improvised explosive devices its biggest enemy in manipur: army

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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

INDIA-MYANMAR BORDER: 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.

“By the character of IEDs it's so easy to assemble and hide. But we have taken counter measures and statistics show that we are in control of things,” said Major General Vijay Mishra, the General Officer Commanding of the 57 Mountain Division.

Top army sources added 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.

With this threat, 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.

While 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 upto 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. There are close to 40 such camps near 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.

“There are challenges of terrain, multiple insurgent groups. We formulate our responses based on a particular area when dealing with insurgent groups. Based on the situation and type of insurgent groups we calibrate our operations. Yes challenges are there, but we have found solutions,” added Mishra.

Insurgency in Manipur comprises of Naga insurgency, Meithei insurgency and Kuki insurgency

Particular community’s demands cannot be met without other, adding to complexity of problem

Insurgents are well trained and equipped

50 odd insurgent groups in Manipur

Several insurgent groups under Suspension of Operation

941 Security forces personnel have been killed in operations in Manipur since 1990

Insurgents neutralised since 1990- Over 1942 terrorists killed in action, 17,652 terrorists apprehended and 2210 terrorists surrendered

Annual budget of NSCN (IM)- Rs 600 to Rs 700 crore and NSCN (K) is Rs 200 crore

Average annual army operations launched- 550 special operations, 41,281 patrols, 9539 ambushes and 51,830 check-posts

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