Tales of Junior Tigers (Second Battalion The East Bengal Regiment): Ambush in Lamachari

--Brig Gen Shah Md. Sultan uddin Iqbal (Retd)

The Bangladesh Army had its birth during the “War of Independence” in 1971. The experience of counter “Insurgency Operation” in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). participation in Operation Morruprantar’ (Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield in Gulf War-1990-91), and many international assignments especially the UN assignments to establish peace for mankind have made Banglades Army highly professional to perform any task entrusted upon them. Standing on the forties of our Army’s age now, time is ripe for us to look back to shape up the history of our glorious past. To start with, CHT affairs would certainly get the priority to explore lessons for future reference not only for our Armed Forces but for our nation too. Therefore, a humble effort is made to narrate a unique ambush conducted against “Santi Bahini (SB-the terrorist insurgent group which surrendered to Government of the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh through a peace process in 1998)” in CHT by a courageous team of our army. The “Junior Tiger’s” Carried out the ambush back in October 1989 in general area of lama Chari under Chagra Upazilla (equivalent to Thana), Rangamati.

2. Background

Lama Chari is located near Barmachari Bazaar of Ghagra Upazilla, Of Rangamati Hill District. The Terrain was inaccessible and there was no military camp around that place. Hardly few patrols of security elements would visit that area unless an inter-regional operation (in between two Brigade Area of responsibility) was planned. Almost about two months before the ambush it was informed by the soureces (people employed to gather intelligence by security forces) that two armed group of SBs visited Barmachari and and returned to their own camp after collecting tolls by midday. The area being located in between two zones {A specified area of responsibility for a Security force Unit in (CHT) i.e. Manikchari and Ghagra Zone} remained mostly unnoticed from the surveillance of either of the Zones. This ultimately made the area a sanctuary for the SB’s.

3. Gathering of Information

Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier General) Shah Md. Sultan Uddin Iqbal, BP, psc Commanding Officer (CO) of ” Junior Tigers” was the Zone Commander of Manikchari (two months before opertion), as the information came in, without wasting time the CO activated all his intelligence sources pertinent to that area. In the process, relevant information was confirmed from three different sources. After doing necessary crosschecks, the CO decided to conduct an ambush operation on the target. Therefore, he assigned three sources to collect further information. He ensured that the sources are kept separate and worked individually. Compartmentalization was exclusively required to maintain secrecy. The sources had been at Lama Chari a number of times to gather information. It took about two months for CO to collect the details and complete the mosaic. Salient points of the informaion gathered are as follows:

a)         Total number of armed SBs were twelve (eight used to be in the 1st group and four were in the 2nd group)

b)         SBs used to come from Barapara area, north-eastern corner of Barmachari Bazaar.

c)         The SBs used to enter the village between timeline 0700 bours to 0800 hours in the morning and return by mid-day

d)         Gonoline (a popular method of using human chain for passing for information by SB’s) used to come half an hour prior to the SB’s arrival. They used to pass on information about security elements before any incidents.

e)         The average height of Lama Chari hills was two hundred to two hundred fifty feet.

f)         One of hte most likely ambush site was a small thatched hut used for toll Collection located at the north-eastern corner of the area.

g.         There was an alternative track available, which headed towards the area besides Fatikehari-Lama Chari track.

h)         There was an unauthorized timber extraction route from CHT to Rangamatia of Fatikehari Upazila.

4. Preparation and Plan

a)         To avoid Gonoline (the SB intelligence people) and to achieve complete surprise, the partrol was planned to be lifted by a civil truck covered by commonly used canvas from launching pad (Manikehari) to the debussing (the place of disembarkation) point. To ensure secrecy and save time, rehearsal was carried out for a number of times at the unit area

b)         Movements of troops/routine patrol from the nearest camps (towards the target area) were kept normal and the ambush was planned to be launched from far-flung (from the target) camp following inaccessible route. Since the area was under Ghagra Zone (out of CO 2nd East Bengal Area of responsibility), the patrol was mastered from Manikchari Zone HQ, far away from target area, These demanded more deliberate information about the route to the target area and more detail preparation in maintaining secrecy.

c)         Prior to final execution, two sources believed to be trust worthy, were kept in the Camp for three days (prior to D-day) under close supervision of Battalion Regimental Police Sergeant Major. The sources were kept in a confined area separately so that one could not divulge any information to other.

d)         The CO seleted the day for the ambush at his own discretion. In doing so there was no suspicion of putting the security forces into danger by the sources. Besides, the source accompanied the patrol (along with the route of COs choosing) to reduce the susceptibility of being indentified or avoid any counter ambush by SB.

e)         The ambush was planned to be conducted by an ‘A’ type patrol (which ineluded three officers the CO, Captain Mozammel and Captain Zia and 27 soldiers with appropriate rank structures) commanded by CO himself. The patrol was further sub-divided into three Sub-groups. According to the plan, the CO delivered his verbal order (Operational Order) at Manikchari on a comperhensive model equipped with all relevant inputs. Deliberate briefing was done to make all individuals understand his responsibility to accomplish the mission. The ambush was planned in three phases:

1) 1st Phase: Move to ambush site in three legs in diffierent transport modes:

(a)        Move by millitary vehicle from Manikchari camp to Amtali (a place of entry from Chittagong to Guimara Zone then to Khagrachari Zone).

