Apart from Tripathi, his wife Anuja and son Abeer; Riflemen NK Nayak, Suman Swargiary, RP Meena and Shyamal Das were killed in the planned attack. Family members of soldiers being hit by insurgents is a rarity and has sent shock waves through the military community.
Armed militants on Saturday ambushed an Assam Rifles convoy near the porous India-Myanmar border in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, killing five soldiers including a colonel, his wife, their eight-year-old son, and injuring six personnel of whom four are critical and battling for their lives at a medical facility in the state, people familiar with the developments said.
The commanding officer of the 46 Assam Rifles, Colonel Viplav Tripathi, and his quick reaction team (QRT) were returning from the Behiang border post and heading to the battalion headquarters at Khuga when the militants ambushed them at S Sehken village under Singhat sub-division at around 11am, said one of the officials cited above. Apart from Tripathi, his wife Anuja and son Abeer; Riflemen NK Nayak, Suman Swargiary, RP Meena and Shyamal Das were killed in the planned attack. Family members of soldiers being hit by insurgents is a rarity and has sent shock waves through the military community.
In May 2002, terrorists killed 31 people at an army base in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kaluchak area, including three soldiers and 18 family members (the youngest a two-month-old girl).
The attackers first triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) on the single-lane road in a densely forested area and then brought the Assam Rifles personnel under heavy automatic fire to inflict maximum casualties, bringing back memories of the June 2015 Chandel ambush in the state in which a Dogra battalion of the Indian Army lost 18 men, said a second official. Five days after the Dogra unit was attacked in broad daylight in the Moltuk Valley, India’s Special Forces responded with a cross-border raid into Myanmar where they targeted and destroyed two insurgent camps.
The Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF), a group under which PLA Manipur operates, on Saturday night claimed responsibility for the ambush, but said it wasn’t aware of the presence of family members in the convoy. The RPF statement added that family members should not be moving around in a disturbed area.
“These insurgent outfits do not normally target women and children… The latest attack is an attempt by insurgents to establish their relevance at a time when violent incidents have reduced significantly in Manipur. A nudge by China cannot be ruled out,” said lieutenant general Konsam Himalay Singh, who retired in 2017 and is the first army officer from the Northeast to reach the three-star rank. The RPF statement was in Manipuri, and General Singh interpreted it for HT.
Security forces on Saturday launched a manhunt for the insurgents but they may have slipped across the porous border into Myanmar, officials said.
Tripathi’s unit, 46 Assam Rifles, had disrupted several drug trafficking rings in the area and may have been targeted by the insurgents because of its successes in curbing the illegal money-spinning trade, HT has learnt. The aftershocks of the hit were felt in New Delhi, with the government vowing strong action against the insurgents.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack. “Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of sadness,” the Prime Minister wrote on Twitter.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh said the perpetrators of the attack would be brought to justice swiftly. “The cowardly attack on an Assam Rifles convoy is extremely painful and condemnable. The nation has lost five brave soldiers including CO 46 AR and two family members. My condolences to the bereaved families,” Singh said.
State chief minister N Biren Singh said security forces had launched a hunt for the militants and would be brought to justice.
The security establishment had earlier suspected that the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur carried out the attack.
At least half a dozen main insurgent groups are active in the state including PLA, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, Kangleipak Communist Party, Kuki National Army and Kuki National Front.
“Insurgents may have carried out the attack to impose caution on the Assam Rifles as this unit was extremely successful in busting drug-trafficking networks in the area. These insurgent groups are involved in illegal narcotics trade,” said Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan (retd), who headed the Assam Rifles in 2017-18.
The road on which the ambush took place is one of the alternative routes from Myanmar to Imphal, and is used for drug trafficking.
Like General Singh, Chauhan also didn’t rule out a Chinese angle to the attack. “The People’s Liberation Army of Manipur is known to be in sync with China. It is within the realm of possibility that it was ordered to carry out the hit to force India to deploy more forces in the area at a time when there’s tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China,” he said.
He added that the attackers would have known that civilians were part of the Assam Rifles convoy but still carried out the daytime hit. (HT spoke to Chauhan before RPF issued the statement.)
According to figures obtained by HT in 2018, the average annual operations launched by the army and Assam Rifles in Manipur involve setting up 52,000 check posts, 42,000 patrols, over 10,000 ambushes and 550 special operations.
IEDs are one of the biggest challenges confronting soldiers deployed in insurgency-hit Manipur and mitigating that threat is a top priority for the security forces. The weapon has killed, maimed or injured hundreds of soldiers in the north-east over the last three decades.
The vast area that the security forces operate in, the state’s topography and a 398km porous border with Myanmar are among the challenges faced by soldiers who operate from 180 bases scattered across Manipur, officials said.
The latest ambush comes at a time when the security situation in the North-east had improved significantly in the army’s assessment, and a planned and gradual drawdown of soldiers is underway there.
In February 2021, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said two army divisions had been pulled out of counter-insurgency and internal security duties in the Northeast, and were solely focused on their operational role along the China border.
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.