The military strategy at Ratchaprasong

An article entitled “Lessons from the Operation Encirclement at the Ratchaprasong area during 14-19 May 2010” reveals the military perspective on their success during the crackdown on the Red Shirt movement in April-May 2010. It is published in Senathipat (Vol.59, No.3, September-December 2010), an academic journal published by the Centre of Doctrine and Strategic Development, Army Training Command, and written by an army officer under his pen name, Chief Khuang, an Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy Cadet Class 32. This article is said to be part of the “Guidelines Document for Military Operation: A Case Study of Conflict Resolution in Urban Area” as an attempt to redesign the Army’s role in dealing with a new form of conflict in urban areas.

The article has many interesting points regarding the direct involvement of the government in commanding the military operation and the unity of the government and the military. Many points mentioned in the article are in sharp contrast to what leaders of the Democrat Party presented to the public during their campaign rally on Thursday night last week.

1. The article clearly shows that the government had a clear policy that it wanted the military to use its operation to “end the demonstration, not to pressure them for negotiation”. The Prime Minister is also mentioned as ordering the military to commence its operation as planned by himself in the Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) meeting of 12 May 2010 (p. 58).

The operation was planned to have three stages: (1) the primary encirclement on 14 May; (2) strategic retreat for assessment during 15-18 May; (3) the full encirclement on 19 May (p. 58). Matichon newspaper suggests that the failure of the offer by Senators to act as mediator on 18 May may be attributed to this well-planned strategy to “end” the Red Shirt protesters. This may also be contrary to Suthep’s claim last Thursday that he was the one who commanded the operation, not Abhisit.

2. The author also concludes that one of the reasons for the success of the encirclement operation was the withdrawal of Veera Musikapong and the death of Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol or Sae Daeng. These events weakened the UDD considerably, as it suddenly lacked both political and strategic masterminds (p. 60). This analysis works against Suthep’s earlier statement casting suspicion on Jatuporn’s faction for involvement in the assassination of Seh Daeng.

3. This article also delineates most of the operational plan and military units involved (pp. 60-61). It also admits the operation was “a full-scale military operation.” The military were fully equipped with real ammunition including the Sniper Unit, modern weapons, and armoured fighting vehicles. The use of real ammunition is claimed to have lifted the morale among soldiers whose morale had plunged since the operation on 10 April 2010 (p. 62).

4. The article mentions that the Sniper Units were deployed into the area especially on the high-rise buildings for counter-ambush. They were the first groups that seized the elevated areas particularly buildings in Wireless Road and around Sarasin Junction (p. 63).

5. CRES’ intelligence pointed to the existence of around 500 terrorists disguised among UDD. They were equipped with ambush weapons and ammunition such as M-79, M-16, Ak-47, and Travo-21 (p. 63).

6. The article also proposes some tactics for urban area conflict resolution (pp. 64-68). It suggests that the soldiers involved in such kind of operation should bear in mind that the most important principle is to protect and save lives of the innocents. The firing of weapons must be done under a careful judgement without the intervention of anger or vengeance. It warns that soldiers should carry and use weapons in the safest manner according to the training instructions and should remind themselves that one shooting may cause the government to collapse (p. 67).

7. It also points to the obstacle of the operation caused by UDD’s sniper unit and suggests that the Army should urgently train more snipers so that it can use these sniper units more effectively both in Bangkok and in other provinces (pp.67, 68).

8. The article, however, states that the army should further study and find an appropriate model to implement the “fire zone by real ammunition”. This practice is not universally accepted or found in any other country as a means to suppress riots (p.68).