New Delhi: The Northeast region of India has seen a lot of bloodshed due to insurgency for decades, but today this region is going through a major change. There has been a significant reduction in the cases of violence here. Due to this, the army, reducing its responsibility, has now handed over the command of the already ongoing anti-insurgency operation to the Assam Rifles. Military sources gave this information to ThePrint.
The Army had a full-fledged corps for counter-insurgency (CI) and counter-terrorism (CT) – the 3 Corps based in Dimapur – along with several other units in this area that was at the height of insurgency. This meant that more than three army divisions were fully deployed to conduct counter-insurgency and counter-insurgency operations.
Defense establishment sources said that apart from two divisions of the Assam Rifles, the 3 Corps had three divisions of its own, making it the largest corps in the Indian Army. However, the responsibility of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was also with him. The 3 Corps on the LAC is engaged in the security of the ‘Rest of Arunachal Pradesh’ area.
He had earlier informed that apart from a division of 3 Corps, reserve troops and other contingents of all the other two corps – 33 and 4 – under the Eastern Command were also involved in counter-insurgency and counter-insurgency operations.
However, the situation has improved dramatically in the last few years and the Center has been seen to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in three states. The Army has almost completely withdrawn all its troops from CI/CT operations in the area and has been assigned the primary role of conventional combat preparation.
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The Army now has only 73 Mountain Brigade, headquartered at Lapuli in Assam, instead of several divisions for CI/CT operations. This is in addition to a few other battalion level units, which are still tasked with these missions when needed.
This is the first time since 1954 that no brigade level Army unit is involved in any anti-militant and counter-terrorist operations in Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.
The responsibility of CI and CT operations is now with the Assam Rifles. It is a paramilitary force specially designed for the Northeast. The Assam Rifles is headquartered in Shillong and is the oldest paramilitary force in India. Its history dates back to 1835. At that time it was known as Cachar Levy. The force, consisting of about 750 men, was primarily tasked with defending British tea gardens and their settlements against tribal raiders.
Thereafter the Cachar Levy was reorganized and renamed the Frontier Force, with the additional role of conducting punitive operations across the borders of Assam from the British. In 1917 the name of the force was changed to Assam Rifles. With a sanctioned strength of 66,412 personnel, the paramilitary force – also known as the ‘Sentinels of the Northeast’ – has 46 battalions deployed across the region.
Former Director General of Assam Rifles, Lt Gen Shoukin Chauhan (retd), told ThePrint, “Assam Rifles has always been involved in conducting anti-insurgency operations but this operation was completely under the Army. The Assam Rifles is still on its duty, while the Army is now fully focusing on the LAC.
Sources said that a decade and a half ago the security situation had started changing and apart from the Central Armed Police Forces, the state police forces became more efficient and active. The Central Armed Police Forces allowed the army to gradually return to its main work. He said that due to better security situation, the change in the deployment of Army in the Northeast started a few years back.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there has been an 80 percent reduction in the incidents of militancy in the Northeast in the last eight years. The MHA report also said that the security forces saw a 75 per cent drop in casualties, while the civilian casualties decreased by 99 per cent.
To improve the security situation in the region under the Narendra Modi government, steps were taken towards peace with many militant organizations. The focus was to expedite the negotiations initiated by the previous governments. And this was the reason that many organizations joined hands with the government and turned to ceasefire agreements.
As recently as September 15, the Center and the Assam government signed a tripartite agreement with eight tribal militant organizations to end the decades-old crisis of tribals and tea garden workers in the largest northeastern state. On this occasion, 1,182 workers of these eight organizations surrendered and joined the mainstream.
In the last three years, the central and state governments in the Northeast have entered into several agreements with various extremist organizations. These agreements include the NLFT (National Liberation Front of Twipra) Agreement in 2019, Bodo Agreement in 2020, Karbi Anglong Agreement in 2021 and Assam-Meghalaya Inter-State Boundary Agreement 2022.
Sources said that the orientation process of the army intensified after the tension between India and China on the LAC in 2020 over the Ladakh standoff.
As ThePrint reported earlier, the Army has seen several changes in the Order of Battle (ORBAT). This included redeploying the Pakistan-centric Mathura-HQ 1 Corps, a strike corps, to the northern borders.
Major changes have also been made regarding the deployment of the army in the sensitive area of Jammu and Kashmir. A large part of the army has now been deployed towards the LAC.
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Army Reorientation in the Northeast
There are 33, 17, 3 and 4 Corps under the Eastern Command of the Army involved in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and Bengal area operations.
Till a few years back, 3 Corps headed CI/CT operations in the Northeast. A source said, “3 Corps was deployed in LAC a few years back and 21 Division was handling CI/CT operations. Now there is only one brigade for this.
Sources said that due to the improvement in the security situation, AFSPA has been canceled in many areas of the Northeast. The government eased AFSPA from disturbed areas in Nagaland, Assam and Manipur from April 1 after decades.
Explaining the change in deployment of forces, the source quoted above said that even earlier when soldiers were deployed for CI/CT operations, they were always given dual assignments. And if necessary, they were deployed towards the LAC.
Another source said, “Though plans are always there, it takes time. There is more focus on LAC now. Troops have been permanently redeployed towards the China border and necessary changes have been made regarding deployment.
According to sources, depending on the circumstances, the dual role of 21 and 12 Para Special Forces (SF) under the Eastern Command is still going on.
After the Doklam episode in 2017, when troops of India and China were stuck in a standoff for nearly three months, the Eastern Command has advanced a heavy infrastructure and technology, apart from deploying new artillery and missile systems.
Tensions between India and China had increased in eastern Ladakh and military and construction activities were seen on both sides of the LAC. Sikkim, which directly felt the Doklam standoff, and Arunachal Pradesh share borders with China.
In February, the Defense Ministry informed Parliament that the Border Roads Organization (BRO) had constructed 149.98 km and 69.46 km of roads in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, respectively.
Meanwhile, China has also accelerated infrastructure creation on its side of the LAC, particularly near Arunachal Pradesh, including new dual-role villages (which can serve both offensive and defensive purposes).
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