(b)        Move by canvas covered Civil three ton vehicle from Amtali to Rangamatia via Fatikchari.

(c)        Bare foot six hours walk from Rangamatia to the ambush site. This was done to hide boot print.

(2)        2nt Phase: Conduct of Ambush.

(3)        3rd Phase: Return to the camp.

5. Move to Ambush site

In the dark headed by the CO, the ambush party setoff at 2000 hours on 30 Octobers 89. The party reached Amtali bi military vehicle at around 2100 hours. All the military vehicles were kept hidden under trees at Amtali, while communication with Battalion Headquartedr was established by erecting the antenna on a long bamboo top. Instruction was passed to maintain strict secrecy on the wireless. All accompanying wireless sets were instructed to send the emergency message by pressing the wireless hand set. At Amtali, the ambush party quickly boarded the civil truck as was rehearsed before. Not to divulge his identity the CO himself covered with an old bed sheet, and sat beside the truck driver (as if he is the helper of the vehicle). The rest of the troops including the officers boarded the truck silently (the rear portion of the truck was covered with canvas cloth). Military vehicles were left behind at Amtali under the custody of Regimental Medical officer (RMO) Captain Kamal. In case of emergency, he was instructed to move towards Kutubchari Tea Garden, The civil truck with patrol party successfully crossed the hilly terrain and the crowded areas (like Fatikchari Bazaar) Just like a truck carrying forest wood without causing curiosity among the pedestrians/people around markets. Having dressed in civil cloth, OC of Manikchari police station (with his motor bike) helped the truck to cross Fatikchari Bazaar area. The patrol party reached Rangamatia around 2245 hours at night. At Rangunia, the patrol Quickly got off from the truck and gathered around Rangamatia Dargah Sharif. From there they moved bare footed (as boot mark would leave a trace for SB Gonoline to know about presence of security elements). All the members displayed utmost patience and they took unimaginable hardship throughout the walk (with their foot bleeding while crossing the rough hilly terrain), finally reached the target area in approximately six hours.

6. Conduct of Ambush

a. Occupation of ambush site

(1) On reaching the target area, Captain Mozammel with his security party made the confirmatory reconnaissance of the target area and appraised the CO about the place of Ambush. The CO observed in the light of thunder and incessant rain that the hills were located just in reverse order contrary to the description of the source. As such the CO had to give quick verbal order to the group based on the ground situation. After securing the target area, all parties occupied their positions. It was raining throughout the night with frequent thunders, which became heavier at later part of the night. Occupations of Ambush positions by various parties were very tough thereby making the operation more challenging.

(2) There was a track from northeast passing through the tribal para and ‘Kiang Ghar’ leading to Barmachari, passing through the venue of toll collection. One of the SB Groups used to follow this track to reach Lama Chari. CO envisaged this to be the obvious route of entry for the SB’s and therefore, he placed his action party (the party responsible to carry out the major Ambush task) on the top of the hill around 100 feet higher than the surrounding facing the entry point. Captain Zia, being the covering party (party responsible for safe extrication of the main party) commander occupied position with his group on the western side of toll collection venue A (right side of CO’s) Action Party) while Captain Mozammel, Blocking party commander, occupied position at the hill (behind the position occupied by the CO). Captain Mozammel was additionally responsible to establish observation post (OP) and ensure rearward security of the action group.

 

3. As it was raining during the occupation some of the winding scrub/small tree got damaged during climbing the hill (although all were careful to keep the surrounding as it was). The damages were made up (as far as possible) and holes were made through the bushes to have requisite field of fire ie holes to engage the target (without disturbing the nature). All these arrangements could hide the presence of ambush party and avoid ‘Gonoline’ suspicion. Sergeant Ruhul Amin (later Hony Capt) an Indonesia trained commando did the necessary work.

b. Execution of Ambush

1) All the parties of ambush kept on waiting at their own positions with full alertness and patience. Once the day light started coming up, the CO further checked the area of fire of every group and had the final coordination. At this time four male and femele members of ‘Gonoline’ were seen taking up positions at various vantage points. The ambush party had to lie down to keep themselves under cover of forest trees for at least till the SB’s arrival. The moment was really grueling. As luck would have it, a ‘Gonoline’ member from the nearby village spotted a member of the ambush party (of captain Mozammel). The individual was immediately taken into custody (silently) without the notice of others. He was gagged and made to sit with the party till the execution of the ambush.

