Manipur killings: Warnings the state ignored

Terrorists targeted army convoys twice killing 14 soldiers in Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Indian state's reputation is now at stake.

 |  SITREP  |  4-minute read |   07-06-2015
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The news of 18 army jawans being killed in a brutal ambush at Chandel district of Imphal has shocked the nation but the writing was on the wall. On May 2, a convoy of Assam Rifles was attacked in the Mon district of Nagaland killing 10 soldiers. Before that on April 3, an army patrol was attacked by suspected NSCN (K) terrorists killing four soldiers in the Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh bordering Nagaland.

Pockets in Chandel and Churachandpur districts of Manipur, bordering Myanmar are considered "liberated zones" with assorted terrorist groups operating with impunity, including collecting taxes from villagers, trucks and taxis crossing the area. Though the police officially deny it, it is Manipur's worst kept secret that assorted terrorist groups have divided the state amongst themselves and collect taxes even from government employees.

Top sources monitoring development in Manipur say though NSCN (K) is a dominant force in the Mon, Mokukchung areas of Nagaland its sphere of influence and operation does not spread up to Chandel in Manipur. The latest terror strike appears to be the handiwork of Manipur People's Liberation Army working with an offshoot KYKL. Sources also discount recent operations undertaken by the 6th Battalion of the Dogra Regiment in the area in which a suspected woman underground operative was killed as being the trigger for the Chandel terror strike.

This terror strike was undertaken by at least 35-60 terrorists working in tandem. The planning and assembling of so many terrorists from assorted groups, including KYKL and PLA perhaps along with ULFA(I) and with the guidance of NSCN(K), would have taken several weeks of planning before execution. The timing of the attack was also very carefully chosen. The 6th battalion of the Dogra regiment was de-inducting after completing its tour of duty. The advance party of the new Assam Regiment battalion was in but the forces had still not completely either taken over or begun dominating their new area of operation. The Assam Rifles (DGAR) battalion, tasked to deploy the road opening party (ROP), had not been in place effectively. The terrorists knew the best time to strike was when the old battalion was pulling out and the new was yet to find its feet.

The place of strike was also well chosen. Terrorists had the higher ground. Weapons including rocket propelled grenades, rocket launchers and at least 35 assault rifles were smuggled in, most probably recently from across the porous Myanmar border for over a week. This was a well-planned and meticulously executed terror strike. The terrorists laid an improvised explosive device (IED) on the road. The IED targeted the lead vehicle. This was the Admn (administration) convoy of 6 Dogra, which included the Ghatak platoon and other soldiers (approximately 50) going on leave. Immediately after the IED blast, from higher ground terrorists fired RPG rounds and rockets at the four-truck convoy. Two trucks caught fire and several soldiers were charred even before they could climb off the trucks. The terrorists then opened indiscriminate fire on the four trucks. Even as soldiers regrouped and took position to retaliate, the terrorists had melted into the forest and by the time information got to Imphal, perhaps terrorists had slipped across the border into Myanmar and towards the terror headquarters in Kachin province.

Shortly before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to China, intelligence agencies had reported a meeting between eight different terror groups in the Kachin province organised with the blessings of elements in the Chinese establishment. The NSCN(K), at one time seen as the government's own counter to separatist forces in Nagaland - were roped in along with ULFA and other northeast terror groups to form the United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia. Apart from NSCN(K), ULFA(I), KLO and NDFB (Sorbojit) are a part of the new Terror Inc. of the northeast.

India has, in the past, successfully hit out and destroyed not only terror commanders, but also bases with active cooperation from Myanmar. The Moreh-Tamu road even forced terrorist forces to shift their bases even deeper into the Kachin province where nailing them has become extremely critical and even more difficult.

Chief of the Army Staff, General Dalbir Singh, commanded both his Corps and the Army in the East. His team says he has in-depth knowledge of terrain and complexities on ground and has been tasked by defence minister Manohar Parrikar to root out the evil. The army is building up for an offensive to destroy bases of these assorted terror groups. At the last count there were 32 terrorist outfits operating in Manipur alone. The army, paramilitary force - Assam Rifles and the State police, along with intelligence agencies, mount a massive intelligence based operation to eliminate terrorist leadership and supply chain. The next step is to choke their finances - and destroy the elaborate extortion network.

India is also seeking Myanmar's cooperation to mount a joint offensive to deny terrorists free movement across the border. The government plans to begin small but expand the strategy with adapting to local dynamics across the seven sisters to root out the problem not just militarily but also politically and economically asking all forces to give up the gun and sit across the table for a solution.

A task easier said than done. But it is the reputation of the Indian State that is at stake.


Gaurav C Sawant Gaurav C Sawant @gauravcsawant

Executive Editor, India Today TV. Author Dateline Kargil (Macmillan).

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