Fortnightly Review & Analysis: Defence, National Security and Terrorism (Vol 1 Issue XII)

(December 01-15, 2016)


This fortnight’s FRA on Defence & National Security covers PLA delegation’s visits to Pakistan and India, conduct of Military Exercises by PLA’s Western Theater Command and China’s latest Anti Satellite Test.

PLA Delegation visits Pakistan and India

Gen Zhao Zongqi, commander of the Chinese PLA Western Theater Command and his delegation visited Pakistan and India during the past fortnight.

During his visit to Pakistan, General Zhao Zongqi, commander of China's People's Liberation Army, visited the General Headquarters and called on Chief of the Pakistan Army Staff, General Qamar Bajwa. During the meeting, matters related to regional security were believed to have been discussed. It is also reported that Gen Bajwa reaffirmed the Pakistan Army's unwavering support towards the CPEC security.

On his subsequent visit to India, Gen. Zhao held meetings and talks with senior Indian military officials to include Gen Dalbir Singh, Chief of the Indian Army Staff. Both sides exchanged views on mil-to-mil relations between the two countries to include cooperation between the PLA Western Theater Command and the Indian Defence forces.

The two sides also agreed to jointly implement the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries and work towards making positive contributions in maintaining healthy and stable relations between the two countries.

PLA Western Theater undertakes Military Exercises

China's People's Liberation Army undertook military exercises in the western region of Xinjiang. The exercise involved the PLA's Western Theater Command which is now responsible for the entire India-China border. As per the state run People’s Daily “Over 10,000 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Xinjiang Military Area Command participated in a defensive drill in a mountainous area rising over 4,000 meters above sea level in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”.

While some perceive this as an exercise aimed at pressurising India to relent on the stance taken post the Uri attack, the same may not be the case. This is so as it has to be borne in mind that post the formation of the Western Theater Command as a part of the PLA’s Military Modernisation, no exercises till the present one have been reported to have been undertaken by the said Theater Command. Thus the present exercise and others to follow should be seen as ‘validation exercises’ being undertaken by the newly formed Western Theater Command. What though would be interesting to note are the lessons that the Western Theater Command is seeking to validate.

China’s Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Test

If reports emanating from The Washington Free Beacon are to be believed China is preparing to conduct another anti-satellite test. According to Pentagon officials quoted in the said report, China has been reported to be undertaking test preparations for the Dong Neng (DN)-3 anti-satellite missile at a military facility in central China. In addition to this, Asia watcher Henri Kenhmann has also predicted on his website ‘’ that the said missile tests were expected to be undertaken from the PLA’s satellite launch facility known as Jiuquan, located in Inner Mongolia, and a second launch complex at Korla, located in Xinjiang, Western China.

After Beijing came under international criticism following a 2007 anti-satellite missile test that left thousands of pieces of floating debris in space, it began conducting its anti-satellite missile program under the cover of its missile defense system. Thus, China’s ballistic missile defense and anti-satellite missile programs are closely intertwined. Due to this, China’s ASAT tests are shrouded in secrecy. As per existing reports, the last time that China supposedly tested a DN-3 anti-satellite missile was 30 Oct 2015.

Despite China’s denials of having undertaken ASAT tests, the United States has emphatically claimed that it has done so. While the veracity of China having undertaken ASAT test is open to debate, it is largely understood that continued development and testing of ASAT systems is destabilizing for the long-term security and sustainability of outer space environment. In view of the same, there is an inescapable necessity of ascertaining whether the Chinese ASAT tests which were scheduled to be held on the 07/08 Dec are a fact or a fiction.

National Security

Yasin Bhatkal, four other Terrorists Convicted by NIA Court

The National Investigating Agency (NIA) Court on December 13, 2016, convicted five Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists including Yasin Bhatkal for their involvement in Dilsukhnagar blasts of 2013 in Hyderabad in which 18 people lost their lives and 131 were injured in the horrific incident that occurred on February 21, 2013. The quantum of punishment will be pronounced on December 19, 2016. This is said to be the first ever conviction of an Indian Mujahideen terrorists.

