Operation Tasha: The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was inducted in Sri Lanka in July 1987, as per the Indo–Sri Lanka Accord, to end the ethnic struggle that claimed many lives and ruined the country’s economy. Operation Pawan started with the induction of the IPKF on 29 July 1987. The de-induction started in August 1989 and the operation terminated on 24 March 1990. When the last elements withdrew, there still had been no solution to the political problem.
Prior to the withdrawal of the IPKF5 from Sri Lanka on 23 March 1990, considerable anxiety was experienced by the State Government of Tamil Nadu in respect of likely LTTE activity in the immediate future upon termination of Ops PAWAN.
Due to the proximity of the land masses and adjacent common fishing grounds, the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar have been a haven for illegal trafficking of humans and material from both sides. The LTTE exploited this route freely for its logistical requirements.
IN and CG ships, operating ex-Visakhapatnam and Chennai, were deployed to provide continuous sea-borne patrol.
A formal request was made by the Government of Tamil Nadu to the Ministry of Home Affairs in February 1990 for central assistance through the continuation of Naval presence in the detachment at Rameshwaram and the establishment of a Naval detachment at Point Calimere.
On 30 May 1990, the Central Government ordered the IN and the CG to institute joint patrols to interdict all undesirable activities (including influx of refugees) in the Palk Bay area, in addition to law enforcement tasks already being undertaken. In execution of Government’s directive, “Operation TASHA” was instituted on 21 June 1990. The requirement was envisaged by the Navy as a short-term requirement for 3 to 6 months and the expenditure was met from within Naval resources. Accordingly,
Prevent illegal immigration and infiltration of LTTE militants to and from Sri Lanka.
- Two Naval Detachments (NAVDETs), each deploying five trawlers hired from trade, were set up at Rameshwaram and Nagapattinam.
- The Naval Air Station which had been earlier functioning at Ramanathapuram (Ramnad) in support of the IPKF operations, was reactivated and operation of both fixed wing as well as rotary wing (helicopters) aircraft recommenced.
- IN and CG ships, operating ex-Visakhapatnam and Chennai, were deployed to provide continuous sea-borne patrol.
- Regular coordination meetings were held with the State authorities and State and Central enforcement, intelligence organisations.
An assessment-visit was made by the RM to the Palk Bay in June 1991 and the Government decided to continue the operation for a period of one year. The objectives of the operation were to:-
Prevent smuggling of arms, ammunition and contraband from the Indian mainland to Sri Lanka and vice versa.
- Prevent illegal immigration and infiltration of LTTE militants to and from Sri Lanka.
- Prevent smuggling of arms, ammunition and contraband from the Indian mainland to Sri Lanka and vice versa.
- Enforce air surveillance and seaborne patrol to curb activities of Sri Lankan Tamil militants in the Palk Bay.
Patrol activities were coordinated by Naval Detachments on the Tamil Nadu coast. The detachments hired trawlers from the fishing industry, fitted them with machine guns and utilised them for investigating boat traffic across the IMBL. Marine Commandos and a Naval diving team were positioned at selected detachments.
Patrols of the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) in the Palk Bay were carried out by shallow draft, minor war vessels (SDBs and LCUs) of the Navy and by patrol craft of the Coast Guard. Air patrols were carried out by Naval and Coast Guard aircraft and Naval helicopters.
Enhancement of Op TASHA
Consequent to the assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi, the security situation in the Palk Bay region was reviewed by the state and central government authorities. At the state level, the meetings were convened and chaired by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the state Government requested for enhancement of assistance for an additional short duration in June 1991.
Consequent to the assassination of Shri Rajiv Gandhi, the security situation in the Palk Bay region was reviewed by the state and central government authorities.
The surveillance plan envisaged a layered-concept to be executed in tandem with measures adopted by the State Government and involved:-
- Functional division of the Palk Bay region into two operational areas with Nagapattinam as Area HQ, North and Rameshwaram as Area HQ, South.