2)This occurrence really put the ambush party in risk of being indentified at any time from then. After the long waiting, at around 0715 hours first group of eight armed members of SB were seen approaching towards the market through the track beside ‘Kiang Ghar’. Captain Mozammel sent the message of approaching of SB to the CO by knocking on the wireless set. The armed Group of SB’s entered in to the ambush site at 0730 hours. The Second group consisting of four was yet to come, at this Lt Col Iqbal decided not to wait for the second group. In his quick decision making process, he considered the following point.

a)         The extent of ambush site.

b)         Presence of people in bazzar area.

c)         Size and number of SB group.

d)         Probability of being identified before the execution.

e)         Avoid death of any unarmed civil people.

3) The CO opened up with his Chinese SMG. The sound of firearms of the CO started roaring breaking the silence of the hills. With sudden fire the SB’s was taken by complete surprise. They were totally disoriented and disorganized. Some of them were hit at the very first shot. rest of them tried to run away quickly out of the site opening fire towards the ambush parties. some could dash down and return the fire. Firing continued for some more time and by then Sergeant Bari got injured by SB’s fire. At that pick of the moment, CO took up the megaphone to bring the situation under control.

4) After estabishing control over the entire area, three dead bodies of SB’s were found and two SB members were arrested. Five sophisticated fire arms (including Czechoslovaks Assault Rifles) and huge amount of ammunitions were recovered from them. Member of Gonoline who was detained by the patrol was set free as a good gesture to the people of that area. As the health condition of Sergeant Bari was quickly deteriorating, priority was given for quick evacuation of Sergeant Bari. Battalion Headquarters informed that an MI-8 helicopter was coming for the reseue of sergeant Bari.

7. Return to Camp

Lt Col Iqbal (the CO) ordered Captain Mozammel to start for Kutubchari Tea garden to evacuate injured sergeant Bari. At the same time he ordered RMO Captain Kamal to come to Kutubchari Tea Garden. Meanwhile while falling back CO ordered Captain Zia (commander of one of the subgroups) to ensure the rearward security of the patrol party. The CO further ensured security of the patrol by positioning himself in the middle of the party. The return path was so densely vegetated that the CO had to open fire frequently on both flanks (to avoid being counter ambushed by SBS) The first MI-8 helicopter sent by the local division failed to land due to lack of landing ground. The patrol took two hours of quick walk and run to reach Rangamatia Tea Garden. Captain Mozammel showing an example of comradeship carried injured Sergeant Bari on his shoulder for long two hours. Major Rabbani (Later Brigadier General), second in command of the Junior Tiger’s landed at Aatikchari college from Manikchari by another MI-8 helifopter to evacuate injured Sergeant Bari. The noble soldier of Junior Tigers died just after the helicopter took off (Inna Lillahe… Wa Inna ilai he rajeun) for Chittagong CMH. Patrol returned to Manikchari Zone HQ at around 1230 hours the following day. As a result of the success of the operation, two members (The CO Lt Col Iqbal and Shaheed Sergeant Bari) of JUNIOR TIGERS were conferred with national gallantry award of “Bir Protik” and other two were given “CAS Commendation” This added another glorious chapter to the crimson gleaming history of the Junior Tigers-who were one of the fore runners of snatching the victory from Pakistan occupation forces during the 1971 War of Independence

8. Conclusion

The achievement of “Junior Tigers” in the above operation is not the only success in the history of “Junior Tiger” but also a success story of our army in ‘CHT Episode’. Our military commander’s valuable strategic insight, timely decisions, knowing the root cause of the counter insurgency problem made the insurgents totally inactive. Close monitoring of insurgent activities, making them isolated from the people and external supply sources, and finally by winning the heart and mind of tribal and non-tribal people compelled SB’s to give up their armed struggle. Today’s peaceful CHT is a clear testimony of the sacrifices made by our valiant soldiers. The democratically elected Government was quick to put an end to this episode by signing the peace treaty with the insurgent leadership. The fruit of which we are enjoying today. Now it’s time for the veterans of CHT counter-insurgency operations to contribute in preparing a comprehensive history of CHT episode so that our next generation learns from our deeds and performance. This will also make our Army prepared better for any future eventualities. All members of Bangladesh Army are ever vigilant to safeguard the sovereignty of Bangladesh when ever the clarion call for sacrifice comes.