SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Indian government forces killed a top rebel commander in Kashmir during a gunbattle Sunday in the disputed region’s main city, police said, calling it a major success against the rebels’ long fight against Indian rule.
The dead commander, Saifullah Mir, was the chief of operations of the region’s largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which has spearheaded an armed rebellion against Indian rule for decades.
Inspector-General Vijay Kumar said police and paramilitary soldiers launched an operation Sunday in Srinagar in a neighborhood in the city’s outskirts based on a tip that Saifullah was sheltering there. He said a gunfight ensued in which the militant commander was killed and his suspected associate was nabbed.
Kumar said the killing was a major victory for India’s counterinsurgency operations in the region.
There was no immediate confirmation from the rebels about the killing.
Shortly after the gunfight, anti-India protests broke out in the neighborhood. Police fired tear gas and shotgun pellets to stop scores of stone-throwing young men from marching in the area.
The protesters were chanting slogans including “We want freedom” and “Go India, go back.” No one was reported injured in the clashes.
According to officials, Saifullah joined the rebels’ ranks in 2014 and took charge of the Hizbul Mujahideen as its top operations commander after Indian troops killed his predecessor Reyaz Naikoo in May.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but the rivals each claim the region in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India says Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.