Imphal-Moreh highway where Manipur Police commandos were ambushed by insurgents
Videos have emerged of how the army's Assam Rifles troops rescued Manipur Police commandos pinned down by insurgents with heavy gunfire in an ambush on a highway, in a dramatic first-hand view of the daring rescue from inside an armoured vehicle.
The insurgents hiding in a hill had ambushed a reinforcement convoy of the Manipur Police commandos on the highway between the state capital Imphal and the India-Myanmar border town Moreh on October 31.
The commandos were going to Moreh, 115 km from Imphal, as reinforcements after a senior police officer was shot dead by an insurgent sniper while he was overseeing the construction of a helipad in the border town, which saw intense clashes between the hill-majority Chin-Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis in the past few months.
A Manipur Police commando inside the Assam Rifles' armoured vehicle amid the ambush on October 31
In the videos, which have been shared widely on social media too, a group of Assam Rifles troops inside an armoured Casspir mine-resistant vehicle slowly approached a bend on the highway. As soon as the road turned straight, a hail of bullets are heard ricocheting off the armoured vehicle. A long line of Manipur Police commando SUVs are seen on the side of the road, pinned down by insurgent gunfire from above the hill.
"Look at the top (of the hill), look, look," a soldier is heard telling his squad inside the Casspir, just before more bullets ricocheted off the armoured vehicle. "This is accurate fire. Go back a bit. Give the police covering fire. They need covering fire," the soldier is heard shouting amid heavy gunfire outside.
Another video shows a soldier shouting at the commandos, who were still engaging the insurgents hiding in the forested hillside, to quickly run inside the armoured vehicle for safety as they were on a lower ground and easy targets for the insurgents. While many commandos kept firing from what was a tactically bad spot, one of them managed to jump onto the Casspir.
"Don't worry, we are here. Don't worry," an Assam Rifles combat medic is heard telling a commando who was hit in the leg.
Another commando comes crawling towards the vehicle and is quickly pulled inside by the soldiers. "He has many bullet injuries. Attend to him first," a soldier tells the medic.
"Chinta mat karo, sab theek ho jayega (don't worry, everything will be fine)," the medic says as he puts a tourniquet on the commando's leg to stop the bleeding. All the while the soldiers gave covering fire to the commandos.
Although the videos indicated total chaos inside the Casspir, with blood on the metal floor and the seats stained with red, the soldiers communicated and directed return fire with professional calm as the armoured vehicle drove away from the 'kill zone'.
The Assam Rifles troops took three injured commandos to a hospital that day. There were no casualties in the ambush.
A retired top-ranking army officer, who commanded a battalion in the high-altitude battlefield Siachen during the Kargil War, told NDTV that close cooperation between various security forces and agencies is an essential component of any counter-terrorist strategy.
"To that extent, the visuals that showed Assam Rifles troops coming to the rescue of injured Manipur Police personnel in the midst of a terrorist attack and gunfire, is a very good example. I hope to see more such joint and synergies efforts towards bringing about stability in the state," Lieutenant General Konsam Himalay Singh, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM YSM (retired) - the first officer from the northeast to become a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army - told NDTV today.
While the distance is not much on paper for a highway on the plains, the Imphal-Moreh route has many hills, jungles and hairpin bends that significantly raise the risk of ambush by insurgents, people familiar with the matter said.
The unprecedented attack on the helipad project on October 31 and the subsequent highway ambush marked a sharp increase in hostilities between the security forces and insurgents amid the semblance of hard-won normalcy in ethnic violence-hit Manipur. Sending police personnel to the border town has not been easy due to roadblocks by miscreants, sources said, adding the need for a larger helipad was felt and so a decision to build it was taken.
The Manipur Police senior officer was shot dead by an insurgent sniper in Moreh while overseeing a helipad work on October 31
At least 25 Kuki insurgent groups have signed the tripartite Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the centre and the state government, under which they have to stay at designated camps, and keep their weapons in locked storage for regular joint monitoring with the security forces.
Kuki civil society groups have strongly condemned what they alleged was the Manipur government's attempt to send the police into Moreh and start indiscriminate operations against Kuki civilians. "The Kuki Inpi Manipur have made repeated appeals to the government of India to withdraw the police commandos from Moreh to prevent any untoward incident against the minority Kuki-Zo community," the civil society group Kuki Inpi had said in a statement.
The ethnic violence in Manipur has killed over 180 people and left thousands internally displaced.
Though the Manipur ethnic clashes between the Kuki tribes and the Meiteis is said to be over the Meities' demand for inclusion under the Scheduled Tribes category, many leaders including Union Minister Home Minister Amit Shah and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar have said entry of illegal immigrants is one of the main factors behind the unrest in the northeast state, which is ruled by the BJP.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has said it is looking into an alleged transnational conspiracy involving terror groups hiding in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Manipur to exploit the ethnic violence in the northeast state.