- Establishment of additional five NAVDETs along the Vedaraniyam/Palk Bay coastline at:-
- Deployment of five trawlers hired from trade and fitted with MMGs, from each of the seven NAVDETs with few armed naval personnel to effect close-coast patrol around the 3-metre depth-contour line.
The Naval Detachments were tasked to capture, destroy militants at sea in the Palk Bay area and assist the Tamil Nadu Govt to prevent movements of non-bonafide personnel and smuggling of contraband items in the coastal area between Karaikal and Lands End.
- Deployment of IN/CG ships along the IBL to ensure that the five-mile “No-fishing/prohibited zone” established by the Tamil Nadu Government remained under surveillance.
- Enhancement of airborne surveillance being mounted from the Naval Air Detachment (NAVAIRDET) deployed at the Naval Air Station, Ramanathapuram (NAS Ramnad). Periodic but random aircraft sorties to be undertaken to cover the area between the 3-metre depth-contour and the IBL, as well as along the IBL.
- Augmentation of the communications network.
The Naval Detachments were tasked to capture, destroy militants at sea in the Palk Bay area and assist the Tamil Nadu Govt to prevent movements of non-bonafide personnel and smuggling of contraband items in the coastal area between Karaikal and Land’s End.
The detachments maintained the first barrier, of the three-tier surveillance of the Palk Bay area upto the IMBL, which required most intensive patrols. Each NAVDET maintained the patrol using armed trawlers in its respective area of responsibility along the three to five metre depth contour and upto six NM from the coast.
In a week, approximately 4000 trawlers were investigated and 1500 boarded by all seven detachments. The intensity of fishing operations varied from place to place but had been dense in the area around Rameshwaram.
Illegal Influx of Refugees. The escalating conflict between the Sri Lankan Army and LTTE added to the problems of the IN/CG patrols. Indian trawlers got involved in illegal ferrying of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees from Talaimannar to Rameshwaram for monetary considerations. To avoid detection, these trawlers beached at night at Rameshwaram and near Adam’s Bridge where the water was shallow and naval boats could not chase them.
With the refugee influx into TN peaking in the mid 90s, the IN and CG patrols were found less effective in controlling the militant ingress along with the refugees since:-
- The SL Tamils caught in the line of fire between the LTTE and SL Army readily fled to Rameshwaram.
- Use of force against civilians during transhipment was not possible.
- Entry of illegal Tamil migrants was accepted on humanitarian grounds.
- The Police presence at the entry points was scanty.
- No effective mechanism was in place to check Indian fishermen involved in smuggling fuel (petrol, diesel, kerosene, urea used for making fertilizer bombs), contraband and human cargo. The apprehended boats were back in business within a short period.
The Kachchativu Problem. Traditionally, fishing by Indian fishermen in the waters of the Palk Bay in and around Kachchativu has remained a bone of contention between India and Sri Lanka for decades. Some fishing boats also indulged in illicit trade and transporting of personnel from Tamil Nadu to across the IMBL. Both these activities led to complaints by Indian fishermen of “harassment by the Sri Lankan Navy”. Despite adequate warnings not to cross the IMBL, the fishermen continued to do so. Consequently, an un-stated task of the Navy and the Coast Guard had been to offer some protection to Indian fishermen.6
Entry of illegal Tamil migrants was accepted on humanitarian grounds.
The Naval detachments played an active role in sensitizing Indian fishermen and educating them to desist from crossing the IMBL till such time an agreement was made between the two nations and fishing rights/permits were given. However, economic compulsions force fishermen from India and Sri Lanka to cross the IMBL to fish in each others’ territory. These attempts were spotted and foiled by the Naval Personnel on armed patrol in the area.
The Intelligence Problem. The lack of adequate intelligence in effectively combating illicit trade, gun-running and smuggling had been brought out by Mr. MK Dhar, Deputy Director of the Intelligence Bureau:-7
The Police presence at the entry points was scanty.
