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.