Yasin Bhatkal, one of the conspirator of these blasts, was arrested in 2013 and prosecuted under Arms Act and Unlawful Assembly (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Bhatkal was wanted for his involvement in a series of terror attacks in cities like Ahmedabad, Surat, Bangalore, Pune, Delhi and Hyderabad. The IM had been earlier banned on June 22, 2009 as it was involved in November 2007 blasts in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow bomb blasts in 2006, the Mumbai serial blasts of July 11, 2006 and the Hyderabad twin blasts of August 25, 2007. Besides these, Jaipur blast of May 13, 2008, Ahmedabad serial blasts of July 26, 2008, the September 13, 2008 serial blasts in Delhi, Pune’s German Bakery blast in February 2010, the Chinnaswami Stadium blast in Bangalore on April 17, 2010 and the Mumbai serial blasts of July 13, 2011 were also allegedly carried out by IM.

The NIA and FBI Discuss Indian IS module

A team of FBI officials arrived in Kolkata (West Bengal), last week, to interrogate IS suspect Mohammad Masiuddin alias Musa, who was instructed by his handler to target foreigners particularly US nationals, behead them with machete and make videos of the act. In December 2015, the FBI had uncovered a plot involving American citizens to attack revellers on New Year’s Eve with machete and knives in the name of IS.

The masterminded of the New Year plot, Amriki, is assessed by the NIA to have also influenced Hyderabad resident Ibrahim Yazdani. NIA came to the conclusion while investigating IS inspired terror cases in India that Abu Isa al Amriki had set his eyes on India for recruitment of young Muslims. This was based on similarities of modus of operandi employed by Al Amriki in least two instances, Hyderabad module involving five men and a case of a lone wolf in Kolkata.FBI however, clarified that Amriki was not a US national but a Sudanese national and was wanted in the US in New York case. FBI has agreed to keep a close look out for al Amriki and coordinate its efforts with the NIA on the Indian IS related cases.

Union Home Ministry Warns United Naga Council over Blockade in Manipur

The Union Home Ministry issued a stern warning on December 12, 2016 to United Naga Council (UNC) for its continuing economic blockade of National Highway (NH) 37, in Naga dominated region in Manipur. The Ministry also directed the Manipur government to act with responsibility and maturity to ensure maintenance of supplies in the state and law and order. The situation has become is fairly complex due to combined effect of demonitisation drive and ongoing blockade, which has created consequent shortage of essential commodities badly affecting the daily life of the people of the state. The Ministry of Home affairs (MHA) has made it clear that Govt of India is committed to ensuring that the routes to Manipur are open and remains accessible to all including supplies of petroleum products, and other essential commodities including food articles. The Central Government has placed 15 companies of Central Forces at the disposal of the State Government.

Eight Myanmar Militants Arrested in Mizoram

In a joint operation of Mizoram Police and Assam Rifles, eight suspected Myanmarese militants were arrested on December 08, 2016 in raids conducted in militant hideouts located along the Indo-Myanmar border. The eight militants belong to the Arakan Liberation Army (ARA) which is a major insurgent group of Myanmar. Huge catches of weapons seized included one Lathode Grenade Launcher, one 7.62mm Assault Rifle, one 5.56mm M-16 Rifle, one M-11 Assault Rifle, one G-3 Rifle, ten Lathode grenades, two Chinese-made hand grenades, 237 rounds of 5.56mm M-16 ammunition, 176 rounds of AK-56 ammunition, 92 rounds of G-3 ammunition, five M-16 magazines, two AK-56 magazines, two M-11 magazines, a binocular and two hand-held radio sets. The militants were charged in Saiha district court under Indian passport Act and Arms Act.

In a similar action, Assam Rifles arrested two Myanmar nationals near India-Myanmar border area in Mizoram on December 10 and recovered 10 sophisticated weapons which includes six AK 47 rifles, 12 magazines and Rs.10 lakh in foreign currency.

International Terrorism

Palmyra Recaptured by Daesh

In what could be considered as a major blow to the efforts to defeat the Daesh, the historic city of Palmyra in Syria’s Eastern Homs Province was recaptured by the terrorist outfit on 11 December. This conquest had come about following the withdrawal of Syria’s pro-regime forces, and marks the “first seizure of a major urban city centre by Daesh in Iraq and Syria” since Daesh captured it in May 2015. The Daesh fighters had conducted several offensive campaigns, beginning 8th December in order to recapture this strategically located Syrian city. In doing so, the outfit also seized a few oil and natural gas fields nearby regime-held areas as well some important positions in the mountains which would give them ‘a better view of the city’. Available sources mentioned that Russia and Iran withdrew their “garrisons” as their outer line of defense began to be weaken. Thereafter, only ill-trained and poorly equipped forces from National Defense Forces took control of the city and they were not able to prevent the city from falling into the hands of the terror outfit. The immediate concern arising out of the re-capture is the fear over the possible destruction of magnificent historical ruins. The city, which was once a Silk Route hub and presently one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world, is known for its housing of several well-preserved ruins of antiquity, including the famous Temple of Bell, whose construction dates back to the first century. What is interesting about the recapture is that it happened despite the continuous elimination of its top-level leaderships in both Syria and Iraq, and this somehow indicated the appetite of Daesh fighters to continue fighting wherever possible. As aptly expressed by a few experts, “The fall of Palmyra demonstrates ISIS’s sustained ability to command, control, and resource major operations as it mounts the defense of Mosul in Iraq and Ar-Raqqa City in Syria”.

