Days after the Indian army announced it had inflicted “significant casualties” on insurgents in an operation inside Myanmar, an Indian intelligence official said the “hot pursuit” actually failed to kill any of the Naga rebels it had targeted.
Recent wireless intercepts and information collated from interviews by Indian intelligence operatives revealed that the rebels from National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), who carried out a deadly ambush on Indian soldiers in the northeastern border state of Manipur on June 4, escaped the army operation unscathed, the official said.
It took time to collect information from the remote areas and analyze them, the official told the Hindustan Times.
“But it's clear (now) that the NSCN (K) insurgents remain unscathed,” the intelligence official said about the operation.
On June 4, a group of around 30 rebels, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles, ambushed an Indian army convoy and killed at least 20 soldiers in Manipur. It was the deadliest single insurgent attack on the Indian army in three decades, media reported.
After the ambush, the rebels belonging to United National Liberation Front of West South East Asia (UNLFWSEA), an NSCN-K led umbrella body that claimed responsibility for the attack, reportedly fled into neighboring Myanmar.
Five days after the ambush, Indian special forces commandos entered Myanmar’s Sagaing province and launched strikes there.
An Indian army spokesman initially said the attacks on the camps “along the Indo-Myanmar border” inflicted “significant casualties” on the rebels.
"There were two (rebel) camps. Both camps were struck and were completely annihilated," said junior Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, a former army colonel.
Although Indian authorities did not say how many rebels were killed in the operation, Indian media quoted anonymous army sources as putting the figure at 18 to 38.
But immediately after the Indian operation, the NSCN-K said that none of its members or any of its associates had been killed.
Last week, rights activist Debabrata Roy Laifungbam visited the area where the camps are located and said he and other members of an Indian Red Cross Society team found no evidence of death or injury.
“All villagers we met on the Myanmar side said that the operation by the Indian soldiers did not result in any casualty among the rebels,” he said.
“There was not even an injury among the rebels. In fact, they were far away from the place where the Indian operation took place that day, several sources from the villages said,” he told VOA.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management said, it was abundantly clear that the operation was nowhere near the kind of success that the Indian government sought to paint it as.
"The most likely reason is that the operation was mounted, not for reasons of military efficacy or imperatives, but because of inordinate political pressures to produce ‘results’ within an irrational and politically imposed time frame. The most proximate and soft target was attacked, possibly on unreliable intelligence," Sahni said to VOA.
Operation ‘sent a message’
But North Eastern Hill University professor Prasenjit Biswas, a Myanmar expert, said that although the rebels did not suffer any casualties, the operation sent a stern warning to them.
“The June 9 operation has at least sent a message to the rebels that the Indian army is all out to take them on," he said. "The current effort of the Indian army at Chandel and Ukhrul districts of Manipur and its intelligence operations inside Sagaing are aimed at flushing out the militants from Myanmar."
He added that, “Respecting Myanmar's sovereignty also remains a constraint on this whole attempt at flushing out non-state actors who operate from foreign soil.”
A senior Myanmar government official said the military operation did not cross over to his country’s territory. He added that on its soil, Myanmar would not allow any activity that was detrimental to the interest of a neighboring country.