They said a sniper is believed to have targeted the truck from the front before the other terrorists sprayed bullets and lobbed grenades on it.
Five soldiers were killed and one injured after the terrorists attacked the lone Army truck, which was carrying eatables for iftar to a nearby village, in the dense forest area of Bhata Dhurian late on Thursday afternoon and the vehicle caught fire.
The soldiers were from a Rashtriya Rifles unit deployed for counter-terror operations.
Experts from various agencies, including the National Security Guard (NSG) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA), have visited the site of the attack over the past two days and have managed to get a clear picture of the deadly ambush which was laid by the terrorists, the officials said.
They said a sniper is believed to have targeted the vehicle from the front before his associates showered bullets and lobbed grenades on the vehicle from opposite sides, apparently giving the troops no time to retaliate.
The terrorists used steel core bullets that can penetrate an armoured shield, they said.
Before fleeing, the terrorists stole the soldiers’ arms and ammunition, they added.
Though the area where the attack took place is considered terrorism-free for long, the Bhata Dhurian forest area remains a notorious infiltration route for terrorists attempting to sneak into India by crossing the Line of Control (LoC) due to its topography, dense forest cover and natural caves.
In October 2021, nine soldiers were killed in two major gunfights with terrorists within four days in the forest area during a search operation that continued for over three weeks.
Thursday’s ambush was also a grim reminder of a terrorist attack on the official vehicle of a judicial magistrate over two decades ago. District and Sessions Judge V K Phool, a civilian and two police personnel were killed in the attack which took place on December 5, 2001, in the Dehra Ki Gali forests near the Bhata Dhurian forests.
The officials said over 12 people have been detained for questioning in connection with the Poonch attack but no arrests have been made so far.
Security forces are using drones and sniffer dogs to conduct a recce of the dense forest but success has eluded them so far, they said.
It is believed that the terrorists have managed to create safe hideouts in the dense forest to escape the security dragnet or may have crossed over to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, they added.
According to the officials, initial reports suggest the involvement of around five terrorists, including some foreign mercenaries, in the attack.
After the ambush, the terrorists possibly used grenades as well as sticky bombs that caused the vehicle to erupt into flames.
The officials said those who executed the attack are believed to have been in Rajouri and Poonch for more than a year and had adequate knowledge of the terrain, which is quite tough.
The area is a hotbed of Jammu and Kashmir Gaznavi Force (JKGF) as its ‘commander’ Rafiq Ahmed alias Rafiq Nayi is a resident of the area, they added.
At present, three to four terrorist groups are active in the region of Rajouri and Poonch, sources said.
Banned terror group People’s Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), a proxy wing of Jaish-e-Mohammed, has claimed responsibility for the attack. There are reports suggesting that it was the handiwork of banned Lashker-e-Taiba group also.