after 2019 and has remained active mainly in the high mountainous forests of the Rajouri and Poonch areas, where its militants have carried out some of the deadly attacks against Indian troops.

Last week, government forces killed seven militants in two separate counterinsurgency operations. Wednesday’s fighting came two months after a major gunbattle in nearby Anantnag killed three Indian soldiers, including a commanding officer, his deputy, and a police officer.

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