On 9 June 2015, the Indian army conducted a “surgical strike” on militant outfits in Myanmar, in retaliation to an attack in Manipur that had killed 18 personnel from the army. As the debate around this cross-border ambush by the military gathers steam, another operation against insurgent organisations is underway near the Bhutan border in Assam.
According to an official from the intelligence, a group comprising the Indian army, the Assam police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is currently engaged in flushing out Bodo militants from the Manas National Park in Chirang, which is located about 120 kilometres west of Guwahati, and is close to the international border. The rebels that are being targeted through this operation belong to the anti-talks faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), a rebel outfit from Assam that has camps in Myanmar.
The official told me that the strike had started close to four days ago, and that the operation was being conducted on the Indian side of the park. He reiterated that strict instructions had been issued to the troops and their commanders to not cross over to the other side in Bhutan. The official admitted to me, however, that this meant that there was a strong possibility that the rebels may have used the opportunity to sneak over to the other side to avoid being trapped and killed.
The NDFB was formed in 1986, and its objective was to secure the independence of the Bodo-inhabited regions in Assam. In October 2008, it triggered serial blasts in the state that claimed the lives of around 90 people. The NDFB was also one of the three groups—along with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), a rebel outfit that is active in Assam, and the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), that operates primarily in West Bengal—to have established camps in Bhutan from 1992 to 2003. All of these organisations were forced to leave the country following a military operation by the Royal Bhutan Army between December 2003 and January 2004. I spoke to several former members from an insurgent organisation who estimated that these outfits had more than 30 camps in Bhutan, which they used to plan and execute strikes in Assam. More recently, the NDFB also became a constituent of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW)—a coalition that was formed between separatist groups in the northeast and Myanmar last month.
A functionary from a rebel outfit told me that the UNLFW has reportedly decided to identify vulnerable areas in the northeast that would serve as spots for operations against the security forces. The forces, in turn, according to an official from the home ministry, are on alert in insurgency-prone areas after the twin strikes in Nagaland and Manipur. The areas that surround Assam’s border with Bhutan remain vulnerable due to the NDFB’s presence in those regions.