Nearly sixty hours since the first shots rang in Rawalpora village in south Kashmir’s Shopian district and plumes of smoke still emanated from the rubble of residential houses on Tuesday in two mohallas ravaged during one of the lengthiest gunfights of recent years.
The air still smelt of burnt wood and teargas, and local residents thronged the site of the gunfight that spread over two neighborhoods in the village. At least six houses were razed to rubble, said local resident Mohammad Shafi, during the gunfight that began on Saturday evening and ended on Monday evening.
Two militants that the police identified as Jahangir Ahmad Wani son of late Abdul Rehman Wani resident of Rakh Narapora in Shopian and Jaish-e-Muhammad commander Vilayat Ahmad Lone also known as Sajad Afghani, a native of Rawalpora, were killed.
Day 1: Friday
According to Rawalpora residents, the government forces had arrived in the village on Friday evening and reinforcements continued to arrive as the multi-layered cordon of the village was established. “I saw the lights they had installed [at 3 am],” said Shafi, the local resident.
The cordon was laid following intelligence input about the presence of Jaish-e-Muhammad’s Shopian commander Vilayat in the village. The focus of the cordon was the three-storeyed house belonging to Vilayat’s family that is adjacent to the village’s main masjid. The house is jointly owned by Vilayat’s father Abdul Hameed Lone and uncles Ghulam Ahmad Lone, and Abdul Ahad Lone.
Day 2: Saturday
The cordon remained intact during the night as forces launched a search operation at first light on Saturday. Local residents said they were asked by the forces to evacuate their homes as cordon zeroed in on the suspected houses.
The first gunshots were heard around evening on Saturday and intense firing from both sides in the congested residential area continued till midnight on Saturday. Shafi, the local resident, said that he saw “forty cans of oil and motor pumps being brought in to spray oil at the houses.”
Shafi claimed that house owners weren’t allowed to retrieve their belongings while some owners were directed by the Army to “spray their own houses with oil and set it on fire themselves.”
Day 3: Sunday
The military operation in the village was halted for the night and firing resumed the following morning on Sunday. During the day more houses were searched as the militants reportedly kept changing their positions.
As the firefight raged on, visuals from the scene began to appear on social media showing flames erupting from the houses and the masjid in the background. Amid sounds of intense gunfire, agitated local residents gathered near the site are heard wailing and shouting.
There were also reports of protests in the area and at least one person who was hit by pellets in the eye was transported to a Srinagar hospital.
The first militant was killed in the afternoon and a US-made M-4 carbine and 36 Armour piercing rounds were recovered from the slain militant, according to the Army.
The police released the first statement about the gunfight on Sunday evening and confirmed the killing of the first militant, Wani of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, and said that a “group of miscreants tried to disrupt the operation and created law & order problem near the encounter site during which some miscreants were also injured.”
The police said that “three houses caught fire” during the gunfight.
Day 4: Monday
The operation was again halted for the night and resumed at dawn on Monday. According to Shafi, civilians were forced to accompany Army personnel to search the houses. This was corroborated by journalists on the spot who had overheard Army personnel confirming over radio that civilians were accompanying the personnel entering the houses.
Shortly thereafter, the police chief Inspector General (IGP) Vijay Kumar announced the killing of a second militant, the Jaish commander Vilayat and stated that the operation was still ongoing. According to local residents the Jaish commander was killed in a shed about forty feet from his home.
Later in the evening the police in a statement said that “IGP Kashmir and GoC Victor Force conducted aerial monitoring of the operation and L&O [law and order] situations at the encounter site. Both the officers have appreciated Police and security forces for the big success and conducting operation successfully without any collateral damage.”
There were also reports about the presence of a third militant for whom searches continued in the village till late evening before the operation was called off. Visuals from Rawalpora showed houses razed to rubble while a few hollow structures still stood. Video uploaded online showed charred carcasses of livestock, including cows. Smoke continued to rise from the rubble, engulfing the neighbourhood. (Additional reporting by Mohammad Dawood)