Matt Pratten

Matt Pratten

Associate Analyst

24/07/2017

24/07/2017

Thailand Fortnightly Snapshot: Armed Conflict in Thailand

Relevant Topics: Military & Police (Insurgents & Terrorist Groups)
INTRODUCTION
Examination of Thailand incidents recorded on the Intelligence Fusion platform from the period 01 May 2017 – 21 July 2017 has begun to show information relating to armed conflict in the country through incidents of ‘Direct Weapons’ and ‘Bombings’ – shown in Figure 1 below. Of note are the concentrations in Bangkok and the South-East reporting regions. Incidents that have happened elsewhere in the country at this time do have unique details about them but do not appear to be regular occurrences as yet.
Figure 1. Direct Weapons and Bombing incidents in Thailand, 01 May-21 July 2017

This report aims to examine the threats in seen in Bangkok and South-East regions and determe the Size, Activities, Locations, Uniforms, Tactics, Equipment, Habits, Intentions and Morale (SALUTE HIM) of threats in Thailand; as well as comparing them to what is happening within the South-East Asia region if possible.
SOUTH-EAST REPORTING REGION
The incidents in this region come as no surprise due to the insurgency that has existed as far back as the 17th Century. However, the kind of violence being seen in these incidents appears to have been occurring since 2004; prompting travel warnings from various foreign ministries advising their citizens to avoid travelling to Songhkla, Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces. The violence has featured characteristics of ethnic divide between Thais and Malays, religious conflict between Buddhists and Muslims as well as politically motivated violence aimed at achieving secession from the Thai state. However, previous reports and background information have not been able to provide how the insurgency has speicfically panned out on the ground (Askew, 2008, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017, Harish, 2006, Bureau of Consular Affairs, 2017, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2017, Global Affairs Canada, 2017, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2017).
Figure 2. Conflict incidents in South-East reporting region; 01 May-21 July 2017

