IEDs pose greatest threat to Army operating in Manipur

INDIA-MYANMAR BORDER, 3rd Nov: Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are emerging as a major threat to security forces, which are also faced with daunting challenges in operations and fears of possible misuse of the Free Movement Regime with Myanmar while containing the insurgency in the most violent state in the North East, Manipur.
With the army saying that IEDs are its “biggest enemy”, already 30 of the explosive devices have been recovered from Manipur this year, as compared to 29 last year. Last year, there were 35 IED and grenade blasts as compared to 17 this year. During a visit to Manipur, sources in the security establishment explained that the terrain provides adequate advantage to insurgents to lay IEDs and ambushes. This has been well known from the June 2015 insurgent ambush on an army convoy in Manipur’s Chandel district that killed 18 soldiers, which was one of the biggest losses for the army in the state.
Multiple types of IEDs were used during this attack. Despite the army having adequate bomb disposal teams and IED detection dogs, for the insurgents which have the expertise to make these explosive devices is not a costly affair and requires easily available material.
Top army sources, however, explained that the Chandel incident has been studied in depth and measures have been taken to ensure that it is not repeated. “For every operation, not just of that magnitude, but for even smaller ones we study in detail. There are lessons to be learnt which are disseminated. We also pull back troops and train them further,” said an officer.
But with this, the army stares at major tasks such as securing 1630 km length of roads in Manipur. The army conducts Road Opening Parties (ROPs) for ‘sanitising’ roads before any military movement. An army company comprising of about 100 men usually secures roads of distances of 10 to 12 km and the ridges along it. A unit comprising of about 700-800 soldiers covers about three times that distance.
The army has about 180 camps or Company Operating Bases across Manipur, including along the 400 km long International Border with Myanmar. “Our deployment has logistical challenges. Several posts along the IB can only be reached by foot. Bad roads with IEDs this is our challenge,” explained another officer.
With Myanmar, India has a Free Movement Regime that allows free movement of Indian and Myanmarese border residents within 16 km of the border on both sides. Sources also add that there is no mechanism to check the whereabouts of a person such as whether he is moving only up to 16 km of the IB or beyond that. “Its a porous border without fencing, allowing easy access to the other side for anyone from anywhere,” explained officials.
Several insurgents groups, including the dreaded NSCN (K), have their bases across the border in Myanmar. Since the 2015 surgical strikes by the army on insurgent camps in Myanmar following the Chandel attack, sources explain that it appears that such camps have been moved further inside from the border so that they can’t be easily striked. Although sources explain that the army does coordinated patrols with Myanmar and has monthly meetings, the country has its hands full with the insurgency there as well. “We also don’t know the exact location of these camps and how they look,” explained sources.
On top of this, the army has to deal with tackling insurgents in the forested regions along the border and towards the hinterland. The path used by patrols is also often taken by villagers and local hunters, who carry weapons. Distinguishing them from insurgents can be tricky. While the army degrades the “combat potential” of the insurgents, it has to contain the situation in Manipur if development, including the passage of the Asian Highway to Myanmar has to take place.
New Indian Express adds: Security forces deployed in Manipur against insurgent groups are making valiant efforts to bring the people of the strife-torn state into the mainstream.
As part of their initiatives, the Army and Assam Rifles have been organising National Integration Tours (NIT), running schools for insurgency-hit children, and providing infrastructure to the people of the state.
“We are still being targeted by insurgents and that is a fact. There always was outreach and still is,” said Major General Vijay Mishra, General Officer Commanding of 57 Mountain Division. The division is stationed at Leimakhong, around 30 km from the capital Imphal.
Manipur has been affected by insurgency for the last two decades. Around 99 insurgent groups operate in the state. Some of the major groups include the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK). According to sources, the UNLF has an estimated cadre strength of 1,500 while it is 1,600 and 250 for the PLA and the PREPAK, respectively.
According to official figures, 1,517 people have been killed by insurgents since 1997. While 1,942 of the rebels have been killed, over 17,000 have been apprehended and around 2,200 have surrendered.
“The Army has been very helpful. They took us to Jaipur and Jodhpur as part of the NIT. It was the first time I saw a train. I feel very nice now,” L Pushpa Rani Devi, a class 10 student in Kangvai Higher Secondary School said. She aspires to be an actress someday.
The Army also runs a school for the insurgency-affected, named DISHA. It was established in 2008 and has helped 22 children. Seven of them have gone on to join the Army while one is pursuing medicine and the other is an engineer.

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