In the biggest militant attack on the army in recent years, at least 18 soldiers were killed and another 11 injured when they were ambushed Thursday morning in the Moltuk valley of Chandel district in Manipur.
Troops from 6 Dogra Regiment were heading from their base in Moltuk toward Pallel when their convoy was ambushed at around 8 am, according to Army and Manipur Police sources.
The troops were returning to their HQ in Nagaland’s Dimapur and were travelling in a convoy of four trucks that were carrying 46 soldiers in all, they added.
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The attack, which started with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast, took place when the convoy reached a hilly area between Paraolol and Larong along the New Samtal road, about 125 km from Imphal city and around 15 km from the Myanmar border.
Today’s mindless attack in Manipur is very distressing. I bow to each and every soldier who has sacrificed his life for the Nation.
The attackers then fired down from a hillside nearby using rocket-propelled grenades and heavy automatic weapons, said sources. Two trucks caught fire and were completely gutted, burning alive the soldiers who were trapped inside.
As the surviving soldiers retaliated, there was a heavy exchange of gunfire which lasted an hour. One militant was killed in the retaliatory fire, sources said.
Manipur ambush: This is where the attack took place.
While no underground group in Manipur has claimed responsibility for the attack, intelligence sources said it was likely to have been a joint operation of some Meitei valley groups, including UNLF, KCP and KYKL, along with a breakaway faction of the NSCN (K).
“We are still waiting for more inputs to come in,” Manipur Home Secretary J Suresh Babu said.
Defence Minister @manoharparrikar: Army will continue to work towards bringing peace and normalcy to the state of Manipur. (3)
— Sitanshu Kar (@SpokespersonMoD) June 4, 2015
Defence Minister @manoharparrikar assures that those who committed the cowardly act will be brought to book. (2)
— Sitanshu Kar (@SpokespersonMoD) June 4, 2015
There are at least three Kuki militant camps based in Tengnoupal, home of the police station nearest to the ambush site. But all of them fall under the Suspension of Operation agreement signed between the banned groups and New Delhi.
As news of the attack spread, the Army rushed more troops to the spot, and launched combing and counter-insurgency operations in the surrounding areas. This is likely to continue for the next few days, said Army sources.
The injured soldiers were airlifted to Leimakhong military hospital and then onward to Guwahati.
Manipur Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister G Gaikhangam condemned the attack, calling it “most unfortunate”. “I share in the grief of those who have died,” he said.
On May 3, a similar attack took place in Nagaland when eight Assam Rifles jawans were killed in a joint operation by NSCN (K), ULFA (I), NDFB-S and Kamatapur Liberation Organisation.
The NSCN (K) had withdrawn from the ceasefire arrangement with New Delhi in March. The SS Khaplang-led Naga insurgent group is based in Myanmar — Khaplang is a Burmese Naga — and is closely tied to the Meitei insurgent groups.
Last month, Assam Rifles personnel had apprehended Khekaho Rochill, the financial secretary of NSCN (K), from Zunheboto in Nagaland. His role in the Kohima blasts and other attacks on the army is under investigation.
Thursday’s ambush is the latest in a string of attacks on the army in the recent past in Manipur. While sporadic and random attacks are continuous, these are limited to placing of IEDs near army posts or on the routes of patrols.
On June 1, the day of the autonomous district council elections in the five hill districts of Manipur, militants ambushed a patrolling party of Assam Rifles in Ukhrul district where two jawans were injured.
The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) took responsibility for the ambush although the Meitei valley group does not usually operate in Ukhrul, which is dominated by NSCN (IM).
The names of the victims of Thursday’s attack have not been officially released although the Dogra units usually recruit most of their personnel from the Jammu and Himachal belt.
The site of the latest attack is under the operational command of 3 Corps in Dimapur where the bodies were evacuated to and from where they will be flown to the homes of their respective families.
(With ENS, Delhi)