Size
There appears to be two active groups at the moment. One appears to be 3-4 men but could be up to 12 (group 1) based on the Big C bombing on 09 May 2017 while the second (group 2) is at least 2-3 men.
Activities
Both groups have been engaging in small arms fire attacks and improvised explosive device attacks (IED). Although Group 2 has shown more of a preference towards IEDs.
Locations
Group 1 – Activities appear to be within Pattani province.
Group 2 – Has been active in Yala province but may have moved to Narathiwat since mid-June. Pattani and Narathiwat provinces would appear to be the areas of operation (AO) for insurgent groups at this time.
Noting these locations, there appears to have been an absence of attacks or small arms fire in Songhkla.
Uniforms
None.
Tactics
Group 1 - has been indiscriminate in its targeting; they have attacked civilians, police and army personnel. However, they have focussed on attacking army and police with IEDs while targeting civilians with small arms attacks through either ambushes, drive-by shootings or assassinating/murdering those perceived to be assisting the Thai government or security forces.
Group 2 – has been focussing on police and army with IED attacks. There have been two close quarter assassinations within their AO but no way near as many as what has occurred up in Group 1’s AO for it to be considered an established tactic at this time.
Equipment
Group 1 - would appear to be equipped with small arms weapons in the form of rifles and pistols. Based on incidents over this period, they possess of M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles as well as pistols. Their IEDs have consisted of gas cylinders packed with explosives acquired from the vendor they killed prior to the Big C bombing.
Group 2 – This group’s tactic of IEDs attacks has seen them employ two kinds of IED; pipe bombs thrown by insurgents on foot or IEDs consisting of approximately 10kg of explosives being attached to motorcycles and detonated remotely. They used to be detonated by mobile phone but a government regulation introduced in early June requiring mobile phone customers to have their fingerprints taken has switched their initiation device to radios.
Habits
Checking of the dates and times of these incidents does not appear to show any particular habits as yet. However, a number of attacks have occurred between Friday-Monday.
Intentions
In both groups, there is a lack of communication or statements to the media from them detailing their demands.
Morale
Group 1 – Their morale appears to fluctuate as their activities have been affected by security operations. Over the course of July, they have lost at least three members of their group. One of which - Lakman Mading - would appear to have been their bomb maker. However, the shootings that occurred about a week afterwards would indicate they are regaining confidence.
Group 2 – Their activities do not appear to have been hindered by reprisals from security forces. Their activities only appear to have ceased as they were moving from Yala to Narathiwat provinces.
COMMENT. What is absent from these incident reports is what these groups call themselves, making it difficult to determine what insurgent groups are active, what their aims are and if they have anything in common with insurgent/terrorist groups in the wider South-East Asia region. Previous analysis on the insurgency in Thailand has found up to three insurgent groups exist or have existed. They are the Barisan Revolusi Nasional Melayu Pattani (BRN/BRN-C), the Runda Kumpulan Kecil (RKK) and Pattani Islamic Mujahedeen Movement (GMIP); the following is what is known about these groups (Fevrier, 2017b):
BRN / BRN-C - Founded in 1963 as a Pattani independence movement located in northern Malaysia and Pattani in southern Thailand. It is the most powerful insurgent group in the country and has evolved with time; a sub-group – the BRN-Koordinasi (BRN-C) – became its most active wing. The BRN-C is involved in mosques and Islamic schools, with its main recruitment target being youth. The immediate aim of the group is to ensure chaos reigns leading to weak Thai governance in the region. (Fevrier, 2017b). RKK - founded in 2002, it is one of the most violent groups in the southern Thailand. As an offshoot of the BRN-C, some do not consider them totally independent. The group works as a loosely organized system of cells. Because of its mobility it is very hard for the Thai government to infiltrate or counter (Fevrier, 2017b). GMIP - founded in 1995, the GMIP and has a penchant for not taking credit for its attacks. There is suspicion the group has links to Al-Qaeda, aiming to establish an Islamic State in Pattani (Fevrier, 2017b).
None of the active groups in recent incidents have taken any credit nor have there been any statements or threats that reveal demands or intentions; this kind of activity is an established part of groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, whose operations have often been followed by taking credit, making demands and calling on Muslims around the world to carry out attacks in the name of the Islamic religion. In addition, the two groups currently active in Southern Thailand have not followed suit with groups in the Philippines or Indonesia pledging allegiance to Islamic State. This rules out the possibility of GMIP being involved (Fevrier, 2017a). It also rules out the presence of Islamic State or Al-Qaeda in Southern Thailand.
Little exists on either group behind recent incidents to confidently identify what specific insurgent movement they are a part of. However, the indiscriminate targeting seen in Pattani recently would appear to be in line with the BRN/BRN-C; this group’s attacks on just about everyone in Pattani would indicate this group is aiming for chaos. As for the group in Narathiwat and Yala beforehand; the lack of action against them by security forces could suggest an inability for the group to be tracked or infiltrated. This is similar to the main strength of the RKK. COMMENT ENDS.
BANGKOK
Figure 3. Bangkok bombings from 01 May-21 July 2017 (Click on above image to expand)
From 01 May – 21 July 2017, a number of bombings occurred in Thailand’s capital city (shown in Figure 3) that showed a greater level of sophistication than attacks in the south. The majority of these bombings were carried out by one person who was arrested on 20 June 2017; Wattana Pummares (pictured below in Figure 4). Pummares is a retired electrical engineer linked to the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD); also known as the ‘Red Shirts.’ Pummares carried out his attacks alone, motivated by his dislike of the Thai Military and he had been behind attacks in 2007 and 2010; with his bombs being made possible from his engineering expertise and aimed at causing disruption rather than casualties.
Figure 4. Wattana Pummares
COMMENT. The bombings in Bangkok ceased after 30 May 2017. Pummares did not receive any support or condemnation from members or leaders of the Red Shirts, many of whom have been imprisoned with the most recent being Jatuporn Prompan. Offences committed by members and leaders of the UDD have revolved around defamation and protests that have turned violent as opposed to bombings. In addition, Pummarees’ motivations were aimed at targeting the Thai military rather than acting against the Thai state as a whole. COMMENT ENDS.
ASSESSMENT
Armed conflict in Thailand will PROBABLY return to being predominantly in Southern Thailand and border areas. The bombings that occurred in Bangkok were politically motivated and carried out by a lone individual. The lack of support shown to this man makes it PROBABLE this kind of politically motivated violence is not accepted by the wider membership and leadership of the ‘Red Shirts.’ The arrest of Wattana Pummares makes future bombings in the city only have a POTENTIAL chance of occurring at best as his activities do not appear to be an acceptable way to air grievances in the wider ‘Red Shirts’ political movement.
The insurgency in Southern Thailand shows no signs of ceasing for the time being. The lack of statements, claims of responsibility, demands or intentions makes it difficult to identify them. However, based on comparing the incidents since 01 May 2017 to previous reports and what has been occurring around the region recently, the following assessments can be made:
Group 1 is POSSIBLY a part of the BRN / BRN-C. Their attacks have been indiscriminate, similar to the BRN’s known goal of creating chaos. However, the group appears to be limited to small arms attacks at the moment due to what appears to be the loss of their bomb-maker. Their activities will no doubt continue but they’re operations have the potential to be undermined by security forces based on the deaths of three of their members. This group will ensure Pattani PROBABLY remains a place to avoid Group 2 is POTENTIALLY part of the RKK. However, this is based on the lack of response to their operations by security forces in Narathiwat. This group will PROBABLY ensure Narathiwat – like Pattani – will be an area to avoid by continuing to carry out IED attacks against police and army personnel in the form of pipe bombs and stationary motorcycles with explosives strapped to them. Both these groups POSSIBLY prefer to attack between Fridays and Mondays. These days appear to POSSIBLY be the most favourable for their attacks.
Comparing these groups to incidents in the wider region, these two groups in Southern Thailand do not appear to have similar interests as groups in the Philippines or Indonesia. The links these groups have to Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have made them significant threats to the whole of their respective countries.
While the insurgency does not show signs of ending, neither is it showing signs of increasing in tempo or reach. The differences between the groups in Thailand and the wider region means there is POSSIBLY little to no external support from well-resourced groups outside of Thailand that the likes of Al-Qaeda or Islamic State enjoy. Meaning it is PROBABLE the insurgency in Southern Thailand will remain limited to the provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat while Songkhla appears to be out of their reach. Without sharing interests similar to those fighting in the Philippines or Indonesia does however raise the question of how these groups are being supplied with weapons, ammunition and training.
References

