Authorities reopened part of the national highway between Jammu and Rajouri to traffic on Sunday morning, more than two weeks after it was closed in light of the ongoing counter-insurgency operation in a nearby dense forest belt, officials said. The operation to track down a group of hiding terrorists, responsible for killing nine soldiers, in Bhatti Durian forest in Mindar along with Surankot forest in Poonch and nearby Tanamandi in Rajouri district, has entered the 21st day on Sunday, officials said.

While the operation was underway, authorities allowed traffic on the main highway between Bhimber Gali in Mendhar and Jera Wali Gali in Surankote in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district, bringing relief to residents, especially taxi operators who are calling for it to reopen. The stretch of road, which runs along the cordoned forest belt, was closed as a precaution on October 15, a day after four military personnel, including an official of the Justice and Charity Group, were killed in a shootout with hideouts in the Bhatti Dorian forest. Officials said.

The operation began in the Surankot Forest on October 11 after the killing of five soldiers, including the Justice and Charity group, and later extended to Mandhar to neutralize the fleeing terrorists. A Pakistani terrorist, who was transferred from Kot Bhalwal Central Jail in Jammu to Mindar pending investigation into the ongoing operation, was killed when security forces accompanying him came under fire to identify a hideout of terrorists hiding on October 24. .

Officials said contact with the hiding terrorists was made only twice on October 11 in Surankot and Tanamandi and again in Bhatti Dorian on October 14. After the shooting on October 24 in Bhatti Dorian which killed the Pakistani terrorist, there was no contact with the hiding terrorists. Officials said much of the forest belt has been cleared to allow authorities to reopen the highway and villagers to resume their normal activities.

They said that there was no penetration against the holed-up terrorists who avoid direct contact with the search teams and are fleeing taking advantage of the dense foliage, natural caves and difficult terrain. The operation is now taking place deep in the forest with a number of natural caves. An official said search teams are clearing the caves and are moving cautiously to neutralize suspected terrorists.

Officials said that more than a dozen people, including two women, have so far been arrested for questioning after it was found that they provided logistical support, including food and shelter, to the terrorists. Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu region have seen a rise in infiltration attempts since June this year, killing nine terrorists in separate encounters.

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