The Indian Army has a major challenge in Jammu and Kashmir this year - to bring down its casualties which saw a steep rise last year compared to previous years. Experts said that the changing tactics of the militants, which include attacks on military installations and provoking civilians during gun battles, pose new challenges.
In the latest incident, three soldiers and a civilian were killed on Thursday when troops returning from a search operation in Kungnoo village were attacked by militants in Shopian district. The attack was owned up by Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest militant group in the state.
The trend picked up last year when, on January 2, terrorists belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammad attacked the Indian Air Force Station at Pathankot in Punjab leading to the deaths of seven security personnel and four terrorists.
Later during the year, on September 18, an army camp at Uri was attacked by four terrorists leading to the death of 19 soldiers.
In the last one year, multiple attacks on military installations and convoys have taken place. This has raised many questions on the effectiveness of the well-established procedures and drills of the security forces in the Valley.
Data on the ratio of casualties of the security forces against the terrorists shows this is tilting in favour of the security forces -- though the numbers are rising.
According to the data available with the South Asian Terrorism Portal, in 2012, 17 security personnel died while 84 terrorists were killed. The numbers the next were 61 and 100, respectively.
The figures for 2014-2015 were 51/110 and 41/113, respectively.
Last year 165 militants were killed against 88 casualty suffered by the security personnel.
Speaking on this trend, Lt. Gen. Ata Hasnain (retd), a former commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, said "This is a temporary affair and will average out later. Momentarily it has got skewed due to 2016, when the army had high casualties."
"The reason was the re-adoption of fedayeen (suicide) methods by the terror groups, targeting of soft targets such as convoys by choosing to seek contact rather than avoid contact," Hasnain said.
Defence analyst and author Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) said: "I think better-trained and well-armed militants are being pushed across into India. Militants are targeting camps and army convoys and there is a shift in focus."
On the strategy of the militants to attack camps and convoys, Kanwal said: "There are always gaps and well-trained terrorists, who are patient and watch the convoy security drills for a few days, can always find gaps and can select the ambush points."
Army convoys in the Valley are governed by well-established road opening procedures carried out every morning.
Speaking on the new strategy employed by the militants, Lt. Gen S.L. Narasimhan (retd), the former commander of 3 Corps, said: "This is an action-reaction game. Tactics keep changing. When terrorists cannot attack the forward posts, they attack rear. They try to keep finding the weak spots."
Asked whether the recent developments in the Valley meant that the militants had gained the upper hand against the security forces, Narasimhan said: "Army Training Command and all the field formations, down to battalion level, analyse the operations and implement the lessons learned."
"These are on-and-off affairs. This is a cycle. I am sure security forces will find an answer for this," Narsimhan concluded.