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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

After 30 years, Army begins pullback from counter insurgency ops in Assam

The troops will be pulled back in different phases spread over an year as per the decision following a review by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs, a top official of the state government said.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2019 06:21 IST
Sadiq Naqvi
Sadiq Naqvi
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Indian Army scrutinizing the bags seized  from NDFB (S) terrorists near Kokrajhar in Assam.
Indian Army scrutinizing the bags seized from NDFB (S) terrorists near Kokrajhar in Assam.(PTIFile Photo)
         

With incidents of violence at their lowest in nearly three decades, troops of the Indian Army are being withdrawn from active counter insurgency (CI) operations from different parts of Assam, multiple officials in the state with direct knowledge of the developments confirmed on condition of anonymity.

The disturbed area tag of the state was renewed in August this year for six months. The Army had moved in to tackle insurgency in the state in 1990 when it launched Operation Bajrang and then Operation Rhino against ULFA rebels.

“The Indian Army has been withdrawn from the counter insurgency grid in around eight to ten districts of the state barring Upper Assam and Bodo Territorial Area Districts as of now,” a senior Assam Police official with direct knowledge of the withdrawal said. The troops of the Red Horns Division are deployed in these areas.

In different locations which are under the purview of this exercise, the troops will be pulled back in different phases spread over an year as per the decision following a review by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs, a top official of the state government said. The process started in mid-September.

“Over the last few years, profile of Assam in terms of insurgency related incidents has improved dramatically and it was felt that Army should go back to their core duties and let the police and the paramilitary do the required job of maintaining internal security and law and order,” the Assam police official quoted above said.

A second top Assam Police official said the deployment of the state police and the paramilitary forces is being realigned to fill up the vacuum. There are over 150 companies of paramilitary forces currently in the state.

The insurgency hit districts of Upper Assam including Tinsukia, Charaideo, Dibrugarh and parts of Sivasagar, which border insurgency hit areas of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh are out of the purview of this exercise and troops of the 2 Mountain Division based in Dinjan will continue to be in the counter insurgency grid, according to officials of state government and an official of the defence establishment.

However, there is uncertainty over the four Bodo Territorial Area Districts including Kokrajhar, Udalguri, Chirang and Baksa which have a presence of the banned National Democratic Front of Bodoland (S) group.

According to the official of the Defence establishment cited above, the withdrawal of Army from counter insurgency operations is not likely to happen before the Bodo Territorial Council elections get over early next year.

Meanwhile, in Karbi Anglong, one of the districts where the army withdrew from counter insurgency operations in September, a senior police official of the district said they continue to be deployed in their original position for now but their role is limited to sharing of intelligence. “They are not physically taking part in any operation anymore,” said the official.

The troops may be called back if there is a need. “If the situation in Karbi Anglong for example deteriorates, the arrangement may be reviewed,” the Assam Police official said adding in some districts the troops have started moving out.

“For now the troops are there for backup. Gradually, the troops will move back to their original base,” said the official of the defence establishment on condition of anonymity. The troops of the Red Horns Division who are involved in CI operations in these areas would eventually move to their permanent headquarters in Umroi in Meghalaya, according to this defence official.

The situation in Assam has improved remarkably. According to MHA records, in 2012 there were 169 incidents skirmishes where 59 militants were killed while 5 members of the security forces and 27 civilians lost their lives. In 2018, only 28 incidents were recorded. This year alone, around 50 militants of the banned ULFA(I) have surrendered, according to Assam Police officials.

Yet, citing the ongoing National Register of Citizens exercise, in August, the state government had notified the whole state as disturbed area under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for another six months.

The state also has an active unified headquarters mechanism which was put in place for better coordination in the backdrop of a raging insurgency in the 1990s.

The defence spokespersons in Guwahati and Tezpur, the Director General of Police and Chief Secretary, Assam refused to comment on these developments.