SPECIAL COVERAGE - THE LOW-INTENSITY SIEGE OF IMPHAL, 2016-2017
In an update to last week's story, the economic blockade of Manipur State - begun on November 1, 2016 - continues through its third full month. The vital NH-2 and NH-37 highways remain heavily restricted to vehicle traffic -- supplies are getting through, but only under heavily armed escort. Fuel and food are getting through to the landlocked province, but only in very reduced amounts.
The United Naga Council (UNC) and the Naga Students' Federation (NSF) imposed the blockade following the arrest of two UNC leaders, council President Gaidon Kamei and Publicity Secretary Stephen Lamkang, in the aftermath of the group's decision to impose the blockade at the end of October, 2016, in response to the reorganization of voting and administrative districts by the Manipur government in the capitol, Imphal, a redistricting plan that the UNC claims ethnically discriminates against local Naga residents.
The ongoing blockade is negatively impacting the image of the Indian Central Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as New Delhi's response to the crisis has been dangerously slow, as the blockade approaches the end of its third month. The division-sized Assam Rifles, the main gendarmes of the Assam region, are hard-pressed to push truck convoys into the state capitol, as the terrain lends all the advantages to the UNC's interdiction operations. While certainly not approaching anything like the intense convoy battles of the Vietnam War, it is a strategy that works. Closing the highway system is a tactic that has been used before in this region, and is a low-intensity/low-impact strategy that easily works for as long as the UNC and the NSF, because it does not waste their strength.
However, the danger at the present moment is the warning by the NSCN/ASOM alliance - which the MilitaryGazette reported on earlier this month - of an impending offensive scheduled for the beginning of April of 2017. This economic blockade is weakening the governments of both Imphal and New Delhi, and exposes Manipur State to major offensive guerilla combat operations that could be used to draw forces away from the NSCN's and ASOM's main focus areas, and could lead to them forcing India into a major internal troop commitment that they can ill-afford at this time, given ongoing internal threats in the Red Corridor and external threats in Jammu & Kashmir, as well as the still-unstable situation in the nearby Swat region of Pakistan.
It is entirely possible that the Indian internal situation could be the first major foreign policy challenge for the incoming Trump Administration.
A looming disaster has been averted in this tiny West African nation, as long-time dictator Yahyeh Jammeh, defeated in an open election last year by challenger Adama Barrow, left the country on the 22nd, apparently headed to exile in Equatorial Guinea. The former dictator, who seized power in a coup in 1994, had initially refused to leave office by the 19th, prompting fears of civil war and intervention by the states forming the ECOWAS regional bloc, in the form of troops from neighboring Senegal and from Nigeria.
A suicide car bomb attack on a military outpost killed at least thirty-seven Malian troops in the northern city of Gao on the 18th. The country has been slowly retaking the country from a multitude of groups since 2012.
The Ugandan government announced that they had arrested at least one hundred members of the M23 rebel army, after they left their camp at the Bihanga Military Training School in the Ibanda District, in an apparent attempt to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (the former 'Belgian Congo'). The group was driven out of the DRC by United Nations peacekeepers in 2013, and fled to exile in neighboring Uganda.
While the 100 detained fighters apprehended are being detained in Makenke, and approximately 300 remain in the camp at Bihanga, another forty reportedly escaped a week ago. The DRC has claimed that these men staged several attacks in Kivu and Orientale provinces, a claim which both the UN mission to the Congo (MONUSCO) and Ugandan authorities have denied.
In other news relating to Uganda, the Al Shabaab terror group released a video reportedly showing the executions of several Ugandan soldiers captured in recent fighting by the group. Uganda contributes over six thousand troops the the African Union mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Given the reaction of Ugandan troops to Al Shabaab attacks in the past, this bodes for Al Shabaab.
The sooner the world is rid of this evil, the better.
In Israel, schools in Tel Aviv and in Ramat Hasharon received bomb threats in what school officials described as an "American accent". Israel Defense Force (IDF) sappers found no devices in the schools. Whether this is a similar incident to the rash of robo-call bomb threats last week remains unclear.
Combat continues across the country, as the Taliban and ISIL forces continue to be ground down, even as Afghan government forces try to make gains take hold, a process plagued by continuous graft and corruption.
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