Counter-Terrorism: Surge In Thailand


August 19,2008:  A Thai-style surge campaign, and change in counter-insurgency strategy, has lead to more than 50 percent reduction in violence in the first 6 months of 2008. Terrorism over the previous 4 years was threatening to get out of control, with some areas becoming no-go zone areas.

In 2004, there was a dramatic upsurge in the violence perpetrated by Islamic terrorists in the three southern provinces ("Deep South") of Thailand which border Malaysia. The population of these three provinces is 1.8 million and Muslims make up around 75% of the population whereas the rest of Thailand is 95% Buddhist. 

From January 2004 until December 2007 there had been average of 160 terrorist incidents (assassinations, bombings etc) per month in the Deep South, but this reduced significantly to less than 60 incidents per month in the first 6 months of 2008. The number of killed or injured had gradually increased from 120 per month in 2004 to 200 a month in 2007, but this has halved to 100 per month in the first 6 months of 2008.

The dramatic drop in terrorist incidents and number killed or injured did not happen immediately after the military staged a coup in September 2006. The coup leader was mainly concerned about the return of the deposed democratic government and diverted resources and attention away from the Deep South to the capital Bangkok. The military budget almost doubled, but this was mainly spent on traditional military purchases like new Swedish Gripen fighter jets which were of little use in the Deep South. The result by the middle of 2007 was an increase in violence with 72 people being killed per month compared with 53 before the coup.

Nevertheless, after the coup, there had been a continued increase in troop numbers, raids and detention of suspected terrorists, and a more consistent security policy compared with what existed under the deposed government which was known for its hard line approach. However, it was not until a new army chief (the coup leader reached retirement age in September) was appointed in October 2007 that we saw a greater increase in numbers. There are now over 100,000 security personnel in the Deep South.

The main reason for the drop in the violence was a change in counter-insurgency strategy with a more unified command structure. No longer were security personnel confined to the barracks and being on the defensive. Patrols became more regular and larger in number. As most of the terrorists operate in cells of 8 or less, the increased number of troops on patrols has meant that when the security forces have been ambushed, they have the numbers to fight back. For example, in May 2008, there were 18 ambushes on such patrols, but security forces only suffered one casualty and 8 injuries. On the other hand, the security forces themselves killed 25 terrorists in the first 6 months of 2008.

Raids with hundreds of personnel were also conducted in major terrorist strongholds and areas where cordoned off while houses and people were searched. Instead of arbitrarily detaining large numbers of villagers for 7 days at a military base for questioning and then for months at re-education camps, forensic equipment was now used to test for explosive residue and fingerprints were checked on the spot. Those who were not involved were released which has lead to better relations with the local community. Tip-offs started to increase and security forces now regularly find caches of weapons and training camps on raids.

Whether a corner has been turned or the progress can be maintained is still open to question, but there is no doubt there has been a dramatic drop in the violence. -- Bangkok Pundit


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