While the Army has been reorienting itself in the Northeast to sharpen its focus on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a sole mountain brigade in Assam has been tasked with solely Counter-Insurgency (CI) duties in the region.
The brigade takes care of the Tinsukia, Charaideo, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar districts of Upper Assam and surrounding areas where the insurgent group ULFA continues to have some hold. Besides Nagaland, Naga insurgent group NSCN-K (YA) has a presence in the Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts of Arunachal Pradesh which borders Upper Assam, but it is the Assam Rifles which is responsible for fighting insurgency in these districts. Assam Rifles — a paramilitary force under the Ministry of Home Affairs — undertakes CI operations in the rest of Northeast where insurgency still remains.
Earlier, the Army’s Dinjan-headquartered 2 Division had recently veered away from CI duties to focus fully on the LAC as part of the reorientation process. Earlier this year, AFSPA was removed from several parts of the northeastern states.
Senior officers said despite the formation being tasked with a CI role, the troops are, however, always training for conventional operations.
“We are always training for the conventional role of warfighting, even as we are tasked with CI duties for this region,” said Brigadier KS Gill, who commands this mountain brigade.
Last week, Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. RP Kalita had said the Army’s units are prepared for the conventional role at all times, even while they are employed in CI duties.
Officers in Tinsukia said the Army maintains a good ground connect with the locals and engages with them regularly to sensitise them against joining insurgency and this has helped stall recruitments of locals to insurgent groups and has also encouraged many to desert them.
The brigade also undertakes various activities such as training underprivileged and talented children for engineering and medical entrance examinations.
Earlier this year, the Army in association with Indian Oil Corporation Limited and NEIDO, started a free residential coaching for 45 select male students. There are also plans to start the coaching for girl students soon, an Army officer who is responsible for implementing the project said.
Additionally, a government push on infrastructure development with construction of several strategic bridges providing better connectivity has also helped stem insurgency, officers said.
The 50-year-old brigade had taken part in multiple operations in the past, including Operations Cactus Lily, Rhino, Pawan and Rakshak and played an important role in fighting the Mizo insurgency.
Insurgent groups pooling in resources to operate
Talking about last trends in insurgency here, senior Army officers said instances of insurgent groups ULFA and the NSCN-K(YA) pooling in resources to operate in Upper Assam and bordering Arunachal Pradesh districts have come to light in the last one year as they struggle to sustain themselves and seek relevance in this region.
Brigadier Gill said the arrangement can, however, be called a friendship of convenience.
“Due to depleting cadre strength, some instances of the two cash-strapped groups with separate ideologies pooling in resources to operate in this region have come to the forefront in the recent past. NSCN-K (YA) provides logistics support to ULFA and in return ULFA helps them with funds,” he said.
The proximity between the districts of the two states helps the two insurgent groups to operate collusively, a third officer said. Last month, one insurgent each of ULFA and NSCN-(KYA) were killed in operations conducted by security forces.
They said the cadre strength of ULFA has dwindled in the last two years, with funds drying up, no recruitments and several cadres deserting the group despite risking getting killed, with the group fighting a shrinking space for itself.
ULFA’s support base is also getting corroded with instances of the insurgent group killing and kidnapping locals from Assam, they said.
Both ULFA and NSCN-K(YA), among other insurgent groups, have camps across the border in Myanmar and this helps them coordinate, an officer told News18.
Officers said despite the dwindling presence of insurgents and their supporters in Tinsukia, the Army has to constantly maintain high levels of alertness when it comes to tacking insurgents.
For example, there have been 58 confirmed cases of extortion reported since July this year. ULFA militants had earlier this year kidnapped three ONGC employees from an oilfield along the Assam-Nagaland border.
“While the security situation in the Northeast has significantly improved, the insurgent groups in the region are always on the lookout to find opportunities to prove that they have not lost their relevance,” an officer said.
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