The 2003 Operation All Clear was one of the most important moments in Bhutanese history as the Royal Bhutan Army; led by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo removed 32 militant camps from Bhutanese soil.
The Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the RBA, Goonglen Batoo Tshering was one of the officers who took part in the 2003 operations starting from 1997, when he was sent as a Colonel by His Majesty the Fourth King to raise a Command center in Dewathang.
The command center played an important role in strengthening and preparing the Bhutanese forces in the southern parts of Bhutan for the 2003 operations.
“I was very honored and fortunate to be picked up by His Majesty to coordinate and train the Royal Bhutan Armed forces in Dewathang to prepare for the Operations,” said Goonglen Batoo Tshering.
The initial group sent to the command center consisted of 8 officers and 2000 soldiers under the command of Batoo Tshering.
The Command center eventually consisted of around five wings including one wing from the Royal Body Guards.
“The instructions from His Majesty were so professional and simple that every officer and solider knew exactly what we were supposed to do, where we were supposed to go and at what time we were supposed to move, in the 2003 Operations,” said the COO.
“All the inputs for the Operation were from His Majesty who always made simple plans that were never complicated,” said the COO.
The Goonglen said, “Even the 11 casualties could have been avoided if we had followed His Majesty’s instructions to the full.”
His Majesty’s plans were not based on theories but a detailed study of the potential battle zones and in also understanding the opponents.
The COO said that starting from 2000 to 2003 His Majesty the Fourth King personally visited each and every inch of ground from the West to the East in all the areas where the Operations were to be launched.
“His Majesty grew up as a prince and would not be used to travelling in extremely rugged terrain but His Majesty travelled through the toughest areas on foot where no vehicles could go,” said the Goonglen.
The travels entailed roughing it out and sleeping in the forest, or if they were luckier, then remote local schools. Since long distances had to be covered, including over rugged mountains, sometimes, the food carried was not adequate, and His Majesty even had to sleep without adequate food.
The travels also had an element of danger as the militant camps and militants were in the same area.
His Majesty was taking such pains in familiarizing himself with the potential battlefield to get a first-hand account of what His Majesty’s soldiers would be facing.
“As far as we were concerned His Majesty was putting in so much effort to study the ground and also the habits of the militants to reduce the risks for our soldiers to a minimum,” said Goonglen.
The Goonglen stated that the Royal Bhutan Armed forces faced a strong opponent in the militants.
The Goonglen pointed out that the militants had plenty of experience in fighting one of the world’s largest armed forces in the form of the battle hardened and powerful Indian forces.
In such a conflict the common international military strategy was to have one to 10 numerical superiority which Bhutan’s armed forces did not have.
“Even though the militants matched us almost evenly in manpower and weapons, if not better, we had the advantage of His Majesty the Fourth King leading us,” said the Goonglen.
His Majesty’s contribution in addition to providing leadership and laying out the military plans and strategies was also in providing a tremendous moral boost and being a force multiplier by leading from the front.
Given the thorough planning of His Majesty, the operations were over in two days and another seven days was spent in mopping up operations.
After the operations His Majesty immediately showed a compassionate side.
The Goonglen said, “His Majesty commanded that the militants who are injured should be given priority over our own soldiers.” Captured militants were given proper food and care.
In response to a question on the main changes brought about by His Majesty the Fourth King to the armed forces, the Goonglen said, “To be honest, initially our own people did not have confidence in our armed forces. It was the sheer leadership provided by His Majesty the Fourth King and the organizational reforms and infrastructure brought in by His Majesty that today we not only enjoy the respect and confidence of our people and the RGoB but we also enjoy the respect of other countries.”
The Goonglen said that currently under His Majesty the King the image of the RBA had been further enhanced as the RBA was also engaged in many disaster response activities and its professional aspects were being further strengthened.
He said there have been further reforms by His Majesty the King in terms of training and equipment to be ready for any emergency, including dealing with natural calamities.
The Goonglen also pointed out the role of the RBA had also been further enhanced as it was taking part in international United Nations peacekeeping operations.
“The RBA had a very positive image all due to His Majesty the Fourth King and His Majesty the King,” said the Goonglen.