SRINAGAR: Security agencies may celebrate the killing of two Jaish-e-Mohammad militants in Tral earlier this week as a “major success” but the proscribed outfit has steadily expanded its presence in Kashmir in last two years.

The Pakistan-based outfit headed by Masood Azhar, whose second nephew was among the two militants killed in Tral, was almost wiped from the insurgency map of Kashmir some years ago. But the outfit has now staged a comeback.

According to a senior police officer, at least 60 militants are affiliated with the outfit in the Valley, most of them local youths from the restive south Kashmir. The number has grown from less than ten Jaish militants just couple of years ago.

Police said two militants killed in Tral identified as Usman Ibrahim, nephew of Masood Azhar, and Showkat Ahmad, were involved in the sniper attacks that resulted in the killing of an army soldier and two paramilitary troopers.

An M4 carbine used by the special forces in Pakistan and NATO forces in Afghanistan was recovered from the gunfight site in Tral which police believes was fitted with a night-vision device to carry out sniper attacks.

Two ‘buddy’ groups of Jaish-e-Mohammad comprising of two militants each have been blamed by security agencies for ‘sniper attacks’. According to sources, the sniper squads are headed by one Usman bhai about whom very little is known.

“It (killing of Usman) is a major jolt for Jaish-e-Mohammad outfit. He had infiltrated into Kashmir in September to recalibrate the outfit’s strategy and for recruiting more youth into the outfit,” the police officer said, wishing anonymity.

However, with the rising insurgency in Kashmir breaking new records every year, the presence of Jaish, which has staged deadly attacks on security forces in past, has also grown, posing a serious threat to the security apparatus.

According to a latest J&K Police report, more than 150 youths have joined militants this year and the number is likely to cross 200 by the end of this year. While majority of these youths hail from south Kashmir, Srinagar and Budgam districts, which were declared militancy-free some years ago, are back on the militancy map too.

Police sources said there are between 400-500 militants active in Kashmir presently, aided and abetted by an army of overground workers, dozens of whom have been arrested by authorities. Last year, a J&K Police assessment put the number of active militants between 300-400.

“More than 200 militants were killed last year during counter-insurgency operations which include top commanders of Jaish including Tala Rashid, Mufti Waqas and Noor Muhammad Trali. Although local recruitment is a matter of concern, it will not be correct to term it (growing ranks of Jaish) as an alarming development,” the police officer said.