“The pitiable condition of cipher breaking capability was exemplified by challenges posed by the LTTE cipher traffic between the island nation and Tamil Nadu. Some Tamil knowing officers laboured exclusively to decipher the traffic in Tamil. But they were incapable of deciphering alphanumeric, numeric and alphabetic and sign ciphers. Much crucial cipher traffic between the LTTE high command and its safe houses in the Southern Peninsula remained unbroken for months together, being tossed over between the IB, R&AW and the JCB.
The precious life of Rajiv Gandhi could have perhaps been saved had the intelligence organisation acquired the capability of breaking LTTE ciphers. Both the IB and the R&AW did not have powerful first generation computers and required software to break enemy codes.”
The overall operational and administrative control of Op TASHA was exercised by the FOC-in-C East through NOIC (TN) as the Zonal Naval Authority (ZNA). NOIC (TN) exercised its operational control on the NAVDETs through the Area Commanders, North and South. INS Adyar provided administrative support.
The Command structure in 1993 was shown in structure.
Major Anti Smuggling/Gun Trafficking and Operations
Major search operations for large LTTE gun running vessels bringing military supplies from Europe and South East Asia have resulted in their capture.
Apprehension of MV AHAT. Based on intelligence inputs in early January 1993 on the likely landing of arms and ammunition by an LTTE ship near Mullaitivu on the North East coast of Sri Lanka, ships were deployed to apprehend the contraband carrier. The ship was detected on the night of 13/14 Jan 93 by CGS Vivek approx 400 nm SE of Chennai and was directed to proceed towards Chennai escorted by Kirpan and Vivek.
IL 38 and TU 142 maritime patrol aircraft were deployed from Goa to augment air surveillance. INS Saryu was redeployed from its Palk Bay patrol to intercept and apprehend these vessels. INS Kirpan from Visakhapatnam and SDB T-60 from Chennai with Marine Commandos embarked were sailed to assist Saryu. After a long chase, the vessels were finally intercepted during the night of 07/08 Nov by INS Saryu. At first light, on 08 Nov, the vessels were boarded 180 miles from Chennai and the crew taken into custody.
The Naval Detachments, though temporary in nature at inception, have acquired more or less a permanent stature.
The larger vessel Tonga Nova was on a regular supply mission since Mar 91. The last port of call of the vessel was Singapore where it had embarked cargo from MV Mondovian and the items were bound for Jaffna. A large quantity of thermocole floating in the area indicated the dumping of contraband items, arms and ammunition. The apprehended vessels were taken under tow to Chennai by Saryu assisted by Kirpan and SDB T-60. During the tow, the unmanned smaller vessel sank due to excessive ingress of water.
Capture of MV Mariamma. In Mar 1995, the Eastern Naval Command conducted a joint operation with the Coast Guard and was successful in locating and intercepting the LTTE supply vessel MV Mariamma. Eventually, the crew was forced to abandon and scuttle the ship to avoid being captured.
Op Bingo. On May 3, 1999, the Indian Navy participated in another joint operation with the Coast Guard in ‘Op Bingo’ to intercept a LTTE vessel, Showa Maru.
Long Term Effects on Naval Forces
Operation TASHA launched in 1990 continues till date. The Naval Wing of the LTTE has been vying for recognition in the North and North East waters of Sri Lanka. The acquisition of increasingly sophisticated equipment and the continuing enlargement of LTTE activities and their overseas network in Europe, South East Asia, including collaboration with ISI for shipping military equipment/stores has kept the operation growing in size and demanding heavier investments and manpower.
Much crucial cipher traffic between the LTTE high command and its safe houses in the Southern Peninsula remained unbroken for months together, being tossed over between the IB, R&AW and the JCB.
Due to prolonged operation, the ships and aircraft deployed in the operation had been utilised at a rate far more than originally anticipated, resulting in premature maintenance and replacement. Small patrol craft on continuous patrol were particularly effected.
