Rekha Shrestha

Kathmandu, January 14:

Although the government is all set to increase the army’s strength from about 80,000 to 87,000, security officials are sceptical of the additional strength helping in countering insurgency better as the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) divisions are operating without full compliment as they lack supporting arms and services. “Several brigades currently are managing without combat engineers, signal and artillery units, which are vital in going offensive,” said a senior RNA official, adding, “Only increasing security budget for forming infantry units will not help effectively fight the Maoists, who are more advanced in several fields.”

The officials agree that the Maoists are better off in handling IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and making bombs. “Only combat engineers can counter such Maoist IED experts; and without good communication system and artillery support it will be difficult for the infantry to fight,” the official argued. Moreover, RNA’s artillery wing is not equipped with essential long range weapons like 130 mm mortars, 155 mm howitzer guns and 160mm heavy guns.

RNA brigades including No 25 in Dadeldhura, No 24 in Jumla, No 23 in Baglung, No 22 in Butwal, No 21 in Ilam, No 18 in Gaighat are running without supporting arms. However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) says that the army will be modernised and equipped gradually, “the recruitment of men is only a step.” Initially the MoD had exercised to add 13,000 soldiers but the Ministry of the Finance objected the move, and the Cabinet finally approved budget for recruitment of only 7100 troops yesterday. If things go as planned, 93 additional security posts will be installed across the country and the highway security will be beefed up too.

An official at the ministry told The Himalayan Times that different levels of unified command has already been instructed to work on creating the new posts. “The 93 posts are being formed as per the priority, otherwise more such installation are necessary in the current situation,” said the MoD official. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Rukmangat Katwal has taken over the job of the acting Chief of General Staff (CGS) as Lieutenant General Chitra Bahadur Gurung retired on January 12. The senior most Major General Bala Nanda Sharma, who is currently working as force commander in UN Tours and Supervision Organisation, is expected to return soon to be promoted and become a new CGS, according to a MoD official.