WILL INDIA DEPLOY ITS ARMY AGAINST MAOIST TERRORISTS?
India is considering a large-scale redeployment of specialized counterterrorist commandos based in Kashmir-Jammu and a paramilitary force based in Northeast India to combat a growing Naxalite (Maoist) insurgency in East India. With nearly 300 deaths attributable to Naxalite violence since April, there is concern that existing security forces are losing their grip over the region. The deliberate May 28 derailment of the Jnaneswari Express that killed 150 people appears to have convinced the Home Ministry that new measures were needed to deal with the Maoists (Telegraph [Kolkota], June 8; The Hindu, June 12). The new plan calls for the redeployment of roughly 10,000 men in 10 battalions drawn from the Rashtriya Rifles and the Assam Rifles. The force would operate across four states, Jharkhand, Bengal, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, to aid the existing state police and federal paramilitary forces. The heartland of the insurgency is in the thick forests of Dantewada in Chattisgarh state. The Home Ministry is also calling for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to be imposed on the region in order to give the military a freer hand in conducting operations.
A June 10 Meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh failed to come to a decision about the redeployment. Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s requests for Army support in the Eastern states were rebuffed by Defense Minister A.K. Antony, who opposes weakening forces currently deployed near the borders with China and Pakistan (Times of India, June 11). Chidambaram’s presentation may have been better received by the Prime Minister, who recently identified the Naxalites as the greatest internal threat to India’s security (see Terrorism Monitor, June 4). It is expected the CCS will meet again soon on the issue.
More specifically, the Army turned down calls for mine-clearing teams to operate in the region, saying such teams could not operate without the prior establishment of intelligence networks and control of the region by infantry forces. Similarly, the use of Special Forces could not happen until the infantry had already taken control on the ground. The Special Forces could not be asked to hold ground, only carry out targeted operations (Chandigarh Tribune, June 1; Times of India, June 11).
The Assam Rifles is a paramilitary organization with 46 battalions reporting to the Home Ministry but operating under the administrative and operational control of the Indian Army. The unit was originally raised as the Cachar Levy by the British in 1835 for use as a police force against the tribes of the Northeast. Their mission expanded during World War One, when they served in Europe and the Middle East as part of Britain’s Gurkha regiments. In World War Two they served closer to home against the Japanese in Burma. The Rifles also fought a successful delaying action against the Chinese in the high-altitude Sino-Indian War of 1962.
These days the Assam Rifles are occupied with small operations against Northeastern insurgent groups such as the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the tribal Zou People’s Army (ZPA), the United National Liberation Front (UNLF – seeking independence for Manipur state) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) (Sangai Express, June 9; Nagaland Post, June 1; Hueiyen News Service, June 7; Imphal Free Press, June 6). Eighty-five percent of the Assam Rifles is officered by regular army officers on three year assignments and recruiting is now carried out across India (IndiaDefence.com, June 19, 2007).
The much newer Rashtriya Rifles consists of 40,000 men organized in five Counter Insurgency Forces (CIF) named Delta, Kilo, Romeo, Uniform and Victor. The Rashtriya Rifles is an elite counterterrorism unit first raised in 1990 to exclusively tackle terrorists and insurgents active in India’s Jammu-Kashmir region. The force is lightly armed but has established a reputation for effectiveness. Personnel are drawn from all Army services and earn additional pay and benefits while serving in the counterterrorist force. Men and officers usually spend four to five years in the unit before returning to the regular army (India Today, June 2).
The Indian Air Force (IAF) will also be asked to do more. At present, the IAF has four helicopters on rescue and evacuation duties in the region, but will land only when a site has been completely secured, even if the mission calls for the evacuation of wounded troops (Telegraph [Calcutta], June 8). The Home Ministry is looking for Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters to help ground forces with transport, surveillance and evacuation (Chandigarh Tribune, June 10; India Today, June 2). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have been offered instead.
If a decision to redeploy is not made soon, the onset of the June-September Indian monsoon season may postpone any mass movement of troops and equipment. There are also signs that the Maoists may make a transfer of the Assam Rifles difficult by intensifying insurgent activities in Northeast India (Asian Age [Mumbai], June 8).
CLASHES WITH SPLA REBELS MOVE INTO SUDAN’S OIL-RICH UNITY STATE
The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) continues to struggle with renegades who have broken away from GoSS security forces after losing in local elections in April to official candidates of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) (see Terrorism Monitor, May 20).
The latest commander to take up arms against the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA – the armed wing of the SPLM) is police Colonel Gatluak Gai (a.k.a. Galwak Gai), who called a Khartoum daily to announce his men had taken 27 machine guns with the intention of joining the forces of another renegade, Lieutenant General George Athor Deng (Al-Ra’y al-Amm [Khartoum], May 29). SPLA spokesman General Kuol Diem Kuol claims that Colonel Gai is working to further the interests of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum and to “disturb security” in Unity State (Sudan Tribune, May 29). On June 2, Colonel Gai’s loyalists engaged in a firefight with SPLA troops, with a combined loss of nine lives. One of the captured Gai loyalists was reported by the SPLA to be a member of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) (AFP, June 2).
Colonel Gai’s followers were later defeated in a clash with the SPLA in Unity State’s Mayom County on June 7, in which 21 of his men were killed and 32 others captured. The SPLA reported Colonel Gai and an estimated 50 men had fled by night into a region of thick bush controlled by the Joint Integrated Units (JIU), forces composed of fighters drawn from both the SPLA and the SAF (Sudan Tribune, June 8). Colonel Gai and his fighters were last seen headed for the important Heglig oil field, a territory still disputed by Khartoum and the GoSS (Reuters, June 9).
General George Athor Deng, another defeated candidate who is leading a rebellion in similarly oil-rich Jonglei State, announced on June 2 that he was coordinating operations with Colonel Gai and another failed electoral candidate, David Yauyau, also of Jonglei State (Reuters, June 1; June 9). Yauyau is a SPLA veteran who ran as the candidate of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a pro-independence Southern political party.
Containing some of the largest oil reserves in Sudan, Unity (Wahda) State was part of the South’s Upper Nile Province until boundaries were reorganized in 1994. The state has been repeatedly ravaged by government troops, militias and tribal clashes since 1997, resulting in a massive displacement of the local population (Business Daily Africa, June 16). Exact boundaries between North and South in the area have yet to be determined with the Southern referendum on independence now just a year away. Unity State is a potential flashpoint that could reignite the civil war between North and South Sudan.
The SPLM also faces dissension from a breakaway group, SPLM-Democratic Change (SPLM-DC). Elements of this group are believed responsible for the assassination of the paramount Shilluk chief, Peter Oyath, on May 22. SPLA forces reported clashing with SPLM-DC forces near Malakal international airport on June 6 (Sudan Tribune, June 8; June 10). However, SPLA spokesman General Kuol Diem Kuol has denied reports that SPLA forces entered Malakal (under JIU authority) to kidnap SPLM-DC politicians, including MP Mustafa Gai (Sudan Tribune, June 6).