- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2006

Islamic separatists in violence-wracked southern Thailand have begun to employ weapons and tactics that appear to be imported from the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to analysts and experts.

One technique that seems to have been imported from Iraq is the use of a cement casing around a homemade bomb. That disguises it to look like a roadside marker while increases its lethality by creating razor-sharp shards of concrete shrapnel.

“That comes straight from Iraq, or at least from the same training manuals they’re using in Iraq,” said Zachary Abuza, author of “Crucible of Terror” — a study of Islamic extremism in Southeast Asia. “Certainly, those kinds of tactics were never used in Thailand before.”

Over the past year, the separatists have undergone “a remarkable transformation. It’s unique. … I’ve never seen anything like it before in an insurgency,” said defense analyst Jeff Moore, who has written about the issue for Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center.

“Almost overnight they went from a gang of saboteurs and assassins to a small army. A guerrilla army, but an army nonetheless,” he said.

During the same time frame, Thai security forces noted “an increasing sophistication in the construction and use” of improvised explosive devices by the insurgents, said Thai analyst Panitan Wattanayagorn.

Mr. Wattanayagorn, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, is a former security adviser in the prime minister’s office.

Mr. Wattanayagorn, who continues to advise Thai government agencies in security matters, said the greater sophistication was notable in “more elaborate components” of some devices, and in the way they were deployed, including the increasing use of tactics such as chains of bombs blown up sequentially.

Mr. Abuza, who is completing a book on the separatist insurgency in Thailand, the latest phase of which has raged for nearly five years, said there also has been an increase in the size of bombs.

“In the early stages of the insurgency, you would typically see 5-pound pipe bomb devices. Last year, we saw three or four 100-pound car bombs.”

The number of attacks also has been increasing. Figures compiled by Jane’s show that on average there were nearly 20 bomb attacks a month last year — more than three times that in 2004.

Jane’s also noted a “clear diversification and advance in triggering techniques.” Traditionally, the insurgents relied almost exclusively on timers made from cheap alarm clocks or Walkman-style tape recorders.

Time bombs “are still occasionally used,” said Jane’s, but last year, “the weight of the [bombing] campaign has shifted decisively towards the use of mobile phones,” which now account for as many as 95 percent of bombings or attempted bombings.

Another factor driving the increasingly high casualty rate is the increasing sophistication of the tactics the separatists employ, Mr. Moore said.

One raid he analyzed, on the town of Yala in July, involved more than 60 attackers in a sophisticated series of five simultaneous or sequential operations, including blowing up power lines, pinning down military units deployed there and covering their retreat with road spikes and fake bombs.

“It was a well-planned and executed military operation led by professionals, so it is likely that they rehearsed for it beforehand,” Mr. Moore said.

Insurgents typically increase their capacity as they gain experience, but the speed of the Thai transformation, especially their rapid adoption of infantry tactics, is remarkable, Mr. Moore said.

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