After Chandel ambush, Dogra soldiers stay on in Manipur to hit back

  • Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 15, 2015 01:26 IST
Militants armed with advanced weapons ambushed a military convoy in Manipur’s Chandel district bordering Myanmar, killing at least 18 soldiers. (PTI File Photo)

The Dogra battalion of the army that lost 18 men in the Chandel ambush of June 4 has been allowed to stay on in Manipur four months after it was supposed to move to Chandigarh. The movement of the unit to a peace location near Chandigarh in July has been deferred “for a few months” after its commanding officer requested army headquarters for a tenure extension to strike back at the insurgents, a senior officer told Hindustan Times. Such extensions are rarely, if ever, granted.

The Chandel ambush bears the infamy of having the highest number of army casualties in a single incident in nearly two decades. Five days after the Dogras were attacked in broad daylight in the Moltuk Valley, India had responded with a cross-border raid, targeting and destroying two insurgent camps in Myanmar.

But that wasn’t enough for the Dogras. For this elite infantry regiment that is over a century old and has fought in every major conflict since its formation, including the battle for Tiger Hill in 1999, moving out of the area without inflicting casualties on the insurgents was out of question.

The shadow of the strike would have haunted them, the senior officer said.

In fact, the unit was in the process of relocating to the cantonment town of Chandimandir near Chandigarh when the Chandel ambush took place. The attacking insurgents had then slipped across the porous Indo-Myanmar border. Those killed were in their 20s and 30s.

An advance party of the Dogras had already moved to Chandimandir in May to make preparations for the arrival of the unit, but things changed after the ambush. “It was the commanding officer’s initiative. The battalion wanted to move out of Manipur with its honour intact. The soldiers wanted to leave the place with their heads held high,” said Brigadier Navdeep Brar, a former commanding officer of 6 Dogra. The battalion has killed at least eight insurgents in separate encounters over the last three months, a big morale booster for the soldiers. The unit will shift to the new location in November.

The Army had ordered its elite special forces to carry out rare cross-border strikes across the Myanmar border on June 9. Indian commandos conducted strikes against two insurgent camps in Myanmar –- across the Manipur and Nagaland borders -- inflicting “significant casualties” on the cadres there.

Two assault teams, consisting of 40 soldiers each, from the 21 Para (Special Forces) Regiment penetrated five to seven kilometres inside Myanmar and killed more than 20 insurgents in separate engagements lasting less than 30 minutes. The commandos involved in the raids made a sweep of Independence Day awards, winning seven honours including a Kirti Chakra and a Shaurya Chakra --- the country’s second and third-highest peacetime gallantry awards.

The Dogras may not get similar honours but seem to be on course for coming back with honour.

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