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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
02KATHMANDU2223
2002-11-22 09:56:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Kathmandu
Cable title:  

NEPAL: BRIGADE COMMANDER SAYS MAOISTS SLOWLY

Tags:  MARR MOPS MASS PGOV PTER NP 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 KATHMANDU 002223 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SA/INS
LONDON FOR POL - RIEDEL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/20/2012
TAGS: MARR MOPS MASS PGOV PTER NP
SUBJECT: NEPAL: BRIGADE COMMANDER SAYS MAOISTS SLOWLY
WINNING

REF: A. (A) KATHMANDU 379


B. (B) KATHMANDU 1741

Classified By: DCM ROBERT K. BOGGS. REASON: 1.5 (B,D).

-------
SUMMARY
--------



1. (C) At a briefing at 3rd Brigade Headquarters in Pokhara
November 20, Brig. Gen. Prakash Basnet told DATT and poloff
he believes the Maoists are "slowly winning." After making
significant inroads against the Maoists during the first
three months of the state of emergency (late
November-mid-February), the Army has since lost the upper
hand. The insurgents are better organized and more unified
than the Government of Nepal, and are manipulating "weak and
cowardly" elements within democratic society to push for
dialogue. Only the Maoists and the Army are working, in the
Brigade Commander's view; civilian government functions in
only about 20-30 percent of his area of operation. Basnet
said he lacks sufficient manpower and mobility to defeat the
Maoists and has received no resources to implement Integrated
Security and Development Program (ISDP) projects in his area.
End summary.



--------------------------


THE VIEW FROM THE WEST


--------------------------





2. (SBU) On November 20 DATT and poloff attended a briefing
offered by Brig. Gen. Prakash Basnet, Commander of the 3rd
Brigade headquartered in Pokhara (approx. 210 km northwest of
Kathmandu). Basnet's AOR covers more than 39,000 square
kilometers, includes 16 administrative districts, and is home
to 4.6 million Nepalis. The brigade is composed of three
infantry battalions; one engineering battalion; one
headquarters battalion; and seven independent infantry
companies, located at 61 different outposts. (Note:
Independent companies are nearly twice the size of battalion
companies, with 235 soldiers vice 135. End note.)



3. (C) Basnet said he believes the Maoists are "slowly
winning" the fight in his area. During the first three
months of the state of national emergency (Nov.
26-mid-February 2002), Basnet used helicopters to deploy his
troops in an aggressive campaign against Maoist insurgents in
the 16 districts in his AOR. The Maoists suffered serious
reverses as a result, Basnet asserted, and much of their
Central and some their Western Commands were shattered. The
tide turned after the Maoist assault on the district
headquarters in Achham on February 17, however, when the
Royal Nepal Army (RNA) began moving its limited air assets to
other priority locations (e.g., the 11th Brigade in Kathmandu
and the Western Division). Without helicopters, Basnet says
he has lost the mobility needed to maintain the offensive
advantage against the insurgents. The civilian government
also failed to provide adequate resources to mount a credible
campaign against the insurgents, he charged. The Maoists
used the monsoon to recruit, retrain and regroup, he
asserted, and are gradually rebuilding their Western Command.
(Note: When asked if the Brigade was receiving more
resources since the King dismissed the previous government,
Basnet said that he had been given wire to build perimeter
defenses. End note.)



4. (C) Large portions of his AOR remain under effective
Maoist control, Basnet acknowledged. Only district
headquarters and a few other larger towns are safe. Even the
Chief District Officer (CDO) in Pokhara's Kaski
District--considered one of the safest in the country--cannot
visit all the Village Devolopment Committees in his
jurisdiction. The rest of the territory--including some
sites with RNA outposts--are dominated by the Maoists at
night. In Baglung District, for example, two of the sites
with RNA garrisons are safe only during the day. When
soldiers enter a town on patrol, the Maoists disappear. At
night, however, when the soldiers return to the barracks, the
Maoists return to the villages. Local government has largely
ceased to function, except in the district headquarters,
according to Basnet. Police have, for the most part, also
withdrawn to locations fortified by the RNA.



5. (U) Since the beginning of the insurgency in 1996, the
16 districts in Basnet's AOR have suffered the destruction
of:

--400 VDC buildings;
--6 telecom repeater stations;
--3 power stations;
--15 schools;
--24 health posts;
--30 banks;
--30 forestry posts;
--24 post offices;
--50 police stations;
--14 state-owned corporation offices;
--30 government vehicles;
--1 bridge.



--------------------------


FAULT OF CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT


--------------------------





6. (C) For Basnet, responsibility for the RNA's failure to
counter the Maoists thus far lies squarely at the feet of
former democratically elected governments. Self-interested
and corrupt politicians (and, he implied, civil servants)
were not serious about allocating enough sufficient financial
and human resources to fight the Maoists, he alleged. For
example, the Brigade was never given funding to implement the
envisioned Integrated Security and Development Program
(ISDP), even though Gorkha--originally intended to be the
ISDP showcase district--falls within his AOR. Civil servants
do not perform their assigned functions. As an example, he
noted that the RNA brought the bodies of policemen killed in
a Maoist attack in April to the district hospital in
Gorkha--only to find that not one of five government doctors
assigned to the hospital was in town. The bodies eventually
had to be brought to the Brigade headquarters in Pokhara for
post mortems. Basnet estimates that only about 20 to 30
percent of the 917 Village Development Committees (VDCs are
the smallest unit of local government) in his AOR are
currently operating. Only the Maoists and the RNA are
working, he stated, indicating that ordinary people therefore
feel abandoned by their government. "Are we winning hearts
and minds" this way? he asked rhetorically. Intelligence
resources up to the state of emergency were poor, he
contended, because succesesive democratic governments had
been using the National Intelligence Division (NID) as a
repository for party hacks for the past 12 years.



