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Border no bar for pursuit - Army hunts Manipur killers

Author: Sujan Dutta
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: June 9, 2015
URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150610/jsp/frontpage/story_24896.jsp#.VXgHstDVXf-

The Indian Army today said it had launched pre-emptive strikes on insurgents "along" the India-Myanmar border in Nagaland and Manipur, inflicting an unknown number of casualties in operations that were conducted after informing the neighbouring country.

According to a source in the security establishment, at least one raid was carried out in Onzia inside Myanmar. India sourced the intelligence from the Tatmadaw, the Myanmarese military.

"We do not stop to count the casualties when operations are going on," said one officer, asked if there were figures for the dead and injured in the militant ranks.

"There were no casualties among our own forces," he added.

The strikes last night and this morning come after the June 4 ambush in which 18 soldiers were killed by suspected militants of the NSCN(K) along with cadres of outfits that are supporters of an underground confederation.

"In the course of the last few days, credible and specific intelligence was received about further attacks that were being planned within our territory. These attacks were to be carried out by some of the groups involved in earlier attacks on our security personnel and their allies," a rare statement from the Directorate General of Military Operations said.

Maj. Gen. Singh is normally responsible for collating information on the frontier with China. But he is also the pater familias - or colonel commandant - of the Dogra regiment. The battalion that was ambushed on June 4 was the 6th of the Dogra Regiment.

"While ensuring peace and tranquillity along the border and in the border-states, any threat to our security, safety and national integrity will meet a firm response," the DGMO statement said.

The DGMO statement served to emphasise the Narendra Modi government's public policy that it would take a hard line against militants from across borders.

But to interpret the strikeback as a statement of policy - that India will attack terrorists wherever they are - may be faulty. The template of Manipur-Nagaland-Arunachal may not apply to Jammu and Kashmir; India's Northeast is not New Delhi's Northwest.

The risk of collateral damage in counter-insurgency runs high and the evidence that the army needs to back claims of targeted hits is yet to be produced.

Today, New Delhi was upfront in acknowledging that it did inform Nay Pi Daw, the new capital of Myanmar.

"We are in communication with the Myanmar authorities on this matter. There is a history of close cooperation between our two militaries. We look forward to working with them to combat such terrorism," said Maj. Gen. Singh, indicating that the operations would be sustained for weeks at least, if not months.

There was no official statement from Myanmar till late tonight. The Myanmarese forces are themselves too tied up in quelling their own insurgencies to take the battle to the Sagaing and Kachin divisions in the country's west and north that border Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal. The NSCN(K) and its partners are said to have most of their camps in these divisions.

According to one source, the Indian Army raids were carried out on militant camps at Nokkaklak in Nagaland's Tuensang district, Chashad in Manipur's Ukhrul district and Onzia inside Myanmar.

Sources said a paracommando unit of the army, along with infantrymen, and the Assam Rifles carried out the attacks in Ukhrul district of Manipur this morning, targeting one unspecified group. A second group was the target in Nagaland.

Ukhrul is the home of the Tangkhul Naga and is a stronghold of the NSCN led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah. The NSCN(IM) is in a ceasefire with the army. The NSCN(K) "abrogated" its 14-year ceasefire in April.

The deployment of paracommandos, dropped in the jungles from helicopters, suggests that the forces may have crossed the India-Myanmar border for specific targets.

Alternatively, the army statement that claims its operations were "along the Indo-Myanmar border" suggests that it may have coordinated with the Myanmarese forces, the Tatmadaw, in a "hammer-and-anvil" operation. If such an operation took place, the Indian Army would have gone after the insurgents and the Myanmarese would have blocked them from entering their country.

There is no record of such an operation between the Indian and Myanmarese armies in recent years. But in 1995, in "Operation Golden Bird", Indian and Myanmarese forces claimed to have intercepted a shipment of arms. An estimated 40 militants were killed in the military strikes.

In 2003-04, the Indian Army did conduct a "hammer-and-anvil" operation with Bhutanese forces to overrun Ulfa camps in south Bhutan.

The army said last night's strikes were necessary because of "the imminent threat" of attacks by the militants. The Indian Air Force used helicopters to ferry troops. But there was no report of air raids on the suspected insurgent camps. Officially, only once - in Mizoram in 1966 - were air raids used against insurgents.

The evidence of cross-border raids on insurgent camps is more circumstantial than physical.

Army sources claimed that four militants involved in the June 4 attack were killed either in the firefight or later.

There was partial corroboration of this from the rebels. In a joint statement, the NSCN(K) and two Manipur-based outfits said the attackers of the June 4 convoy were feted by the commanders of the insurgent armies.

But, the statement added, the event was "rather sombre" because of the deaths of two fighters. It said one person was hit by a mortar shell "in the battlefield".

The other person died on the way to a safer place "probably due to heart failure". The rebel statement said "the report that his dead body bore bullet marks is totally baseless".

Commandos of the 21 Para (Special Forces) slithered down from Mi-17 helicopters of the Indian Air Force in a jungle on the Manipur-Nagaland junction with Myanmar late on Monday night, according to a narrative from one source in the security establishment in New Delhi.

 They trekked through the foliage, crossed the border, swerved past a Myanmarese army camp instructed to look the other way and then set up a staging post from where they raided a camp of rebels from Manipur inside Myanmar.

 The militant camp is at a place called Onzia. The rocket pods of the Mi-17 helicopters from which the commandos slithered down were armed. They touched down on Indian territory to muffle the noise of the choppers from the militants in the camps in Myanmar.

 This narrative is based on the account of only one source. The full details of the army strikes on militants following the June 4 ambush are yet to unfold.

 The existence of the militant camp at Onzia has been known to the army for years. The attack on it was less of a surprise than the political nod to cross the border was.

 The source said the Prime Minister’s Office gave the nod, before Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh, once he was briefed by the Military Operations Directorate.

 In Delhi this evening, speaking to select television channels, Col Rajyavardhan Rathore, former army marksman and Olympics medallist who is now minister of state for information and broadcasting, described the operations as an  “unprecedented and bold step by the government”.

 He said the Prime Minister ordered the “hot pursuit” of the militants.

 “Hot pursuit” is a military manoeuvre, denoting that the perpetrators of a terrorist attack may be chased down immediately after the act even if that involves crossing international boundaries.

An attack on a well-known camp is different. It means a targeted strike. The raid on Onzia was also in a sense a message to the Myanmarese military, the Tatmadaw, that the Indian forces will go after militants in their territory if they do not act on their own.
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