Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, the commanding officer of the 21 Rashtriya Rifles, and the joint security team that he was leading had waited patiently for an hour after the last bullet was fired by the terrorists on Saturday evening. Then he decided to go in.
The encounter had started a couple of hours earlier at 3.30 pm when a joint team of the Rashtriya Rifles and Kashmir police surrounded the house a short distance from Kupwara's Handwara town.
The information available with the army indicated that a group of terrorists had entered the house and had taken the civilians hostage. This was believed to be one of the teams of terrorists that had slipped past the security grid along with Line of Control.
Kashmir Police IG Vijay Kumar said one of the two terrorists killed in the deadly encounter is a top Lashkar commander Haider.
In April alone, intelligence agencies estimate about 25-30 terrorists have crossed over. This week, intelligence agencies also alerted about terrorist plans to carry out simultaneous suicide attacks to target army and paramilitary bases in Jammu and Kashmir.
Colonel Sharma, RR company commander Major Anuj Sood, Naik Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and J&K Police Sub Inspector Shakeel Qazi entered the house around 5.30 pm. Qazi, the police officer was a veteran of counter-terror operations in Kashmir and part of the J&K police's special operations group.
"Col Sharma wanted to rescue the inmates who were trapped inside the house and wanted to make sure that the terrorists didn't escape. He led from the front, as always," a top army commander told Hindustan Times.
Col Sharma has been awarded the army's gallantry medal twice, the last one was in August 2019.
The heavily-armed terrorists , who had located themselves in the cowshed, resumed firing soon after the five walked in.
The firefight continued for another 7-8 hours.
"The firing ended past midnight… at 1.30 am," a Jammu and Kashmir police officer said.
An army spokesperson said the civilians were successfully extricated.
Chief of Defence Services General Bipin Rawat said the operation in Handwara, J&K "highlights the determination of the security forces to safeguard the lives of the people".
This, however, isn't the first time that terrorists had hidden themselves in the cowshed.
Colonel MN Rai, who made the supreme sacrifice in an encounter in January 2015, was also targeted by Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists hiding in the cowshed. Then again, an army officer said Deputy Superintendent of Police Aman Thakur, who laid down his life last year, was also hit by bullets fired by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists who had located themselves in the cowshed.
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on hindustantimes.com and is published by special syndication arrangement.