SRINAGAR- An Army Colonel and a Major were among five security personnel killed in an encounter at a village in Handwara in north Kashmir that also left two militants dead, officials said on Sunday.
Army officers Col Ashutosh Sharma and Major Anuj Sood besides Naik Rajesh Kumar and Lance Naik Dinesh Singh and J&K SOG Sub-Inspector Shakeel Pathan were among the deceased, they said.
The five personnel had gone missing during the operation on Saturday evening.
According to officials, Col Sharma was leading a team to rescue civilians who had been taken hostage by the militants hiding in a house at the Chanjmullah area of Handwara in frontier Kupwara district of north Kashmir on Saturday.
Earlier Story: 5 Security Men Go Missing During Encounter in Handwara
As the hostages were being rescued, the team, which also consisted of a Lance Naik and a Rifleman, came under heavy fire which was effectively retaliated by the security personnel in the outer cordon, they said.
In the early hours of Sunday, a major offensive was launched by the security forces as there had been no contact with the Colonel or his team, the officials said.
Two militants were also killed in the encounter, they said.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh called the incident disturbing and painful while offering his tributes to those who died.
Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, who lost his life in Handwara, was decorated twice for gallantry in counter-insurgency operations, sources said.
He is the first CO or a colonel rank officer in the last five years to have lost life in an encounter with militants.
On 27 January 2005, Col MN Rai lost his life while fighting with militants in Kashmir’s Pulwama district.__Kashmir Observer