Tuesday, March 17, 2009

If insurgents make noise in a forest, but no one hears....

Is there really an insurgency? If we're talking about Southern Thailand, the answer is a resounding yes. What they're after, however, is a different story altogether.

In the Pattani Province, a sort of 'ghost' insurgency has been causing a steady increase in violence and deaths from terrorist attacks since 2004. Pattani guerrilla groups existed long before, but what has emerged in the past 5 years is remarkably different. What exactly it is, no one knows.

What we do know is this: Attacks by Islamist actors, for overt religious regions, and not so clear nationalistic claims concerning the 500 year old Pattani Kingdom, have caused 3,300 hundred deaths in the past 5 years. Just last month, insurgents celebrated their 50th beheading. Pattani was an Islamic Kingdom absorbed by the Thais in 1908.

Unlike other Islamist groups, no one is really willing to claim responsibility. Insurgents emerge from the forest/jungle, kill motorists and disappear. Small bombs are set off to attract police, and when the police arrive, larger bombs kill them. They don't attack Western targets, in sharp contrast to Al-Qaeda with whom they are often, and incorrectly perhaps, linked.

The Thai government doesn't seem to have a clear handle on who the insurgents are and what they are after either. Since 2002, 3 prominent Thai politicians have given three different explanations for the violence. First, there was no insurgency, only armed bandits. Then, the U.S. in a crazed conspiracy, was behind the attacks. Most recently, in 2006, it was rumored they were former Communists.

There are no concrete demands associated with the attacks. Muslims in the area enjoy representation and participation in the political process. However, the Thai military, in response to the violence has violated core tenets of Counter-insurgency theory. They have singled out young Muslim males for being young Muslim males and beaten them. This video, showing the 2004 Tak Bai incident, served as a free recruitment tool which increased the separatists' numbers.

It is obvious Thailand is concerned about the increasingly out of control situation in Pattani. The Global Post reports the following military purchases by the Thai govt. in response to unrest in the province:

Six Russian Mi-17 V-5 attack helicopters: $9 million per chopper. Can be outfitted with laser-guided missile launchers and swiveling gun turrets. Carries up to 30 troops.

85 REVA III 4x4 armed personnel carriers: $310,000 per vehicle. Made in South Africa, this vehicle was designed with Iraqi conditions in mind. Can withstand rocket-propelled grenades and land mines. Uses smooth, rounded edges in vehicle body, which are less likely to blow apart than welded edges.

96 Ukrainian BTR-3E1 armed personnel carriers: $1.2 million per vehicle. Often confused for light tanks, the heavily armored, eight-wheeled vehicles pack a 30mm heavy-machine gun, 7.62mm machine gun and more.

15,000 Israeli TAR-21 assault rifles and 500 Negev light machine guns: $34.5 million. These sleek, modern-looking guns will replace aging M-16 stocks.

Further Reading: Insurgency in Thailand - Maj. Nicholas Vavich

Council on Foreign Relations

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