New Delhi: Two commandos of the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s Garud unit were killed along with two Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) militants on Wednesday, while an army soldier was injured when the militants opened fire at the security forces in Hajin area of Bandipora district in Jammu and Kashmir, the Union home ministry said.

Senior officers of security forces based in Kashmir said that it was the first time in the last 30 years of Kashmiri militancy that officers of IAF had been killed. The Indian Army clarified that the air force commandoes were engaged in an operational exercise with the army.

“In an intense operation this morning in Hajin, Bandipora, two terrorists were killed. Two Air Force Garud personnel were martyred in the action. The Garud personnel were operating with the army for operational experience and training," the Chinar Corps of the Indian Army said in a statement.

The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) also said that troops of its 45 battalion, the Rashtriya Rifles and the Special Operations Groups (SOG) of the state police carried out a cordon and search operation of the area immediately after the militants opened fire.

“The militants opened fire at the group of security forces conducting their exercise in Hajin area. The security personnel responded with strong retaliatory fire and the two militants were killed. Other units of the paramilitary forces and the state police also launched a combing operation of the area," said a senior home ministry official, requesting anonymity.

Senior officers of security forces based in New Delhi added that even though more than 160 militants had been in Kashmir till 1 October, there were nearly 100 more militants who were holed up in different parts of north Kashmir.

“Vigil has been stepped up across all regions of North Kashmir. However, there are about 100-120 militants still holed up in some villages and we are trying to eliminate them. But they have mingled with the locals, conduct their reconnaissance to assess the extent of patrolling and security cover in areas and then open fire at a later time," said a senior security force officer, who did not wish to be identified.

On 14 September, security forces gunned down top Lashkar commander Abu Ismael, who had been accused of masterminding and executing an attack on Amarnath pilgrims on 10 July. Five days later, on 19 September, the LeT released a statement saying that the group would avenge Ismael’s death.

Ismael took control of the LeT in Kashmir after its previous commander, Abu Dujana, was killed by security forces in August.