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Athul asked: What is the history of the use of IEDs by Northeast militant groups and which group uses the most sophisticated IEDs?

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  • D.P.K. Pillay replies: To know the history of the use of IEDs in the Northeast, one needs to understand the history of insurgent groups in this region. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) is the mother of all insurgent groups that sprang up in the Northeast in the 1950s. Nearly around the same time (the 1960s), the left-wing extremism too took roots in Naxalbari. This is where the line blurs between “East” and “North East” of India. The blurred line indicated a boundary beyond which policies of mainland India were relatively ineffective, creating pockets of poorly governed regions which allowed insurgent movements to take root. IEDs were a preferred choice so as to reduce direct involvement and maximise government agency casualties. While the NSCN in the Northeast had mastered the tactics of IED blast on most frequented routes in conjunction with ambushes spread over long distance, Maoists often implemented the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) signature tactics of using heavier amount of explosives on motorable roads, good enough to topple even a mine-protected vehicle, superimposed with multiple ambushes to wipe out everyone in their kill-zone.

    As for the group using most sophisticated IEDs, NSCN in the Northeast remains the most obvious answer, it being the origin of all other groups in the region. The group that ambushed a five-vehicle convoy of the Dogra Regiment in 2015 in Manipur, which led to a daring trans-border surgical strike by the Indian forces in Myanmar, was NSCN-Khaplang or NSCN (K). Earlier, NSCN had split into NSCN (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) due to differences between two top leaders. However, their training and modus operandi are common. NSCN (IM) commanders often claim of having undergone training overseas as well. As NSCN (IM) has a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government for suspension of operations (SoOs), it is the NSCN (K) which is highly active now.

    However, all the present groups like People’s Liberation Army (PLA), United National Liberated Front (UNLF), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front (MNRF) have some connections with each other and the vintage NSCN in terms of imparting of training by NSCN cadres as well as collaboration for illegal trades. Presently, most of the insurgent groups are united under the banner of an umbrella group called the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLWSEA). The name itself suggests that it’s a matter of time as to which group starts using the most sophisticated IEDs.

    Posted on February 24, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.