SRINAGAR: Barely hours after authorities called off the "biggest counter-insurgency operation in a decade", a civilian was killed and three Army soldiers injured in the exchange of gunfire between suspected militants and the Army in Kashmir on Thursday.

Suspected militants fired in Baskuchan village at a convoy of the Army's 66 Rashtriya Rifles, which was involved along with J&K police and paramilitary troopers in the day long operation in south Kashmir's Shopian district, resulting in injuries to three Army soldiers and a civilian driver ferrying the Army men in his private cab.

The driver, Nazir Ahmad Sheikh, a resident of Shopian's Kachdoora locality, later succumbed to injuries. According to sources, the Army had hired nine private cabs, in a clear violation of Standard Operating Procedure, to ferry its men to the area. In past, the Army has faced accusations of abducting private cabbies for accompanying them to sites of counter insurgency operations.

The Army's Srinagar based spokesman, Col Manish, promised over phone to "get back" with details about the killing but he didn't call back.

Shopian district remained under siege on Thursday as forces in the excess of 3500 personnel scouted nearly two dozen villages, orchards and forested areas with airforce choppers and drones pressed into action while special forces were kept on standby, fruitlessly, since no contact was made with militants during searches.

"It was meant as a show of strength to reclaim the space encroached by militants due to the prevailing crisis and to infuse a sense of confidence in the local population. During searches, we got cooperation from locals in many villages which is a positive sign," a J&K Police officer said, wishing anonymity.

However, protests and clashes broke out in some villages, prompting the forces to resort to teargas shelling and baton-charge to disperse the protesters. At many places, forces clashed with angry residents who were protesting the "brazen violation" of their privacy,

"The police and Army men resorted to vandalism. All the windows of my home were smashed. I begged them that no one was inside other than my family but they refused to listen and instead abused me. The whole village is up in arms against them" Rashid Ahmad, a resident of Sugan village, told The Citizen.

Witnesses said forces went on a rampage in Sugan, Turkwangom, Pinjora and other villages of the district, allegedly assaulting the residents and damaging property including houses, at least one government building and dozens of cars parked on roadsides, sparking massive demonstrations.

The search operation comes against the backdrop of two fresh videos showing over two dozen new recruits of militancy, in a show of strength, receiving arms training and flaunting their automatic rifles at an undiclosed location. The videos went viral on social media in Kashmir, despite an official gag.

The spurt in militancy coupled with the killings of political activists, allegedly by militants, has sparked fear and anguish in south Kashmir where many areas remain out of bounds for administration, forces don't venture out and militants are reportedly spotted in broad daylight.

Sources said the operation was necessitated by the May 1 killing of five policemen and two security guards in a botched up bid by militants to snatch weapons, and daylight robberies at three banks in a span of 48 hours in south Kashmir earlier this week.

Meanwhile, a group of militants managed to escape from a search operation in Khudwani area of Kulgam district following stiff resistance by locals on Thursday evening. To help the trapped militants escape, hundreds of locals came out of their homes and staged protests which soon boiled down into violent clashes. Protests and exchange of gunfire continued for long time in the area.