Non-adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), poor training standards, surprise and complacency of the unit are the likely reasons for 6 Dogra battalion in an ambush in Manipur’s Chandel district on Thursday. National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) or NSCN-K, led by Burmese Naga leader SS Khaplang) – along with Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) — claimed responsibility for the attack which left 18 soldiers dead and 11 injured.
The militants had selected the ambush site which lay at the boundary of the area of responsibility of two contiguous units: 6 Dogra and 20 Assam Rifles. The site, which lay at a blind narrow turn on the road from Tengnoupal to Paraolon, provided the militants tactical advantage as it had the hill on one side and a gorge on the other.
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Security analyst Manoj Joshi says that the selection of site and the execution of ambush had all the signs of a typical Naga ambush. “The Nagas are very good at ambushes. The largest loss in a single encounter, before the hapless CRPF in Chattisgarh, was also in Nagaland in 1956 or so,” Joshi adds.
Former Army Commander, Lt General (retd) HS Panag agrees that it was a classic ambush and caused heavy losses to the army, but warns against hyping the militants or the weapons they used. “RPGs are available globally and used by all kinds of terrorists. What is so great about them being used here?”, he questions.
Lt General Panag also sees violation of SOPs – by the Road Opening Party (ROP) and number of troops in a single truck – in the whole incident. Unlike J&K, where Road Opening is done on foot and pickets established at vulnerable points, the ROP here never dismounted from the vehicles or occupied dominating geographical features. The militants could thus lay IEDs with incendiary material, and position themselves at the ambush site without getting detected.
“34 men were travelling a single vehicle. They may have done it either due to paucity of vehicles or other vehicles may have been carrying stores. But this led to heavy casualties when that vehicle was ambushed. This is a clear violation of the SOP,” Panag says.
Having completed its stint in Manipur, the Dogra battalion — being replaced by 4 Assam battalion — was on its way to its next posting at Chandigarh. Srinath Raghavan, a former infantry officer and a senior fellow at Centre for Policy Research, feels that the unit was taken by surprise as it never expected such an ambush. “Most units in the area have hardly seen any action during their tenures and complacency can set in with time,” Raghavan says.
Lt General Panag, however, argues that the unit should have been extra alert during its deinduction from the area. It has also been seen in J&K that the units are at their most vulnerable when they are near the end of their tenure. Panag doesn’t lay any blaim on the Dogra unit’s Commanding Officer being away on leave, his second in command being in Chandigarh with the advance party or other officers being in Leimakhong to write their mandatory promotion exams.
“No officer could have done anything if he was in the headquarters when the ambush happened. What this incident again points to is poor training standards of our units. Our actual training standards are only 30 to 50 percent of what they should be. The average unit is at 30 percent while the best are at 50 percent of ideal standards,” Panag says.
Most experts are also worried about the government’s likely response to the deadly ambush. The militants would have barely taken four hours after the ambush to go deeper into forests inside Myanmar where NSCN-K has safe camps. Raghavan says that while India will make a diplomatic representation to Myanmar, the situation is a bit complex now. As part of its national reconciliation, Myanmarese government now has a ceasefire agreement with NSCN-K. Panag recalls that Indian Army has earlier conducted joint operations with Myanmar army, and even operated inside Myanmar territory, but that won’t be possible now.
“We get genuine pledges of support at political levels, but have no control at the local level, where corruption is supposedly rampant. If we do cross-border operations, it would be best for them to be low-profile. China is hurting itself by pressuring Myanmar on its border, and this has created an opening for us,” an Indian analyst who is currently in Myanmar told The Indian Express.
“The only answer is more intensive patrolling along the border. Closing the Myanmar border is what the government seems to be veering towards,” Raghavan says.
“A strong response to this ambush should mean more intelligence-based surgical operations. Else, it could only mean our forces putting poor villagers at inconvenience while achieving nothing,” Panag says.
Meanwhile, Lt Gen Bipin Rawat, Commander, 3 Corps, said in Imphal on Saturday that there was no failure of intelligence in the attack.
“We receive intelligence inputs every day and act and react according to these inputs. There are numerous incidents which are foiled due to the action we have been taking on the basis of these inputs — there are so many incidents that we prevent. In this case, it happened to be an instance in which the militants were successful in carrying out their operation,” he said. (With Esha Roy in Imphal)
UKLF condemns attack
Imphal: Banned Kuki militant group United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) has condemned the June 4 attack on the Army convoy. The site of attack, Parolon in Chandel district, falls under UKLF’s operating area. In a statement, it said it was “unfortunate that such an incident occurred in Chandel district when its people are struggling for peace and normalcy”. It expressed “solidarity” with families of the slain soldiers and said there should be no “repeats of such incidents in our operating area”. (ENS)