Dibrugarh, July 2: After scouring the jungles of Lakhipathar for Ulfa militants continuously for nine days, the army today called off its biggest hunt since Operation Bajrang in 1990 by citing inclement weather and a shortage of manpower for other operations.
Lakhipathar, in Tinsukia district of Upper Assam, was the banned Ulfa’s general headquarters before the army overran the area 13 years ago.
The decision to call off its new operation there after just nine days was announced amid speculation that the Ulfa squad that was presumed to be hiding in the area had escaped to another location.
The operation had been launched on June 24, a day after the Ulfa squad ambushed an army convoy in Lakhipathar. The same group of militants had attacked an Oil India Ltd installation at Nagajan, also in Tinsukia district, 48 hours earlier. The rebels killed two Central Industrial Security Force personnel deployed at the oil-collecting station.
An army spokesman said over phone from Laipuli, the headquarters of the 181 Mountain Brigade, that troops withdrew from the jungles of Lakhipathar this afternoon. “The operation was called off at 5 pm,” he said.
Another official said the army could not have continued the anti-Ulfa offensive in Lakhipathar indefinitely because of the possibility of militants striking elsewhere while forces focused on that area. He claimed the deployment of at least 1,000 personnel there had affected patrolling in other areas.
The official said intercepted Ulfa wireless messages indicated that the outfit was planning to target vital installations in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts in the next couple of weeks.
Apart from a manpower shortage, the army cited the worsening flood situation as one of the reasons for bringing the curtains down on the operation. “Forces will be required if the flood situation in both Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts worsens further,” the official said.
Nearly 1,000 soldiers drawn from different army units stationed in Tinsukia district had been deployed in Lakhipathar.
Sources said the 20-odd Ulfa militants who had taken shelter in the jungles of Lakhipathar fled before the army cordoned off the area. However, the army spokesman declined to say if the armed forces think-tank in Tinsukia district believed the militants were still there. “We have no comment to make on this,” he said.
The Ulfa had established its general headquarters in the interiors of Lakhipathar and its council headquarters in the adjoining Saraipung forest reserve in the early Eighties. The outfit’s commander-in-chief, Paresh Barua, and its arrested general secretary, Anup Chetia, personally supervised the process.