The Army's Virtual Hot Pursuit In The North East

Syed Ata Hasnain

Jun 10, 2015, 07:09 AM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 10:08 AM IST

This must also be an occasion to reconfigure ourselves for a long struggle ahead. The operations have not ended. In fact they have just begun.

The Indian Army got it right, to the last full stop. Less than five days after severe losses due to an ambush on a convoy of 6 Dogra in Chandel district of Manipur, it hit back and publicly released information of an operation in which massive casualties have been inflicted on the militants who perpetrated the ambush. There have been some outstanding operations by the Army and Assam Rifles in the North East in the past but none may have drawn the kind of eyeballs that this news story is attracting.

Firstly, the timing has been superb. Just five days. The public at large honestly loves the Army and has great confidence in it. However, the loss of 18 soldiers in an ambush was severely denting the Army’s image and some dilution of confidence was evident on social media. With the universal and clichéd perception of being the Nation’s last resort, expectations from the Army are always high. There were analyses galore, including one by me, advising on return to basics. The Indian Army is such an institution that the emotional bond with the public does not permit open berating; Thank God for that which is why it was important that image retrieval was so essential.

On social media I commented that the handling of the post operation situation and information management is as important as the operation itself. That is the reason the Army’s slow release of information is the correct way. There will be speculation whether the operation was a hot pursuit, across the international border with Myanmar or within our territory. This could remain in the grey for the moment. Whether it was a classic commando raid, ambush or search and destroy mission is also unimportant. It is the success which is significant and the fact that all warriors returned safely to base.

The Army made a brief mention of the traditional cooperation with the Myanmar Army and the excellent relationship it enjoys but stopped short of saying whether this was a joint, coordinated or a facilitated operation. All have their own connotations. Why am I promoting the concept of greyness in information management (notice I am not using the clichéd term media management)? It is simply because this is not the last operation that the Army has conducted. The mess that is the North East, created by ignorance, delays in decision making, lack of vision and perspective and inability to back up the work done by the Army and the Assam Rifles, will understandably continue to cause much turbulence in the near future.

Militant groups in the North East are hardly ideological; they are mostly disparate and criminal in outlook with personal ambitions for riches and power. The nation has to seriously use the development and perception management route along with strong commitment towards security and full back up to follow what the Army and Assam Rifles succeed in achieving. We cannot afford a situation where bureaucrats and other government servants pay taxes to these criminal gangs. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) or commonly referred as NSCN (K) decided that it can reap greater dividends in subsequent parleys if it adopts a hard stance and puts the forces under pressure. The scope for targeting the security forces in such an environment is very large.

The terrain favors the militant; the population grudgingly or otherwise supports the militants otherwise the retribution can be swift and lethal. Militants live among the population or in faraway jungle hideouts and in most cases the logistics and training camps are in Myanmar. The Army and Assam Rifles (also led mostly by Army officers) have posts deployed in a grid system. Any of them can be targeted by a local concentration of militants. Logistics convoys have to move and these too can be targets for militants.

There are two essential ways of minimizing the possibility of militant initiatives; first is focused and timely intelligence and the second is the time tested system of adherence to basic drills. In such operations stamina is essential as much as patience. Domination by patrolling will ward off dangers of militant strikes; good relations with the population will ensure flow of intelligence. However, this has to combine with offensive operations which will disallow the initiative passing to the militants. The just conducted successful operation is just the kind of which puts the militants on the defensive. Smaller operations of this kind should be the follow up.

The message necessary to convey here, at the cost of repetition from other similar analyses, is the absolute need to ensure that the collateral from such operations affects the population the least.

Coming to the operation per se. I can visualize the media’s impatience to get more detail as much as that of the public. However, operations are in a continuum. Revealing too much at this stage militates against security. The zone of grey keeps the militants guessing and forces them to commit mistakes. Thus it is virtually a national responsibility at this stage to be content with the amount of information put in the public domain. Sensitivities are involved with another nation and diplomatic compulsions have to be kept in mind.

Information which is within the acceptable domain pertains to the involvement of the Air Force in the transportation of the Special Forces troops committed to the operation. It is also legitimate to speculate that the two operations were conducted in the vicinity of the border; whether across or inside our territory is immaterial. Possibly a raid on a hideout or a camp the intelligence of which was gained most professionally; it is again irrelevant how such intelligence was gained.

That it was a precision and surgical strike with the use of high quality weapons of the Special Forces is a given because such forces are trained for precisely such operations. The unit involved has a rich history of success behind it. In 2008 it conducted an outstanding operation by stealth using modern technology for acquisition of accurate information and struck using unconventional transportation means. It was hardly revealed in the public domain just like this operation must not be revealed either. It adds to the value of and effectiveness of such operations.

There is also much speculation that with the possibility of this operation being in the realm of hot pursuit there is every possibility of replicating this in the western borders. Let us remember a few things while doing such speculation. The situations are diametrically opposite. More importantly, the Army’s time tested system within its own ranks remains alive; offensive operations are never discussed.

Lastly, retribution for the killing of our brave soldiers is celebration time but this must also be an occasion to reconfigure ourselves for a long struggle ahead. The operations have not ended. In fact they have just begun.

The writer is a former GOC of India’s Srinagar based 15 Corps, now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

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