Machil sector, where three Indian soldiers were killed on Tuesday, is considered as one of the "shortest" and "safest" infiltration routes into the Kupwara district from across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Machil, situated at an altitude of over 6,500 feet, consists of dense forests and hostile weather and terrain. Indian and Pakistani bunkers are located near the LoC with Kupwara town being at a distance of just around 50-80 kms.
Four infiltration attempts have been confirmed by the National Counter Terrorism Authority over the last few months, the Indian Express reported. Terrorists have been using infiltration tracks in Machil to enter Kupwara and Lolab Valley. State agencies had said that terrorists from Shardi, Ratta Pani, Kel, Tejian and Dudhnial cross the LoC through Machil.
Jammu and Kashmir government agencies had identified a couple of infiltration tracks in Handwara and listed Kaobal Gali, Sardari, Sonar, Kel, Ratta Pani, Shardi, Tejian, Dudhinial, Athmuqam, Katwara, Jura and Lipa valley as the most active routes into Kupwara, Bandipore and Baramulla districts. This came a few days before protests broke out in the state over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in an encounter between security forces and terrorists.
The Indian Army had carried out one of the biggest search operations from Manigah to Machil to flush out terrorists hiding in forests of Haihama and Kalaroos in December 2015 following the killing of 41 Rashtriya Rifles Commanding Officer Santosh Mahadik by terrorists. The search, however, did not yield any result despite deploying over 700 soldiers and special forces paratroopers.
"Of late, militants have been using the forests of Machil to sneak into Kupwara," a senior police officer told the daily adding that they could sneak into the country without being spotted.
The LoC is located just six kilometres away from the last inhabited villages on the other side of which is Kail, considered a major launchpad for terrorists trying to infiltrate into India. Three BSF jawans were killed in Machil in August 2016 in the sector.
State agencies told the IE that there were at least 179 active militants, foreign and local, in the state before Wani was killed in July this year. Infiltration from fresh militant groups increased after focus shifted from anti-militancy operations to massive public protests that brought the Valley to a halt. This led to over 100 militants infiltrating into the state.
Cross-border firing has made it extremely difficult for forces to check infiltration attempts in the Valley from across the LoC.
"In the hinterland, the fresh recruitment of local boys has risen sharply after Burhan Wani's killing and the subsequent protests. It is clear that the focus of Pakistani militants is the LoC, especially in Kupwara district. Most of the Pakistani militants are also based in Kupwara district," the officer told the daily.
Machil made headlines when three villagers were killed in an encounter in 2010 resulting in protests across Kashmir. An investigation into the incident by the army proved that the encounter was fake and also sentenced six soldiers to life imprisonment.