NEW DELHI — Three Indian soldiers were killed in a gun battle with militants in Kashmir on Thursday morning, the latest in a series of army casualties in the region, where violence has surged in recent months. A civilian was also killed.
Tahir Saleem Khan, the police chief of the Shopian district, where the attack took place, said militants had ambushed a group of soldiers and police officers before dawn as they returned from a search operation. “It was absolute dark, and firing continued for 10 minutes,” Mr. Khan said by telephone.
The civilian, a woman, was killed in her home by a stray bullet, Mr. Khan said. At least three other soldiers were wounded in the clash, including two officers.
The deaths bring the number of soldiers killed in Kashmir this year to nine, and the events are likely to put pressure on the army to respond.
An army statement on the clash was restrained, saying that such attacks “have only strengthened our resolve” to apprehend militants. But there have been signs of increasing official concern about militant activity in Kashmir, and about public sympathy for militants. Violence has been on the rise in the region since the police killed a popular young separatist leader in July.
India and Pakistan have long fought over the disputed border of Kashmir. While militancy in the Indian-administered part has waned since the 1990s, public sympathy for the separatist cause remains strong.
D. S. Hooda, a recently retired general who oversaw the Indian Army’s northern command, said that since 2015, more crowds had started interfering with security forces’ efforts to apprehend militants, sometimes by throwing stones.
“That’s when we saw attempts to protect their own boys,” he said. “That’s when saw crowds in villages trying to interfere.”
Waves of protest followed the police killing of the young militant leader in July. Clashes with the police led to scores of civilian deaths and thousands of injuries, with the police sometimes firing birdshot into crowds.
The Indian Army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, issued a rare public warning to Kashmiri protesters last week after militant attacks that killed four soldiers. “I am trying to make you understand that if you will not desist and continue to disrupt security forces’ operations, we will act tough against you,” he said.