The detachments were manned by personnel drawn from various units on a temporary basis for periods ranging from two to six months initially. With escalation in surveillance activities, the strength of detachments had grown to more than 600. Gradually, a part of the personnel were posted on a permanent basis to have continuity in the operations and for administrative convenience. Subsequently, the number of personnel has been scaled down.
Future of Op TASHA. OP TASHA has been a long haul with its termination depending on the uncertainties in the neighbourhood. The Naval Detachments, though temporary in nature at inception, have acquired more or less a permanent stature. The TN and Pondicherry administrations on the other hand, have been proposing for additional detachments, whereas the Navy has been keen to handover the surveillance activities to the Coast Guard and Coastal Police set ups and concentrate on high seas.
Operation Swan on the West Coast
The landing of contraband by smugglers and infiltration by anti-national elements from the Persian Gulf and from Pakistan, on the coasts of Gujarat and Maharashtra had been going on since the 1950s. It used to be dealt with by Navy-manned vessels of the Central Board of Revenue with representatives of the Customs, Excise and Police embarked.
Consequent to the apprehension and subsequent interrogation of anti-national elements associated with the bomb blasts at Bombay in March 1993, intelligence revealed that there was a likelihood of arms and explosives being landed from seaward along the Gujarat, Saurashtra, Maharashtra and Konkan coasts. The contraband was likely to originate from the Gulf or Pakistan. Further investigations revealed that the possible landing sites extend between Jakhau and Vengurla.
At the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs, joint Indian Navy–Coast Guard coastal surveillance commenced in April 1993.
An outer layer of surveillance using Dorniers and surface units of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, in selected areas.
The task of the operation, code-named “Operation SWAN”, was to prevent fishing trawlers from landing explosives, weapons and other contraband, on the west coast between the Indo–Pakistan IMBL on the Gujarat coast and Goa.
The surveillance activities were carried out by the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command supported by the Central Intelligence Agencies — the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) for internal and external intelligence respectively and the State Governments.
Surveillance units were deployed in three echelons and operated under the control of Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command:-
An intermediate layer using ships of the Navy and Coast Guard and hired ocean going trawlers between 25″“50 nm from the coast.
- An outer layer of surveillance using Dorniers and surface units of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard, in selected areas.
- An intermediate layer using ships of the Navy and Coast Guard and hired ocean going trawlers between 25–50 nm from the coast.
- Patrolling in the shallow waters upto ten miles from the coast by small, shallow draught ships and small hired fishing trawlers.
Sanitised Zone. A five mile sanitized zone was implemented on the Indian side of the Indo–Pak IMBL upto a depth of 40 nm seaward and no fishing activity was permitted in this area. The fishermen were informed by the State Governments and the sanitised area was enforced by the Coast Guard. Air patrols were used to supplement the barrier patrol along the sanitized zone.
Naval Detachments. In the first instance, twelve detachments were set up along the coast between Jakhau and Vengurla. The detachments consisted of minimum number of naval personnel supported, whenever possible, by either the customs or the police. Each of the detachments were provided with three trawlers for patrolling, fitted with LMG.
The deployment of trawlers for surveillance of close coastal areas was necessitated because ships could not operate in shallow waters due to draught constraint. Moreover, IN/CG Ships were not always available on account of their deployment for other tasks and exercises.
The hired trawlers also provided an element of camouflage and concealment as they easily passed off as normal trawlers engaged in routine fishing activity and were able to monitor all activities in the surrounding areas without arousing suspicion. The ocean going trawlers were hired from Fisheries Survey of India, and the coastal trawlers from trade.
The naval detachments were set up in Gujarat and Maharastra and placed under NOIC (Saurashtra) and FOMA respectively:-
ONGC Patrol. The trawlers on patrol within the oil fields, operating under the control of FODAG were also warned to be vigilant against vessels likely to be involved in smuggling of arms and explosives.
