Details of that visit from the Americans
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 KATHMANDU 000787
LONDON FOR POL/RIEDEL
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2012
TAGS: PGOV PTER PREL PHUM ASEC NP
SUBJECT: INTO THE MAOIST HEARTLAND – COUNTERINSURGENCY BY
THE BOOK IN ROLPA DISTRICT
REF: KATHMANDU 377
Classified By: Amb. M.E. Malinowski, Reasons 1.5 (b), (d).
¶1. (S) Summary. Emboffs joined Royal Nepalese Army (RNA)
Western Division Commander on an inspection tour of newly
established garrisons in Rolpa district, considered the
Maoist heartland. The tour coincided with the deployment of
the PACOM assessment team to the Rolpa battalion
headquarters. Two RNA task forces have completed sweeps
through eastern and northern Rolpa, leaving joint Army, Armed
Police and civil police garrisons to restore security in the
major towns. This bold incursion, to be followed by similar
sweeps through adjacent Maoist districts represents the right
strategy, but operational and logistical challenges abound.
RNA operations suffer from a lack of good boots as well as a
shortage of manpower. Additional arms and ammunition would
not be effective without good boots, the RNA commander for
western Nepal insisted. Emboffs interviewed two captured
Maoist leaders who described the insurgents’ tactics. After
recent attacks in Dang, RNA efforts to respond were hindered
when the Maoists felled trees across the highways and set
fires to reduce visibility for helicopters. Although the
monsoon will have a negative effect on the RNA’s mobility,
the Maoists will face the same obstacles. Morale was high in
the garrisons, and the response from the citizenry positive.
Army Taking Back Rolpa
¶2. (S) A/DCM and Pol/Miloff accompanied Major General Sadeep
Shah, Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) Western Division Commander,
on an April 15 tour of Rolpa district. The tour joined up
with the PACOM assessment team in the Rolpa district capital
of Liwang. Shah and Emboffs also visited newly established
garrisons in the district. The RNA had just completed two
task force sweeps through northern and eastern Rolpa, one of
five districts long referred to as the Maoist heartland. In
their wake, the RNA established a permanent presence in the
district capital, Liwang, and in three other towns.
Remote Areas Pose a Challenge
¶3. (S) General Shah and Emboffs met up with the PACOM
assessment team at Liwang, which also serves as battalion
headquarters. The garrisons Emboffs visited were well sited
and well entrenched, suggesting that the RNA has learned from
past mistakes such as the poor defenses at the district
capital in Accham, overrun by the Maoists in February
(Reftel). Daily patrols reach beyond the ridgeline and
nighttime observation posts provide early warning
capabilities. (Note: The terrain is referred to as “The
Hill-Country”, but “Hill” must be taken in the context of a
country which boasts the world’s highest mountains.) The
garrison towns in Rolpa are in deep, narrow valleys along
riverbeds. The surrounding ridges and mountains rise up to
12,000 feet, and the slopes are forty degrees on average.
The centuries-old battle of terraces versus landslides
continues, at least in these recovered valleys. Footpath and
helicopter are the only ways in or out. The new garrisons
remain small and widely separated, and therefore vulnerable
to Maoist concentration.
Garrisons Established in Joint Operations
¶4. (S) General Shah has taken joint operations to heart.
Each population center has been garrisoned with a combined
force of RNA, Armed Police Force (APF), and Nepal Police
personnel. Civil-Military Operations are assisted by the
presence of the Chief District Officer (CDO) in Liwang and
the attempted re-establishment of ward councils. Schools and
health clinics have reopened despite severe resource
constraints. Within the patrol range of the garrisons – but
outside the garrisoned valleys – the steeply terraced fields
were being tilled, though the land remained depopulated. The
newly-garrisoned centers are peopled by the elderly and young
women with children; young men and boys have reportedly fled
the district to avoid being conscripted by the Maoists.
Rations are brought in for the garrisons to prevent the
depletion of the townspeople’s modest food supply, and the
RNA is providing the health centers with medical supplies
from its own stocks.
More Sweeps Planned
¶5. (S) In thorough briefings and a detailed explanation of
the situation map at Division Headquarters in Nepalgunj April
14, General Shah and his staff outlined their plans. The two
recent task force sweeps through eastern Rolpa would be
followed immediately by two more task force sweeps that will
establish garrisons in western Rolpa. Other districts in the
Maoist heartland – Rukum, Pyuthan, and Surkhet – will follow
in succession. Each task force comprises over three hundred
men moving in multiple columns carrying 72 hours of rations.
