Five security personnel, including a commanding officer of the Rashtriya Rifles' 21 Battalion, were killed in an encounter with terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir's Handwara area on Saturday. The deceased have been identified as Col Ashutosh Sharma, the CO, Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh, and J&K Police Sub-Inspector Shakeel Qazi. Two terrorists were also neutralised by special forces pressed into action after the first team went incommunicado.

Handwara Encounter
Five security personnel, including Col Ashutosh Sharma, were killed in action during an encounter in Jammu and Kashmir's Handwara.ANI

The security forces had received intel that the terrorists were taking hostage the civilian inmates of a house in the Handwara area of Kupwara district in Jammu and Kashmir. Following this, a joint operation was launched and the security forces surrounded the house where the terrorists were hiding. The team led by Col Sharma entered the house and freed the civilians. However, when they were in an open compound, the terrorists resorted to heavy firing and Col Sharma, along with four other team members, were killed.

When the team outside tried to reach Col Sharma on Radio, no one answered. After that, they called his mobile number which was picked up by a terrorist, who responded "Assalamualaikum". After this, special forces were pressed into action who entered the house, neutralised the terrorists, and recovered the bodies of Col Sharma and his team members.

This is the first time since 2018 when a Commanding Officer was killed in action in the encounter. In July 2018, Col Santosh Mahadik of 41 Rashtriya Rifles was killed in an encounter in Kupwara. Also, Col Sharma was the second CO of 21 RR the Indian Army has lost after a gap of 20 years. In August 2000, Col Rajinder Chauhan and Brig BS Shergill were killed in an IED blast on their vehicle.

What Army said

"Based on the intelligence input that terrorists were taking the civilian inmates of a house in Changimulla, Handwara of Kupwara district hostage, a joint operation was launched by Army and JK Police. A team comprising five Army and JK Police personnel entered the target area occupied by the terrorists to evacuate the civilians. The team of Army and JK Police entered the area and successfully extricated the civilians.

"However, during the process, the team was subjected to a heavy volume of fire by the terrorists. In the ensuing firefight, two terrorists were eliminated and the team of five army and JK personnel, comprising two Army officers, two Army soldiers and one JK Police Sub Inspector, attained martyrdom," the official statement from the army said.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh pays tribute to deceased soldiers

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh paid tributes to the security personnel killed in the Handwara encounter. He said that the soldiers showed exemplary courage and termed their loss "deeply disturbing and painful".

"The loss of our soldiers and security personnel in Handwara(J&K) is deeply disturbing and painful. They showed exemplary courage in their fight against the terrorists and made supreme sacrifice while serving the country. We will never forget their bravery and sacrifice (sic)," he wrote.