Co-ordination Committees. State Governments had been instructed to convene Coordination Meetings at the State capital level chaired by the Chief Secretary and attended by reps of the Civil administration, Police, Customs, DRI, Central Police Force, IB, Ports, Navy and Coast Guard. District level meetings were also convened with representatives of the above agencies. These coordination meetings provided intelligence, communication and logistics support to the operation.
Much later, in 2005, Mr. MK Dhar, a former Joint Director of India’s Intelligence Bureau provided insights on why, despite the resources deployed for surveillance, the exchange of information that prevailed during Operation SWAN was so inadequate.9
“Police investigations into the Bombay serial bomb blasts and subsequent events brought out a naked truth: the prime intelligence agencies of the country did not have any idea whatsoever about the coastline of India “” from Gujarat to West Bengal, which enjoined the key security regions in Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
“Police investigations into the Bombay serial bomb blasts and subsequent events brought out a naked truth: the prime intelligence agencies of the country did not have any idea whatsoever about the coastline of India — from Gujarat to West Bengal, which enjoined the key security regions in Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The coastline was open to threats from the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and to the Bay of Bengal.
“The Coast Guard in its present form protects the territorial waters of the nation and prevents smuggling and poaching activities. It, however, paid more attention to the blue waters. It did not maintain regular vigil on the shallow waters and the minor ports and unspecified shallow landing sites. It was not designed to carry out the sieve work to filter the flourishing dhow traffic between India, Pakistan and the Gulf destinations.
“We began a task of carrying out a systematic study of the major and minor ports along the entire coastline, recorded and unrecorded landing sites, creeks and inlets. Simultaneous studies of the population and political complexities were taken up. Several smuggling cartels and criminal gangs were identified and modus operandi of transportation mechanism between the coastal areas and hinterland niches of the smugglers, hawala operators and the underworld gangs were charted out.
“There was initial resistance from the IB units in the coastal states. In most cases they did not have the workforce. More importantly, they had no training in generating maritime intelligence that affected the shallow waters and connected the external inimical forces with the internal saboteurs…”
“By end 1993, the State governments had some rudimentary shallow water patrol system, though it was pitiably inadequate. The Coast Guard too had diverted some attention to the shallow waters for a while. But the police efforts more often ended in futile chase as the slow moving dhows were no match for GPS arid Satellite Communication-fitted fast boats used by the smugglers. Most of the times, the police used rented dhows belonging to fishing magnates. The intricate linkages between the fishing-boat operators and the smugglers often defeated the secrecy part of police operations.
“In fact, there is a case for creation of a Central Coastal Security Force, appropriately equipped with modern boats and communication and surveillance equipment. It should be de-linked from the BSF, the Coast Guard and the state police. It may be mandated to have regular liaison with the Coast Guard and other land based enforcement units. There is an urgent requirement of involving the State police machineries and upgrading their capability to guard the vulnerable pockets along their respective coastlines. I hope the security planners will pay adequate attention to this requirement before another catastrophe hits the nation”.10
It was not designed to carry out the sieve work to filter the flourishing dhow traffic between India, Pakistan and the Gulf destinations.
Future of Op SWAN. The operation that commenced as a support to the State Governments has extended the Naval resources to a greater extant than anticipated since the operations have only scaled up. The Navy has been recommending that coastal surveillance be taken over by the respective state governments and Coast Guard so that the Navy could look towards blue waters.
Operation Leech, February 1998
Anti Gun-running Operations in the Andaman Sea
When the British subdued northeast India and Burma, there existed already a large number of ancient ethnic/tribal entities/groups who on historical grounds had been seeking separate political and territorial identity. Over the centuries the peoples constituting the ethnic tribes had spread across the prevailing administrative borders in India’s north-eastern states. Adjoining northern Burma there were the Nagas, the Mizos, the Manipuris, the Tripuris and the Bodos. In Burma, there were the Karens, the Kachins and the Arakanese. After India and Burma became independent, these ethnic groups, instead of joining the mainstream, succumbed to the temptation of secession and insurgency.