ASKEW, M. 2008. Thailand's intractable southern war: policy, insurgency and discourse. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 30, 186+.
BUREAU OF CONSULAR AFFAIRS. 2017. Thailand [Online]. Wahington D.C.: US Department of State. Available: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/thailand.html [Accessed 01 July 2017].
DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE. 2017. Thailand [Online]. Canberra: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,. Available: http://smartraveller.gov.au/countries/asia/south-east/pages/thailand.aspx [Accessed 01 July 2017].
FEVRIER, V. 2017a. South East Asia Update – July 1st - 15th 2017. Intelligence Fusion [Online]. Available: Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. [Accessed 20 July 2017].
FEVRIER, V. 2017b. Southern Thailand: Instability in Patani, a Threat to the Greater Region. Intelligence Fusion [Online], 2017. Available: https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/single-post/2017/05/16/Southern-Thailand-Instability-in-Patani-a-Threat-to-the-Greater-Region [Accessed 16 May 2017].
FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE. 2017. Thailand [Online]. London: Foreign and Commonwelath Office. Available: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/thailand [Accessed 01 July 2017].
GLOBAL AFFAIRS CANADA. 2017. Thailand [Online]. Ottawa: Global Affairs Canada, . Available: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/thailand [Accessed 01 July 2017].
HARISH, S. P. 2006. Ethnic or religious cleavage? investigating the nature of the conflict in Southern Thailand. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 28, 48+.
NEW ZEALAND MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE. 2017. Thailand [Online]. Wellington: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Available: https://www.safetravel.govt.nz/thailand [Accessed 01 July 2017].
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