7. (C) The Maoists successfully exploit the internal
bickering and tendentiousness commonplace among mainstream
politicians, thereby preventing the development of a strong
domestic political consensus against the campaign of terror,
he said. "We are not united as the Maoists are," he
observed, adding that the insurgents have successfully
integrated political, military, psyops, and social elements
into their operational campaigns. Even now, he charged, the
insurgents are manipulating "weak and selfish and cowardly
elements of democratic society" into pressing the Government
of Nepal (GON) for dialogue, instead of supporting the RNA in
its fight. The militants have co-opted members of human
rights groups, newspaper editors, teachers, and "the ICRC,"
along with assorted sociopaths and criminals, to promote
their ends, and have highlighted the GON's continued failure
to address the grievances of "ethnically disadvantaged"
groups, such as Tamangs, Magars, and the lowest castes, for
recruitment purposes. (Some of the 60,000 ex-Indian Gurkhas
now living in the AOR have also provided training and funding
to the Maoists, Basnet said; India has been actively
assisting the GON in helping stop this.) Thus, the Maoists
now "feel the national situation is changing in their favor,"
he concluded.



--------------------------


NEEDS: TRAINED MANPOWER, MOBILITY, COMMO


--------------------------





8. (C) "The Maoists know very well our weakness," Basnet
complained: lack of adequate manpower and sufficient
mobility. Because the Maoists only stay two days in any
given location, RNA troops need to be able to move quickly to
use intelligence on insurgent whereabouts, Basnet said. When
the 3rd Brigade had more helicopters, they were better able
to interdict Maoist movements and training. With only
limited air assets available since the attack on Achham, the
Brigade's mode has shifted to primarily a defensive one. In
addition, Basnet estimates he needs 14 battalions (he now has
approximately 7) to counter the insurgents effectively. The
troops must be better trained, he added, noting that the
amount of time new recruits spend in basic training has been
cut by two months. Once they graduate from basic training,
recruits and other soldiers receive little on-duty training,
he confirmed.



9. (C) The RNA has a 900-officer deficit at the mid-ranks,
and the NCOs are weak, Basnet lamented. Weapons are not the
most critical need when troops lack appropriate fire
discipline, he pointed out. When Maoists launch nighttime
attacks on RNA fixed positions, Basnet said, they typically
use socket bombs, which are only about 50 percent reliable.
In these situations, the soldier forgets his training and,
panicked, will try to fire 300 rounds from one self-loading
rifle (SLR). RNA soldiers will continue firing at an enemy
they cannot see until they run out of ammunition and/or the
weapon jams--which is virtually inevitable under these
conditions, Basnet observed. Once the Maoists determine the
soldiers are indeed out of ammunition, they lead a more
targeted assault to overrun the position. More basic
training with basic weapons and tactics in needed, he
emphasized.



10. (C) Basnet cited secure communications as another urgent
need. When Maoists attacked the district headquarters in
Arghakhanchi on September 7 (Ref B), Basnet called in air
support for beleaguered troops on the ground. (As Brigade
Commander, his entire communication resources consisted of
one telephone line and one radio.) But because the
helicopter had no way to communicate with the ground forces,
when it finally arrived, it began firing on RNA positions.
Basnet was, in turn, unable to communicate with the
helicopter pilot, and instead had to call the airport tower
in Kathmandu to contact the tower in Pokhara to pass the
message to the pilot.



--------------------------


PLANNING


--------------------------





11. (C) Basnet, who had just returned that day from meeting
with the Chief of Army Staff, said he was unaware of the
existence of any national campaign plan. He has visited all
of the 61 RNA positions in his AOR, and has moved the
district headquarters in Arghakhanchi (which was overrun in
September) to a more strategic position atop a hill. He does
not believe the development of village militias in
government-controlled areas is a useful concept for Nepal
right now. If the national police cannot even adequately
defend a town--police attacked on November 15 in Gorkha held
out for only 15 minutes, he charged--how can villagers be
expected to?



12. (C) According to Basnet, the Maoists plan to surround
all district headquarters (where the RNA maintains fortified
positions). The Maoists have consolidated their previous
three regional commands into two (the Central Command,
according to one captured Maoist document, had supposedly
been infiltrated by "traitors"), and are steadily rebuilding
the loss of trained cadre in its Western Command, Basnet
fears. The militants have written a development plan for
Rukum and Rolpa Districts, Basnet believes, and reported
having seen evidence suggesting Maoists are building a road
in Gulmi District. A document captured recently from a
Maoist detainee also indicates plans to levy a two percent
tax on all government employees; to destroy village-level
infrastructure; to continue a series of nationwide strikes,
or "bandhs," and to disrupt any plans for local or national
elections.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





13. (C) Blaming the failures of successive democratic
governments for all the problems of Nepal today--including
the RNA's inability so far to counter the insurgency--is a
common refrain among Army leadership. Whether the interim
government appointed by the King will succeed in marshalling
more resources for the fight--defense spending had already
risen to an all-time high of about one-quarter of the entire
budget under the previous government of Prime Minister
Deuba--remains to be seen. Basnet's other comments, however,
constitute a significant departure from standard RNA
briefings, and may have been colored by his bearing
responsibility for the debacle at Arghakhanchi in September
(Ref B). Nonetheless, his assessment that after nearly a
year in the field the RNA has made little headway against the
Maoists--and in some respects has even lost ground--is a
sobering one--and stands in marked contrast to the upbeat
assessment he gave the PACOM assessment team last April.
MALINOWSKI