The Navy has been recommending that coastal surveillance be taken over by the respective state governments and Coast Guard so that the Navy could look towards blue waters.
Both countries were confronted with the intractable problem of pacifying/subduing secessionist movements in mountainous and deeply forested terrain which favoured the insurgents; this intractable problem was compounded by two other factors. The insurgents needed an uninterrupted supply of arms and ammunition which in turn needed an uninterrupted inflow of money to pay for the arms and ammunition.
Geographically, India’s northeast region sits on the western corner of Burma’s “Golden Triangle”, one of the two largest opium producing regions in the world. The 2003 INCB11 report ranks Burma as second to Afghanistan in opium production and states that more than 70% of the amphetamines available worldwide are produced in countries around the Golden Triangle, particularly Burma. The demand for narcotics in the developed countries generated a thriving narcotics trade, the profits from which enabled the insurgents to pay for the arms and ammunition.
The situation was further complicated by the actions of newly independent Communist China and the proliferation of communist inspired and/or communist supported insurgencies in this already troubled region.
Commencing 1966, (when the first batch ‘Naga Army’ reached China through Burmese territory for training) China trained several batches of Naga, Mizo and Manipuri insurgent leaders and provided sanctuary, weapons and training to an entire generation of Burmese Communist insurgents. The insurgents received most of their weapons from China. As the Chinese weapons were carried back by the insurgent groups through Burma, India started cultivating Burma’s Kachin insurgents to deny the north-eastern insurgents the corridor to reach China.
Geographically, Indias northeast region sits on the western corner of Burmas “Golden Triangle”, one of the two largest opium producing regions in the world.
In 1968, the Burmese Communists launched a fierce offensive in the border regions to expand their liberated areas. By then the Naga and Mizo insurgents had started using Burmese territory for safe havens and for reaching China. While Burma needed Indian support to cope with the China-backed Communists and other ethnic insurgents, India needed Burmese support to block the North Burma corridor used by its own insurgents to access Chinese training and weapons.
In the early 1980s, China stopped supporting the insurgent groups of Northeast India and of Burma, and the latter turned to the black markets of Southeast Asia for weapons. The long conflict in Vietnam had created a thriving arms bazar.12 Soon thereafter, the insurgent groups from the Northeast gained access to this black-market through different sources. Most of the weapons were received in Thailand, loaded in ships and brought to the coast of Bangladesh to locations like Cox’s Bazaar, from where they would find their way into Northeast India through land routes, with insurgents doubling as porters.
As the Indian Army tightened its grip in the north-eastern states, the insurgents moved their bases to Burma to obtain safer training and regrouping havens where new recruits could be taught guerrilla warfare and to which active guerrilla units could retreat when under pressure.
Relations between Burma and India improved in the mid-nineties. In the end 1990s, military-to-military relations improved dramatically. India and Burma signed an agreement for ‘increased cooperation to tackle cross-border terrorism and drug trafficking.’
After this agreement, Burmese troops attacked insurgent bases. In February 1998, India obliged Burma in Operation Leech by apprehending a large contingent of Arakan insurgents and their leaders in the Andaman Islands.
Operation Leech in 1998
Operation Leech was the overall name for operations in the Andaman Sea. Prior to Operation Leech, the gun-runners and drug-traffickers used to be handed over to the Governments of Burma and Thailand who would send their vessels to collect them.
Hard intelligence was received that a consignment of arms, ammunition and equipment was being brought by some foreign nationals to Landfall Island in trawlers/speed boats.
In 1997, the objective of Operation Leech was more focussed and better networked. However, a small cyclone compelled the postponement of the 1997 operation to 1998.
The gist of the First Information Report (FIR) filed in Port Blair by the Deputy Naval Provost Marshal on 18th February 1998 states:
“Hard intelligence was received that a consignment of arms, ammunition and equipment was being brought by some foreign nationals to Landfall Island in trawlers/speed boats. They were reported to be of Southeast Asian origin. Intelligence sources intimated that the purpose of bringing arms, ammunition, stores and equipment to Landfall Island was to subsequently tranship them illegally to terrorist/militant outfits in the northeast states of India via Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh.
