An injured army colonel took on the terrorists, soldiers locked up families before airdropped commandos engaged them in a bitter gunfight to the end, taking care to ensure that the battle did not spill over into the nearby school.
These are some of the dramatic details of the nine-hour operation in an Indian Army camp during a fidayeen raid in Samba in Jammu region Thursday.
Eye-witnesses said the terrorists sneaked into 16 Cavalry regiment around 7.30 a.m.
"They had a verbal altercation with the guard at the gate who obviously thought all the terrorists were army jawans since they wore army uniforms and were clean shaven. After the guard refused to allow them entry they shot the guard from close range, but this gunshot was not heard by others inside the camp.
"The three terrorists entered the camp, passed the offices of the cavalry's colonel, adjutant and subedar major and started moving towards the officers' mess situated some distance from the offices."
Lt. Col. Bikramjeet Singh was "moving in the lawn outside the mess when he saw the three terrorists in army uniforms approach him. Before he could ascertain their identity, they shot him from close range and the officer died on the spot".
Mess keeper Kiran Kumar Reddy had gone inside the mess to get some breakfast for the officer.
"When he came out and saw that the officer had been shot, he tried to withdraw back into the mess building, but the terrorists shot him. Despite being critically shot, Reddy crawled to alert Colonel Avin Adhiya who was also outside the mess building when the first two firing incidents occurred," the eye-witness recounted.
On seeing Reddy crawl towards him, "Colonel Adhiya took out his weapon and started engaging the terrorists. But...he was shot in the shoulder by the terrorists. He fired at the terrorists and at the same time ensured that a tank inside the camp was driven to safety".
By this time, troopers inside the camp knew it was a fidayeen strike.
"They took all the families including women and children of the officers to the second floor of the mess. Locked them inside and placed some furniture and other obstructions to ensure that the terrorists were prevented from taking the families as hostages."
The eye-witness went on to say the terrorists were engaged in a firefight by the soldiers and the terrorists took position in a 'nallah' (a dry stream) inside the camp from where they kept on returning fire.
Since 16 cavalry armoured unit comes under 9 corps headquarters of the Western Command, the troopers alerted their chain of command about the terror strike.
Defence sources told IANS the Western Command authorities immediately got in touch with the Northern Command headquarters in Udhampur town of Jammu region.
Authorities moved commandos of 9 Para regiment in helicopters to the shootout site. The Para commandos first carried out an aerial reconnaissance of the camp before landing there to neutralize the three terrorists.
"The Para commandos had identified the exact spot during the aerial recce from where the terrorists were returning the army fire. After landing, the commandos started engaging the terrorists in a direct gunfight, but in order to give them an impression that their exact spot of hiding had still not been identified, an abandoned building inside the camp was blasted.
"This made the terrorists complacent that their hiding spot had not been yet been pin-pointed. They kept on intermittently returning the army fire till all three of them were eliminated," said defence sources.
The entire operation from the moment the terrorists entered the camp and till they were gunned down took nearly nine hours to complete.
"The main worry of the soldiers tasked to eliminate the terrorists was the Army Public School situated some distance from the place where the terrorists had been engaged in a sustained firefight.
"We were worried about the possibility the terrorists moving into the school and taking children and staff as hostage. That is why the exercise to eliminate the terrorists was carried out with extreme caution and patience," defence sources added.(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)