Raids aim for psychological impact
Coordinated assaults on bases a fairly rare tacticSeparatist attempts to overrun military bases in the deep South, like the one that occurred yesterday morning in Narathiwat's Bacho district, are rare. Most attacks involve roadside bombings, ambushes on patrolling troops or point-blank shootings of victims suspected of spying.
Some coordinated and simultaneous attacks, while not necessarily a key feature of the conflict in this region, have also been employed and tend to result in physical damage.
Like the arson attacks on CCTV cameras across the region in January, or the planting of hundreds of Malaysian flags in August 2012, coordinated and simultaneous operations usually involve small bands of insurgents carrying out attacks on various targets at the same time. Such operations often have a major psychological impact on the general public and force policy makers to rush into damage-control mode or provoke them into knee-jerk reactions.
In an attack in April 2009 in Yala, scores of paramilitary Ranger outposts came under simultaneous attack across the province.
Often, insurgents use grenade launchers to attack remote outposts, mainly to antagonise the troops but not engage in full battle.
But events like yesterday's attempt to overrun a military installation by scores of militants are rare, mainly because of the time needed for planning and to bring militants from different cells together.
Perhaps the most famous such incident was the January 4, 2004 arms heist at a military base in Narathiwat's Rangae district, in which militants made off with about 300 pieces of weapons after killing four soldiers.
The attack was significant because it forced the government to admit that a new generation of Malay-Muslim insurgents had effectively resurfaced in the region. Bangkok could not deny the political underpinning of the attack.
Another significant incident that captured international attention was on April 28, 2004, in which well over 100 men attacked 10 police outposts and one station with little more than machetes.
An attack by insurgents - about 30 in all - took place on January 19, 2011, also in Narathiwat's Rangae district. The incident resulted in the killing of four soldiers, including a captain. Insurgents made off with about 60 pieces of military weaponry after torching some of the installations, including an interrogation centre, inside the camp.
In March 2012, an estimated 50 insurgents attacked a remote military outpost in Bacho district with M79 grenade launchers, wounding 12 soldiers after a 20-minute gunfight. In nearby Rangae district, a small band of militants overtook a Ranger outpost and made off with seven weapons after killing two Rangers. Most of the simultaneous attacks on military bases in the border provinces have been carried out in the evening.
What made yesterday's attempt in Bacho district different was the fact that the operation was foiled by security forces, who were said to have been tipped off. It ended in the deaths of 16 insurgents.
Marine Captain Somkiat Polprayoon, commander of the Marines in Narathiwat, estimated the number of insurgents at about 30. He dismissed suggestions that the Marine Company had been tipped off by informants.
"My men are always posted outside the camp perimeter. We are always prepared," he said.
Authorities immediately went into a mop-up operation to look for the remaining insurgents who had fled the area after the gunfight, which lasted for about an hour. At least two villages in the district were sealed off and residents were told to stay put as the authorities carried out searches. Roadblocks along the way heading to and from the area were heavily guarded.