It appeared that the Daesh took advantage of the ongoing fights between the regime and the opposition forces, particularly in Aleppo, to move deeper into other areas where security arrangements were poor. This episode signaled the inability of the Syrian forces to hold on territories recaptured from the outfit despite the backing from Russian airstrikes. It is also a strong message to the players involved in anti-Daesh military campaigns that activities of terrorists fled from liberated territories should be closely monitored and not be allowed to regroup.

Daesh’s Continuous Loss of Control in Libya

When ISIS, as an outfit, started to lose territories in its core epicenters—Iraq and Syria—from early 2015, Libya was widely discussed to be a fall back option for its so-called global “Caliphate” project. The outfit, in fact, carried out certain important activities, including mass beheadings, inside this country and increased its profile as an organization that remained committed to its ambition of establishing an Islamic State. However, owing to the continuous assault by the Libyan forces, with supports from the US airstrikes, the outfit began to lose its hold from most of the territories it used to control earlier. During early December, the Libyan forces could retake control of the last stronghold of Daesh in the country, that is, Sirte. This city along the Mediterranean coastline had come under its control in early 2015. The fight in this city has been going for months and the outfit’s snipers were found targeting the government forces. In this operation, too, the US airstrikes played a pivotal role and gave an upper hand to the Libyan partners.

The Daesh fighters, including some women, who were earlier taking refuge inside buildings, surrendered to the Libyan forces. During this period, several women carried out suicide attacks. The presence of families inside the city complicated the operations as importance was given to granting safe passage to them. The attempts made by DAESH commanders to flee the country using sea route, along with Tunisian fighters, were foiled and arrested subsequently. Amidst this development, what remains of concern is the uncertainty over the destination of the fleeing fighters.

Despite the loss of control in Sirte, there are other cities, namely Benghazi and Tripoli, where the outfit still enjoys support and, as a result, activities in these places need to be constantly monitored. At this moment, it will be untimely to write-off DAESH threat in Libya.

Terror Threats in the United States (US) and Europe

During the last fortnight of December, the US and Europe continued to have concerns over threats from terror groups. As widely discussed, the threat perceptions have increased manifold due to the involvement of the US and a few European Union (EU) countries in the ongoing anti-Daesh military operation in Syria and Iraq. Apart from the active members of outfits such as Daesh and Al-Qaeda, people who are highly radicalized, inspired and influenced by these groups are increasingly exhibiting their willingness to carry out attacks in these countries. The recent incident inside the campus of Ohio State University was considered to be one carried out by a student allegedly inspired by ISIS. The attacker, Abdul Razak Ali Artan, who is of Somalian origin, not only drove his car into pedestrians but also “slashed” people using butcher knife.

Daesh was quick in calling him a “soldier”, a common proclamation of the outfit for such lone activism. However, there was no immediate evidence to suggest his direct linkage with this terror outfit. Some of the attacks, if not all, happened to be carried out inspired people who are also driven by the outfit’s strong propaganda. In one of the recent editions of Daesh magazine, Rumiyah, the outfit laid significant importance on knife attacks by lone-actors and its operatives, particularly against the westerners in their heartlands. This particular incident, as a result, has reinforced the fear of the presence of such radicalized elements whose intentions are difficult to be detected.

Similar is the case in Europe where security officials have warned of either chemical attacks or car bombs. The Europol has also mentioned about such change of tactics as militants from Daesh strongholds are driven out from Syria and Iraq. Moreover, recruiters in Europe are increasingly looking at the refugees with an intention to radicalize them, which, in a way, would help in polarizing the population in the EU. If they succeed in this endeavor in a significant manner, Europe will continue to face the problem of radicalization which has become an inevitable ingredient for violent extremism.

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