SRINAGAR - A war-like situation could be seen in the Indian-occupied Kashmir as thousands of soldiers and paramilitaries were Thursday engaged in a huge anti-separatist operation.

Helicopters and drones circled the skies with nearly 4,000 soldiers swarmed 20 villages in Shopian town over the course of 10 hours with paramilitary forces and police in tow to conduct house-to-house raids in one of the largest search operations recently seen in the area.

“We don’t know what is going on,” Mohammed Subhan Mir, the head of the village of Darazpora, said at the time. “There are soldiers all around us, moving everywhere as if it is war.”

The operation was conducted by Indian security forces in their hunt for rebels they deem “terrorists” in the ongoing crackdown against the region’s uprising.

It comes after five police officers were shot dead last week by rebels in a raid against a bank van that was carrying cash, one in a number of recent lootings carried out by rebels. The previous week also saw three Indian soldiers killed in an assault near the de-facto border known as the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

The attacks are a part of a 28-year armed struggle against Indian occupation forces in the region, who maintain their control over the territory that is considered the most densely militarized region of the world.

While helicopters hovered over the villages, ground forces stood at village entry points, with many residents of the area bewildered at the sheer number of soldiers on hand during the day-long raid.

“It is an unprecedented operation,” deputy inspector general of police SP Pani told AFP.

“It is impossible to capture the ‘militants’, but we hope there will be contact (exchange of fire) with them in the course of the day.”

Suspected freedom fighters are frequently killed in shoot-outs with government forces in Kashmir, but are only rarely captured alive.

A civilian driver was killed and two soldiers were injured after a vehicle hired by the army to transport troops came under fire, a senior police officer told AFP late Thursday.

“The civilian driver of the vehicle was injured and later died. Two other soldiers in the vehicle also received bullet injuries,” the police officer said.

After 10 hours, the operation was called off, with the police stating they had not found any militants. However, senior police officer SP Pani said the operation was successful because it had curtailed the resistance.

“Still, it was a successful operation as we could sweep through so many villages with a bare minimum of local resistance,” he stated.

During the raids, students and other demonstrators chanted slogans about independence and threw rocks at government forces, which responded with tear gas in the northwestern town of Sopore, with 10 students reportedly injured.

Students have been mobilizing as of late after troops raided a college in the southern town of Pulwama last month.

Elsewhere, in the villages of Sug and Tarkwangan, hundreds of residents also poured into the streets during the search operations and threw stones at soldiers.

Stone-throwing is a method often employed by Kashmiris to stand up to Indian government forces, similar to how Palestinians stand up to the Israeli occupation.

Sanjay Kak, author of “Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir,” has thus deemed civilian resistance against military occupation and rule in the region as an “intifada,” the Arabic term meaning uprising, which, again, is often used to describe Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.

The decades-long uprising has seen rebels and ordinary Kashmiris and residents of Jammu fight against the roughly 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the region, with some demanding independence and others a merger of the entire territory with Pakistan.

The rebels’ ranks have grown since July in the wake of the killing of a popular rebel leader, Burhan Wani, the commander of Hizbul Mujahedeen, in an Indian security crackdown that left at least 100 civilians dead.

Condemning the “crackdown” against civilian population in Shopian, APHC leaders, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, on Thursday urged people to protest against state terrorism after Friday congregational prayers on May 5.

In a statement, the leaders said the resistance leadership expressed their deep concern over increasing use of repressive measures from forces against civilians, students and continuous detention of pro-freedom activists.

Leadership, while referring to state authorities, said that they have waged a war against civilians, & in their appeal to youth, asked to maintain discipline & order during resistance against state-sponsored terrorism.

Resistance leadership while slamming Indian agencies and policy makers, urged youth to remain cautious and show wisdom.