The anti-Naxal operations currently being conducted have achieved little, with the Maoists now openly challenging the government to do its worst. This is mostly due to the lack of understanding on the part of those in command of the methodology and conduct of counter insurgency operations.
The author had taken part in counter insurgency operations in Sumatra in 1945-46. Our columns were ambushed numerous times, but we were trained to react. We moved in a balanced tactical formation, by bounds - scouts, advanced guard and main body. Once we hit an ambush, we were able to deploy, encircle and break it.
Unfortunately this pattern of operation does not obtain with our paramilitary forces like the CRPF.
In 1970, I oversaw the establishment of the counter insurgency school in Mizoram. We ensured that before being inducted for counter-insurgency operations in the northeast, every battalion was put through intensive counter insurgency training for two whole months.
I have worked with Central Reserve Police [CRP] battalions, and they are good, solid units.
In 1965, when I was commanding the brigade at Samba we had 16 CRP with us. They looked after an unfenced and un-demarcated border with competence. There were several shootouts, and their performance was commendable.
Later in 1971 in East Pakistan, 16 CRP and other CRP battalions operated in border areas against the Pakistanis with courage and determination.
There is an old army saying: 'There are no bad units, only bad officers.’
The army, on the orders of then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, was employed to break the Naxal revolt in West Bengal in 1969-71. Mrs Gandhi was pragmatic and took hard decisions, like she did in 1971.
Was Mrs Gandhi wrong? I think not. The Naxals were driven out of West Bengal by mid 1971.
Incidentally Toofani (the Dassault MD-450) and Hunter aircraft of the Indian Air Force bombed Aizwal town on March 4-5, 1966, to evict the Mizo rebels who had literally captured the town.
I do not recommend such offensive action. The air force should be used only for surveillance and logistics.
There are two factors required to keep an insurgency going - firm bases and lines of supply for money, arms and ammunition. As long as these factors obtain, the insurgency will continue.
In the present Naxal insurgency, their firm bases are in the jungles and villages, though they have started moving into the towns. The money they get is from taxes and forcible contributions. The arms they use are captured from the CRP and police. They also buy weapons from Nepal and Myanmar.
Since these two parameters still obtain and remain unbroken, the Naxals are therefore well equipped to fight on and they will do so until they achieve their aims.
There should be a review of the tactics employed by the paramilitary in counter insurgency operations. It is of little use just sending columns into the jungle to take on the elusive and highly mobile Naxal gangs. They are mobile, far more mobile than our paramilitary troops. Mobility is comparative, but it is also a key factor. Our CRP units must strive to be more mobile than the Naxals if they hope to have any effect. So far, these columns have achieved little.
The following method used by the author in1974-75 in intercepting two Naga gangs going to China to collect weapons should be employed. The second gang of some three hundred was surrounded and captured.
In a nutshell, this was the doctrine used by the author in those days, and they still have relevance today.
The Indian army still puts whole battalions into counter insurgency training for two months at the counter insurgency school in Mizoram before deploying them for counter insurgency operations. The CRP too should have a fully fledged counter insurgency school based on the army model.
If appropriate corrective measures are implemented, I am confident that that the CRP battalions will overcome the Naxals. I wish them all success.
- Lt Gen Jacob is not an armchair warrior. He has dealt with terrorism and insurgency over a period of many years.
- As a young major, he took part in intensive counter insurgency operations in Sumatra 1945/1946.
- In 1970, he was responsible for setting up the army counter insurgency school in Mizoram.
- He was in charge of anti-Naxal operations in West Bengal in 1969-1971. The then chief minister Siddharta Shankar Ray used to say: 'Jake and I, we broke the Naxals.'
- In 1974/1975 the army intercepted two Naga gangs going to China [Jacob camped at Mokochong to conduct operations]. The army attacked their bases and finally forced the insurgents to sign the Shillong Accord in 1975. To recap tactics; interrupted their lines of supply for arms and ammunition from China and destroyed their bases within Nagaland. Twelve years of peace followed.
- He oversaw operations in Mizoram and got the hostiles to the negotiating table in Calcutta. [Calcutta Conference] (1978).
- On the other side of the coin, he was responsible in setting up the Bangladesh Mukti Bahini in April 1971, and oversaw their operations.
- In October 2007, He was invited to speak to the American military, State Department and CIA at Capitol Hill. The lecture was broadcast live. The US Marine Corps subsequently requested permission to incorporate parts of the talk in their counterinsurgency doctrine.
By the same author:
Hamlet and the Naxals
The truth behind the Navy's 'sinking' of Ghazi
The Af-Pak boundary is not a border
Gen JFR Jacob on the Afghan war
The rocky road to Kargil
A Himalayan Blunder: How our maps ceded land to China
1971 War: Izzat and lessons unlearnt
An Indian Homeland Act
Time to protect the Thunder Dragon
What the Dragon won't forget