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Security Vacuum on Myanmar Borders: Surgical Strike Option?

In the past fortnight, there have been at least three incidents in which militants have attacked Indian border forces – the Assam Rifles from across the Myanmar border.

In the first incident on August 09, a junior commissioned officer of the AR was injured during a patrol near the Pangsau pass on the international border in Arunachal Pradesh.

Hindustan Times quoted the Public relations officer (defence) Lt Col AS Walia as saying, “An incident of firing on Assam Rifles troops by militant groups from across the Indo Myanmar border took place early morning in the general area of Tirap and Changlang district.”

The Spear Corps of the Indian Army based in Dimapur later in the day claimed that an infiltration bid was foiled in the incident as reported by Hindustan Times, which also went on to state that the JCO suffered injures due to grenade splinters and the cross firing lasted for around 30 minutes and the attackers fled after the encounter.

There is an Myanmar Army post that is across at the Pangsau Pass. Thus presence of the militants in this area may be surprising but evidently the Tatmadaw or the military may have pulled out some of these posts to combat militancy in the depth areas.

Hindustan Times in the report went on to state that, “Officials familiar with the matter suspected the role of United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) and the Yung Aung faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang – Yung Aung) or NSCN-KYA in the attack”.

On the same day the NSCN KYA is reported to have fired at the Assam Rifles post in Noklak district.

The NSCN KYA and ULFA (I) had threated to disrupt the Independence Day celebrations on August 15th and had called for a boycott.

In another report it was stated that two Assam Rifles (AR) personnel were injured in an encounter with the militants belonging to the NSCN-K-YAin Nagaland’s Mon district on August 15.

The movement of militants was noticed on a jungle track from Zankham to Nyasa near interstate border between Mon district of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh and were intercepted by the Assam Rifles as per East Mojo.

“On being challenged by own troops, the UGs opened fire which was appropriately retaliated causing severe casualties to the UG group. Two Assam Rifles’ soldiers also sustained injuries; they have been evacuated to Jorhat Air Force Hospital for further treatment,” public relations officer (defence) Kohima Lt. Col. Sumit K Sharma said in the statement as per the Hindustan Times. The attack possibly involved at least 10 militants.

Increase in attacks by groups as the NSCN KYA based in Myanmar is not surprising. The groups in Myanmar have recently got an opportunity to expand their operations with the Myanmar army engaged in managing the numerous local rebellions that have spawned in the country in the form of People’s Defence Forces (PDFs).

NSCN KYA and others seem to have got a free run to reorganize their camps which had been disrupted in the past. These groups are also reported to have assisted the Myanmar Army in targeting the PDFs and thus a blind eye on their presence could be the payoffs. Thus more attacks by these groups on the borders in the North East can be anticipated.

A detailed review of the situation in the border areas in Myanmar is as given in the succeeding paragraphs.

Exploiting North East Groups in Myanmar

A report in Nikkei Asia which has been carried by several media outlets denotes presence of the Meitei group, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Eastern Command of the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) which is collaborating with the Tatmadaw or Myanmar Army in putting down the Chin rebellion.

In turn the Chin groups are determined to fight the ZRA and the PLA along with the Myanmar Military.

The resistance groups are being proactive and it is reported that on Jan. 14 a unit of the Chin National Army (CNA), the armed wing of the Chin National Front carried out an attack in neighbouring Sagaing Region on the base of PLA.

This may be seen as a revenge operation by the CNA to target the Tatmadaw indirectly also amidst reports that groups as the PLA were assisting the Myanmar Army in crackdown of locals in this belt.

North East Insurgent Collective in Myanmar

The use of the North East groups which have sanctuaries in Myanmar for fighting the People’s Democratic Forces (PDF) the main resistance militias by the Tatmadaw will be with an assurance of support to these against the Indian state.

Apart from the PLA the KanglaYawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the People's Republican Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K/YA) and the ULFA (I) along with a few remnants of other Naga and Meitei groups have a base in Myanmar.

The collective capacity of these groups whose strength is estimated to be 3000 to create mayhem across in the North East may be limited for now but given an assured, yet officially deniable support by Myanmar these could assume a dangerous dimension even though public support to these groups in the region is very limited.

Importantly, Sagaing Region and Chin State which border India are in the front lines of resistance to the military coup in that country and have reported high levels of violence.

Reports of Chinese intelligence agencies based in Yunnan providing tacit if not active support have been received but which need to be confirmed.

China may not have previously interfered directly, but things could change amid tensions at the LAC as insurgent groups in the Northeast have Chinese links.

Chin Refugees

Another though less menacing dimension is that of the Chin refugees in Mizoram. Mizoram is issuing identity cards to nearly 30,000 refugees from Myanmar who have fled military rule. “These are temporary identity cards that include the name, age, place of origin and their current residence. We have issued the cards for the safety of the refugees as well as easier identification,” Mizoram’s home affairs minister Lalchamliana told the Indian Express.

India’s Options

Given security vacuum across the Indo Myanmar border where a Free Movement Regime is operative, and with the Myanmar Army completely engaged in managing rising rebellion against the military coup administration, expecting the Force to target groups as the NSCN KYA and UNLFA (I) which have had long standing links with it in the past may be facetious.

Indian forces will have to launch what has come to known as, “surgical strikes,” cross border attacks on militant camps after acquiring intelligence of the locations as these keep shifting.

Such a move may well be in the offing as the Ministry of Defence reported on August 19th, that the Army Chief General MM Pande was in the 3 Corps area while the Defence Minister Mr Rajnath Singh was also in the same zone ostensibly to inaugurate the Durand Cup football tournament being held in Manipur.

As per the Ministry of Defence press release, General Manoj Pande, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) visited HQ 3 Corps at Rangapahar Military Station, Dimapur on 19 August 2022 and was briefed by GOC, 3 Corps, IGAR (South) and IGAR (North) on border management and hinterland operations to maintain peace and tranquillity in the region.

In another release the Ministry of Defence stated, “Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh visited Headquarters Inspector General Assam Rifles (South) at Mantripukhri in Manipur onAugust 19, 2022 and interacted with troops of Red Shield Division and Assam Rifles”. During the visit, the Raksha Mantri was briefed about the counter-insurgency as well as border management operations on Indo-Myanmar border to maintain peace and tranquility in the region as per the press release.

Was the visit of the Defence Minister and the Army Chief to Manipur and 3 Corps just a coincidence or are Indian forces planning a surgical strike across the Myanmar border in the coming days, we will soon come to know.



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