Imphal: At least 20 soldiers were killed and 11 others injured when terrorists ambushed their convoy in Manipur on Thursday. The attack was condemned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.
This was the worst such attack on the Indian Army anywhere in the country in more than a decade.
A team of 6 Dogra Regiment was on a routine road opening patrol in the morning in Chandel district when they were ambushed between Paralong and Charong villages.
An army spokesman said the terrorists first fired rocket-propelled grenades at the four-vehicle convoy on its way to Imphal from Chandel, setting the first vehicle on fire.
The attackers later fired indiscriminately from automatic weapons, taking the soldiers by surprise.
Defence ministry sources said most bodies of the soldiers were charred and were being identified.
The injured were flown in a helicopter to the army base hospital in Imphal.
One of the vehicles, "probably the first in the convoy caught fire after being hit by RPG", a defence ministry official said.
The soldiers retaliated but the terrorists managed to escape.
Prime Minister Modi said: "Today's mindless attack is very distressing. I bow to each and every soldier who has sacrificed his life for the nation."
Parrikar too condemned the ambush and vowed to bring the killers behind "the cowardly act to book".
The defence minister added that the army would continue to work towards bringing peace and normalcy in Manipur and conveyed "deepest condolence" to the families of the dead soldiers.
The army suspects the Manipur-based People's Liberation Army (PLA) for the attack but does not rule out the involvement of the NSCN-K, who has a substantial presence in the district and had recently pulled out of the ceasefire agreement it signed with the Indian government.
Although there are many terrorist outfits in Manipur, most of them operate under the shadow of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by S.S. Khaplang, particularly in Naga-dominated areas like Chandel.
The security forces mounted a major hunt for the killers.