Rations are replenished by helicopter at an increasing number
of landing zones cleared on hilltops throughout the area of
RNA: It’s the Boots
¶6. (S) General Shah made very clear that while he desperately
wants to re-equip his units with M-16A-2 rifles, his greatest
need is for boots. After shoes, good quality uniforms are
his second priority, and medical supplies third. Arms then
come fourth. Shah did not raise the issue of helicopters,
but when prompted stated that their primary usefulness to him
would be for re-supply and casualty evacuation. Shah stated
that M-16s would be only marginally useful without boots to
get the firepower where he needs it. Shah and his staff
reiterated that their biggest challenge is the “paucity of
troops.” Nevertheless, Shah has compressed the training
cycle for new recruits under his command so that they can
relieve static troops as soon as possible.
Captured Maoists Interviewed
¶7. (S) Shah allowed Emboffs to interview two captured Maoist
leaders who have agreed to provide information to the RNA.
The former Maoists gave detailed accounts of their assaults,
relating how they concentrated in nearby villages where they
were not necessarily welcome and used untrained and unarmed
villagers to fill out the ranks and provide human shields for
the armed cadre. When asked how the Maoists were instructed
to treat villagers, one said that they had been admonished
not to take “even needle and thread” from the people, but to
participate in village life and help till the fields.
However, he continued, in most cases by the time he and his
comrades reached a village they would be far too tired to do
anything but eat the villagers’ food and sleep.
Readout on Dang Attack: RNA’s Reaction Capability Lacking
¶8. (S) With multiple exposed garrisons and a “paucity of
troops,” Shah is hard-pressed to reinforce or relieve
positions under sudden siege, he explained. Relief columns
sent to the assistance of the recently overrun APF post at
Satbaria, Dang district, had to travel hours overland.
Moreover, Maoists had hampered their progress with trees
felled across the road and boulders strewn across bridges. A
helicopter, launched at night to provide more ammunition to
the defenders, could not locate the position because of the
dark and the smoke from fires set by the Maoists.
¶9. (S) Shah was able to set up blocking positions at choke
points six and twelve hours’ march away from the attack site.
The RNA succeeded in ambushing the Maoists best-trained and
best-armed “First Platoon” two days after the attack. Rather
than immediately fleeing the area, this platoon moved into a
village and locked everyone inside their houses. After two
days they commandeered a bus and drove brazenly down Nepal’s
main east-west highway, right into an alert RNA roadblock.
The small unit at the roadblock spotted the Maoists, in
battle regalia and with a light machine gun on the hood of
the bus, and opened fire, killing seventeen. The rest of the
platoon fled into the jungle.
Monsoon to Affect Both Sides
¶10. (S) The arrival of the monsoon in mid-June will affect
operations, Shah speculated. Clear weather for the few
helicopters will be limited. Shah intends to overcome this
by significantly increasing the stocks of rations and
ammunition at the many garrisons. He points out, however,
that the monsoon will affect the Maoists as well. Their
movement will be restricted to the main trails and they will
not be able to cross the four great rivers coursing down from
the Himalayas in spate. Shah believes the RNA, at least in
his area of operations, will have the advantage, provided
they have the boots and M-16s that will give them a decided
edge over their opponents
Morale Up, But Trouble Expected
¶11. (S) Morale among the RNA, Armed Police Force (APF) and
Nepal Police appeared high, in part because of the presence
of the Americans. Even Rolpa’s Chief District Officer (CDO)
was positive despite the fact that Liwang has been without
electricity or phone service for the last four months, and he
exerts little control and has no resources. There was a
general sense, here and at the smaller and more isolated town
of Thawang, that the GON is doing it right and winning back
towns and people from the Maoists. Needless to say, all the
garrisons expect to be attacked, as the Maoists cannot afford
to let these initially successful incursions by the GON stand.
¶12. (S) The PACOM assessment team’s report will provide a
much more complete analysis of RNA operations and
requirements. It is clear, however, that the Western
Division Commander is applying a proven formula to combat the
armed insurgency. Resource limitations may spell the
difference between victory and defeat in the Maoist
heartland. If security can be established, the GON will have
the opportunity to deliver services and win back hearts and
minds. Donor assistance will be important at that stage.
The RNA’s designs aside, the Maoists cannot disregard this
attack at their very roots.