From South Block to Imphal and Beyond

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Shaken and stirred The killing of 18 soldiers in Chandel district pushed top officials in the defence establishment to immediately plan a massive counter-attack. Photo : AFP
Shaken and stirred The killing of 18 soldiers in Chandel district pushed top officials in the defence establishment to immediately plan a massive counter-attack. Photo : AFP

The attack on a convoy of the 6 Dogra Regiment on 4 June by insurgents in Manipur’s Chandel district that killed 18 soldiers triggered a chain of events that marked a monumental shift in the country’s counter-terrorism policy. The attack stirred the top officials in the defence establishment to take action right away and that was how the hot pursuit was planned in the South Block office of Director General of Military Operations Lt Gen PR Kumar after he conferred with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who once headed the Intelligence Bureau and boasts of years of experience in dealing with the Northeast insurgency, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Chief of Army Staff Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, Eastern Command chief Lt Gen MMS Rai and some other top brass, hours after the Chandel ambush.

Prime Minster Narendra Modi gave the final go ahead on the night of 7 June immediately after his return from Bangladesh. Though it was initially suggested that the counter-attack should be carried out the very next day, the army chief reportedly expressed his inability to execute it on such short notice.

The team then shifted base to a technical headquarters in Imphal, overseen by Gen Suhag, Lt Gen Rai, Doval and others, sources say.

During a post-operation press briefing, Additional Director General of Military Operations Major Gen Ranbir Singh said that the army had been on high alert after the Chandel ambush and had to take swift action because of “credible and specific intelligence” about more such attacks being on the cards. “These attacks were to be carried out by some of the groups involved in earlier attacks on our security personnel and their allies… In view of the imminent threat, an immediate response was necessary. Based on intelligence, we conducted operations to counter these planned assaults,” he told the media.

According to sources, the entire operation, codenamed Operation Peace 1 in the Manipur sector and Operation Peace 2 in Nagaland, lasted around 13 hours. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were deployed to gather more intel on the insurgent camps to be targeted. Around 3 am on 9 June, two teams from the 21 Para (Special Forces) along with troops of 27 Sector and 10 Sector of Assam Rifles, equipped with assault rifles, rocket launchers, grenades and night vision goggles, slithered into Myanmar, one team entering from Manipur and the other from Nagaland, and headed for the identified camps. Dhruv helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) were used to paradrop the special forces near the Myanmar border, at the very edge of Indian territory.


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CROSSING THE LINE

The military operation undertaken in Myanmar by the Indian armed forces is certainly the first of its kind, but only because never before had the government admitted to the army crossing the border. Here are two instances where New Delhi insisted upon military operations in other countries

Operation Golden Bird (1995)

India and Myanmar carried out this operation against ULFA rebels, but the Indian Army took care not to cross the international border. Many insurgents were arrested and camps destroyed. Myanmar was forced to act against the insurgents under the tremendous pressure from New Delhi.

Operation All Clear (2003)

Following intense operations against ULFA and NDFB, many of the rebels relocated to Bhutan. On 15 December 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army started operations against the insurgent camps at the behest of Indian authorities, killing many cadres and capturing several leaders. The Indian Army sealed the Bhutan border while the operation was underway.

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The troops then trekked nearly 30 km through dense forests. A special IAF unit with Mi-17 helicopters was on standby just in case the troops needed to be airlifted.

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