Opinion: The Implications of Manipur Attack on Army and Corrections Needed

The north-east is back in the news. Once again for all the wrong reasons. The death of 18 soldiers in what is easily the single biggest ambush on the Indian Army in the north-east in the past decade, has brought attention right back on the insurgent groups in the region.

This was the third major attack on the Army and the Assam Rifles (a para military force led by Army officers) recently. On April 2, a convoy of the 4 Rajput battalion was attacked by suspected NSCN-K cadres at Khonsa in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Four soldiers were killed and many others were injured. Exactly a month later, the NSCN-K struck again in Nagaland’s Mon district, killing 8 Assam Rifles soldiers. Thursday’s attack however was the biggest in the past two decades in terms of number of casualties.

Thursday’s attack was reportedly carried out by a combined team of cadres drawn from Manipur-based outfits like KYKL (Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup), the KCP (Kangleipak Communist Party) and the Khaplang group of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K).

The attack on an administrative convoy of the 6 Dogra battalion, at Moltuk in Manipur’s Chandel district, barely 15 km from the Myanmar border, has several implications for the region and the Army itself.

For one, the Army will have to take strict corrective measures after carrying out an inquiry into the circumstances under which it lost so many soldiers in one go. That of the 46-member convoy, 18 soldiers were killed in the attack, points to something drastically gone wrong.

Whether the usual road opening drill – sanitising the route that the convoy takes – was done according to the standard operating procedure will be one of the first aspects that will be looked into. That the insurgents could fire an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at the lead vehicle in the convoy after triggering an IED (improvised Explosive Device) indicates that the insurgents were lying in wait for some time along the route that the convoy was to take.

For over a decade now, insurgency in the north-east was controlled through a combination of tough anti-militancy operations and a series of ceasefires with prominent insurgent groups like the NSCN(M) and NSCN(K). Most states in the region, barring Manipur, were assessed to be heading back to normal perhaps inducing a sense of complacency among the security forces. The high state of alert under which troops used to operate in the region had turned into somewhat relaxed drills in the last few years.

Thursday’s incident will surely lead to the Army taking immediate corrective measures and seeking strict compliance from its units.

A massive operation is now under way to raid camps and hideouts of various insurgent groups in Manipur and Nagaland, but it is most likely that all those who attacked the army convoy would have crossed over into Myanmar immediately after the ambush. Although India has sought Myanmar’s help in increasing the vigil along the border, the Myanmarese Army has very little presence in the areas where Indian insurgent groups operate.

The NSCN-K had recently walked out of a 15-year-old ceasefire agreement with the Centre and has since taken a lead in uniting disparate insurgent groups under a new name – the United Nationalist Liberation Front of West South-East Asia.

The Centre has already ordered a review of its security policy for the region after a high-level meeting in Delhi late on Thursday. A thorough review of deployment patterns and judicious use of the security forces is now required. There are enough troops in the region. Using them effectively should be the first task of the re-calibrated policy.