For the first time in Kashmir’s nearly three-decades-long insurgency, two Indian Air Force (IAF) commandos were killed in a fierce gunfight with militants in the region’s Bandipora district on Wednesday.
Air force personnel have been attacked and killed by insurgents in the troubled region but they were not participating in ground combat.
“They were training with the army for operational experience,” army spokesman Rajesh Kalia said, referring to Wednesday’s shootout in which two militants were also killed.
The IAF commandos belonged to its elite special forces unit, Garud.
The gunbattle started early morning after a joint patrol of the army, police and Garud commandos cordoned off an area in Bandipora’sHajin following a tip-off that militants were hiding there.
The deaths occurred in the ensuing intense fighting. Sergeant K. Milind Kishor, 33, had joined the IAF in 2002. He was from Maharashtra. Hailing from Bihar, Corporal Nilesh Kumar Nayan, 31, joined the force in 2005.
In 1990, at least four air force officers were killed in an ambush by militants in Sannat Nagar of Srinagar, but they were not participating in any operation.
The government has been pursuing a tough line against militants in Kashmir since a surge in insurgent violence as well as street protests that have killed about 100 people over the past year.
Security forces have struck back, tracking and killing a number of militant commanders of HizbulMujahideen and Lashkar-e-Taiba for the past few months.
Garud commandos are trained to guard air force bases as well as fight insurgents and participate in search and rescue operations.
The need for a specialised team of air force commandos was felt when militants tried to attack