Although India has sought inputs from the Myanmar army since most of those involved in Thursday's ambush would have sneaked across into Myanmar, the fresh operations would smoke out insurgents based in hideouts on the Indian side along the border, says Nitin A Gokhale.
The gloves are off in the North-East.
After nearly a decade of low-key, scaled down operations, the Indian Army is about to deploy a massive force to neutralise the re-emerging threat from a group of insurgents operating across three states -- Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur -- bordering Myanmar.
The Dimapur-based 3 Corps -- currently the largest field formation in the Indian Army with nearly 6 divisions strong troop strength -- has already launched a massive operation along the Manipur-Myanmar border in Chandel district after Thursday's deadly ambush that killed 18 soldiers.
The attack on an administrative convoy of the 6 Dogra battalion at Moltuk, just about 15 km from the Myanmar border, was reportedly carried out by a combined team of cadres drawn from Manipur-based outfits like the KYKL (Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup), the KCP (Kangleipak Communist Party) and the Khaplang group of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K).
Although India has sought inputs and help from the Myanmar army since most of those involved in the ambush would have sneaked across into Myanmar, the main task of the fresh operations would be to smoke out insurgents based in camps and hideouts on the Indian side along the border.
About a decade ago, the army had deployed almost a division-strength (nearly 10,000 combat troops) in Chandel district to clear some of the 'liberated zones' of insurgents. Many villages around Henglep and Singhlat areas of Chandel district were under the 'administrative' control of insurgent groups that time.
The latest attack, the handiwork of a combination of insurgents groups, comes in the wake of two such major ambushes on the army and the Assam Rifles in neighbouring Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
On April 2, a convoy of the 4 Rajput battalion was attacked by suspected NSCN-K cadres at Khonsa in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Four soldiers were killed and many others were injured.
Exactly a month later, the NSCN-K struck again in Nagaland's Mon district, killing 8 Assam Rifles soldiers. Thursday's attack was the biggest in the past two decades in terms of number of casualties.
The NSCN-K had recently walked out of a 15-year old ceasefire agreement with the Centre and had since taken a lead in uniting disparate insurgent groups under a new name -- the United Nationalist Liberation Front of West South-East Asia.
S S Khaplang, the leader of the NSCN-K, is a Burmese Naga who has considerable support in Eastern Nagaland and Myanmarese areas bordering eastern Nagaland.
Paresh Barua, the head of the United Liberation Front of Asom, a guerrilla leader with diminished clout, has reportedly joined hands with Khaplang and the Manipur-based outfits involved in Thursday's ambush.
A high-level meeting in the home ministry on Thursday evening between Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Army Chief General Dalbir Singh, among others decided to go all out against the insurgents and re-calibrate the counter-insurgency policy in the North-East.
Sadly, it has taken the loss of 20 soldiers to get the attention back on the region that is often far away from the minds of decision-makers in Delhi.
Nitin A Gokhale knows the security situation in the North-East perhaps better than any other journalist in India.