Uri Attack Exclusive: Two Porters ‘Guided’ 4 Terrorists to Army HQ
One of the porters was killed and the other is said to have fled to PoK, reports Chandan Nandy.
A fortnight after the army’s heavily fortified Uri brigade headquarters was attacked by four Pakistan-trained terrorists, it has now emerged that two porters who had near-total access to the massive facility collaborated with the armed assailants and acted as guides, according to The Quint’s investigation.
One Porter Killed, Other Manages to Flee
Revealing this to The Quint, top sources in the Northern Command, represented by senior army, police, paramilitary and intelligence officials in Srinagar, said that while one of the porters was killed in the ensuing gunfire and counter-offensive by the army, another managed to escape and is yet to be tracked down.
The latter, said to be a local resident, is suspected to have crossed over to Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) as utter confusion broke loose after the terror strike and the army’s massive counter-terror operation in and around Uri, which is in Baramulla district and about 90 km west of Srinagar.
Security Establishment Hit Hard by the Uri Attack
The sources, familiar with details of the preliminary investigation launched by the army after the 18 September terror strike at the Uri brigade headquarters, which is about 13 km from the Line of Control, disclosed that the two porters, whose identities are not being revealed, may have been raised as “sympathisers” of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is suspected to be behind the attack.
The attack has hit the security establishment hard because it is being seen as a huge failure on the part of the army, especially because the Intelligence Bureau had provided general intelligence that army facilities, especially the many brigade and regimental units close to the LoC, could be made targets of attacks by terrorists in the wake of the prolonged Kashmir Valley-wide unrest among the population.
Highly placed army officers involved in the state’s security grid admitted that the Uri attack reflected a failure on two levels – operational and command. They were, however, wary of disclosing the route and direction taken by the terrorists to enter deep inside the brigade HQ.
Changeover of Units Made the Brigade HQ Vulnerable
The brigade headquarters, which nestles between undulating hills and sprinklings of human habitation, is 20 km from Chakothi and 37 km from Muzaffarabad in PoK. National Highway-1A snakes past the headquarters. Here, traffic, largely comprising SUVs that ply passengers beyond the headquarters and to villages close to the LoC, was heavy till the day of the attack and security was lax for several years. This is because Uri was no longer considered by the army to be a prime target of terrorists.
What made the army station especially vulnerable on the dawn of 18 September was the imminent changeover of army units. The 10th Dogra regiment was to move out to another station and was to be replaced by the 6th Bihar regiment. The contingent of the Sikh Light Infantry was to continue to operate.
Terrorists Were Familiar with Brigade HQ’s Layout
The soldiers of the 6th Bihar regiment bore the brunt of the terror attack as they were put up in tents before being moved to brick-and-mortar barracks. Most of the 18 soldiers killed belonged to the 6th Bihar regiment. They were burnt to death when the terrorists used inflammatory/incendiary substances to set the tents on fire as the armymen slept.
The first targets of the heavily armed terrorists, who carried AK-47 rifles fitted with under-barrel grenade launchers (UBGLs), were the tents. This indicates that the terrorists had prior information not only about their point of entry but also of the layout of the brigade HQ.Source familiar with the details of the attack and the subsequent investigation
“Such advance information could only have been provided by the porters who have almost unrestricted movement inside the huge expanse of the brigade HQ,” the source added. While the services of all local porters have been dispensed with following the attack, some contractors considered to be “safe” and “security cleared” continue to have access to the army’s Uri complex.
Lapses in Security
Unconfirmed reports indicate that while the attention of senior officers at the brigade HQ was on the changeover, their guard was significantly low on the night of 17 September when a party was on at the brigade mess. Besides, the brigadier commanding Uri was away on tour at an undisclosed forward defended locality (FDL) when the terrorists launched the deadly attack.
Residents of Uri town, especially those who run and man sundry stores at the market, barely 150 metres from the checkpost where The Quint’s reporters were turned away from proceeding further, woke on 18 September to the sound of explosions and gunfire. “We are familiar and used to the army’s not-so-unusual chandmari (firing practice) that takes place at frequent intervals. But it was rather different that day. We woke up to see smoke billowing from inside the HQ and the sound of the report of guns,” Haji Assadullah Lone, a Congress block president who lives close to the checkpost, said.
Normal Life Takes a Hit
The attack took place at Gala, about a kilometre up the first checkpost from the Uri town market on NH-1A. About 13 km from Gala is Sultandeki, which is very close to the LoC. The army has stopped the plying of most vehicles, especially SUVs that ferry passengers to and from the towns and villages near the LoC. Local travel and commerce has been hit, Uri residents complained. But they are mindful that “national security” must take precedence over the “normal” life that Uri had become used to over the past few years which went without terrorist depredations.
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