The Indian Army on Tuesday carried out a surgical strike at two locations on the Indo-Myanmar border, pre-empting a terror attack and inflicted heavy damage on the militants.
Executing hot pursuit for the first time, the operation carried out by 21 para (special forces) with support from Indian Air Force was swift, smooth and precise as the soldiers returned without any casualties while destroying two militant camps.
While the Army claimed that the operation was conducted on the Indo-Myanmar border at two locations at Tuensang in Nagaland and Ukhrul in Manipur, indications were that troops actually crossed the international border, though there was no official confirmation.
“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 combat such terrorism with them,” said additional director general military operations Major General Ranbir Singh.
The officer only read out a statement without elaborating on the operation.
The Indian Army’s counter-attack came five days after 18 of its soldiers were massacred in Manipur’s Chandel district by militants drawn from various groups, including NSCN-Khaplang and Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL).
The Army also confirmed on Tuesday that the strike on the 6th battalion of the Dogra regiment in Chandel five days ago had not gone without retaliation. One of the bodies of militants recovered from the ambush site has been identified as the leader of the group of the assailants, said officials. Two more bodies were recovered.
The Army said Tuesday’s operation was based on intelligence input about militants planning another strike. Though it was not clear how many militants were killed, the number of casualties could be anywhere between 12 and 50 or even more.
Among the militants killed are many of those who ambushed the Army convoy in Chandel.
The go-ahead for the operation was given right from the top as Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, national security adviser Ajit Doval and Army chief General Dalbir Singh had taken stock of the situation and asked the troops to go all-out against the militant groups.
It had become clear that all options were explored, including precision strike on the camps operating from Myanmar. It was known that militants who had ambushed the Army convoy in Chandel had crossed over to Myanmar.
The Army’s statement is clear that Myanmar was informed after the operation was executed.
“We look forward to working with them to combat such terrorism,” said an Army statement.
By going for the bold option of hitting back, the Indian Army has sent a strong message to militant groups that any attack will not go unanswered and they will have to pay a heavy price for any misadventure.
The government in New Delhi is also firmly backing the proactive policy and issues are being taken up at diplomatic levels.
Tuesday’s operation has clearly spelt out new rules of engagements to deal with terrorism and the message will also go to the western border with Pakistan.
New Delhi will no longer hesitate from undertaking cross-border operations is the underlining message.
“While ensuring peace and tranquility along the border and in the border states, any threat to our security, safety and national integrity will meet a firm response,” said a statement released by the Army which was clear in intent.
Sources said that precise intelligence information was the backbone of the success of Tuesday’s operations. Unlike the attack in Chandel, which was attributed to intelligence failure, the Army was alert this time to inputs. All the armed forces are on high state of alert.
Army's new plans to fight rebels
The Myanmar ambush carried out by the army shows that they have set new rules of engagement with militants, even as the armed forces are coming in terms with breakdown of the ceasefire agreement with the insurgent group NSCN-Khaplang.
The militants have long used Myanmar as an escape haven. Even though India and Myanmar enjoy a cordial relationship, it only had limited impact on checking the activities of militant groups.
For years, India had invested steadily in improving military ties with Myanmar, which had always shown a commitment to fighting terrorism.
But the recent Manipur ambush, which killed 18 Armymen, has made some officials feel it is a testing time for Indo-Myanmar ties.
India has also signalled that its approach to deal with terrorists will be proactive. The terrorists will no longer be allowed to escape to their safe havens. Not only do they retreat to their sanctuaries across the border, but they also use their extensive network to procure sophisticated weapons.
The fact that the Indian Army convoy was ambushed using such weapons had raised eyebrows about their preparations.
The border between India and Myanmar is porous at several locations and the armed forces cannot function without the support from the other side.
The immediate task for them in the North-East will be to manage the ceasefire breakdown.
Ironically, there have been three major strikes by the militants after the ceasefire was broken two months ago.
Reports also point a finger at the manner in which the breakdown took place, as many believe that even the army was not aware of it.
Officials, however, said that while a rise in the level of militancy is expected, the armed forces were equipped to handle the situation.
According to officials, the ability to strike across the border has given a big advantage to the armed forces and the militants will now get the stern message that there are no safe havens left for them.
This is the first time that India has crossed the border to execute a military operation, a move which will have significant ramifications for the region.
NIA visits ambush site in Manipur
A National Investigating Agency (NIA) team on Tuesday seized some Lethod gun shells and an unexploded Improvised Explosive Device (IED) from the site where 18 army personnel were killed in Manipur’s Chandel district.
Official sources said the NIA, which has taken over the case from Manipur police, conducted a thorough search of the area five days after the attack, the worst on the army in recent times.
They said the IED was defused by explosives experts from the army.
Naga insurgent outfit NSCN (Khaplang) had claimed responsibility for the ambush in a release.
The militant outfit claimed the attack was a joint operation by itself, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, and Kangleipak Communist Party.
The NIA has taken over the case from Manipur police and registered a case in the agency’s Guwahati branch under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Arms Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
According to the intelligence reports, ULFA’s fugitive chief Paresh Baruah, who is alleged to be opertaing at the behest of China’s PLA, is believed to have convinced NSCN-K leader S S Khaplang to snap the ceasefire agreement with Indian government in March last year