New Delhi: 18 armymen were killed and at least 11 injured when militants ambushed their convoy in Manipur's Chandel district on Thursday morning, in what is being described as the worst casualties the Army has suffered in recent years.
The government has asked the army to launch counter-insurgency operations to trace and eliminate the militants involved in the attack; the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur has also been closed to stop the militants from fleeing to the neighbouring country, sources said after a meeting between Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Also at the meeting were Army chief Dalbir Singh and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
The Home Minister ordered that no militant involved in the attack should be allowed to go scot free and strongest possible action should be taken against all those involved in the ambush, sources said.
Central security agencies have said they suspect a mixed group of militants from the Naga group NSCN(K) and the United National Liberation Front of Manipur, or UNLF, is behind the attack.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, "Today's mindless attack in Manipur is very distressing. I bow to each and every soldier who has sacrificed his life for the Nation."
The soldiers belonged to the 6 Dogra infantry regiment, being de-inducted from the Moltuk valley. The convoy was ambushed between Paralong and Charong villages, about 118 km from state capital Imphal, where the soldiers were headed, at around 8.30 am, the police said.
About 50 militants attacked the Army convoy, using Rocket Propelled Grenade or RPG launchers and other firearms. They also used and improvised explosive device or IED, sources told NDTV.
After the gunfire, the militants also used khukris to attack the Armymen and set vehicles on fire. The tailboard of the lead vehicle was closed and so the soldiers could not come out, the sources said.
A quick reaction team of commandos accompanying the convoy was also ambushed.
The jawans injured were airlifted by the Army for treatment at base hospital in Guwahati and Jorhat in Assam.
As the army launched combing operations, questions are being asked on why no road opening party was sent out prior to the convoy moving.
Also, there are no clear answers on why the soldiers did not fight back.