The operation progressed successfully and resulted in the capture of 73 foreign nationals.
A joint tri-service operation was launched on 9th February 1998 to apprehend the smugglers along with their arms, ammunition and equipment. Coast Guard and Police also participated in the operation.
The operation progressed successfully and resulted in the capture of 73 foreign nationals. Six foreign nationals tried to escape into the adjoining area while opening fire on our troops. Our troops immediately responded in self-defence and fatally injured six of them whilst in the water. They were seen disappearing in the sea and are presumed dead. After a search, none of the six bodies could be recovered.
The 73 arrested men were handed over to the civil authorities. The arms, ammunition and equipment were retained for further investigation”.
The 1998 Annual Report of the Ministry of Defence stated:-
A combined service operation (Operation Leech) was undertaken in February 1998 to intercept arms deliveries meant for Indian insurgent groups in the northeast.
“Naval forces successfully undertook major operations in the Andaman Sea against gunrunners and narcotic dealers and apprehended a number of militants along with large caches of arms and ammunition. Some of the major operations were: –
- Operation Leech between 9th and 11th February 1998. The forces involved were Vindhyagiri (Naval frigate), Saryu (Naval offshore patrol vessel), two naval Landing Craft Utility, Coast Guard Ships Vivek and Lakshmibai, Naval Islander aircraft, Coast Guard Dornier aircraft, Army elements from 3 Madras and Air Force MI 8 helicopters.
- Operation Poorab between 29th May and 2nd June 1998.13 The forces involved were Saryu (Naval offshore patrol vessel), Kirpan and Kuthar, Coast Guard Ships, LCU 34, 35 (two naval Landing Craft Utility), Naval Islander aircraft and Coast Guard Dornier aircraft.
- Operation Hibiscus between 9th and 17th August 1998. The forces involved were Khanjar (Naval corvette), Himgiri (Naval frigate) Saryu (Naval offshore patrol vessel) and Kuthar.
Prima facie, Operation Leech was just one of many operations. However, it attracted widespread media attention.
The following information was given by the Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes in a written reply to Shri Ramjivan Singh and others in the Lok Sabha on November 28, 2002:
For the foreseeable future, the security of Indias north-eastern states requires that insurgents, militants and secessionists be denied use of Myanmars thickly forested, hilly, porous frontiers for smuggling arms and ammunition into India.
“A combined service operation (Operation Leech) was undertaken in February 1998 to intercept arms deliveries meant for Indian insurgent groups in the northeast. In this operation, 73 foreign nationals were apprehended and 138 weapons along with a large quantity of ammunitions were recovered.
On the basis of certain information and in view of the possible international ramifications of this operation, it was considered desirable that investigations into this episode be carried out by a Central Investigating Agency. Accordingly, CBI was directed to take over the investigation. The investigation is still on.
However, as no evidence could come forth during the investigation against 37 fishermen, a report under Section 169 Criminal Procedure Code was filed by the CBI and the fishermen were discharged by the Chief Judicial Magistrate on May 07, 1999. The remaining 36 militants who were lodged in jail in Port Blair were released from judicial custody on October 14, 1999. They are at present lodged in a building in Port Blair as they do not have any travel documents.
The investigation by the CBI is continuing.”
Eventually, Human Rights advocates petitioned the judiciary for the release of the insurgents. In 2004, the Supreme Court issued notices to the CBI and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Administration to file their replies.
For the foreseeable future, the security of India’s north-eastern states requires that insurgents, militants and secessionists be denied use of Myanmar’s thickly forested, hilly, porous frontiers for smuggling arms and ammunition into India.
The main entry point for smuggled arms and narcotics was, and still is, Cox’s Bazar on the Bangladesh coast, where anti-Indian organisations have set up an inter-linked network for supply of weapons to insurgents and terrorists.