Military strategy of the Liberation War
Q: How was the Mukti Bahini organised? What were there tactics and strategy between March 26 and December 3?
A: You will remember that from March 26 the brave Bengali soldiers of the East Bengal Regiment (EBR), the brave soldiers of former EPR and Ansar, Mujaheed and the brave armed jawans belonging to the police had pounced on the enemy to resist them. They were joined by the youth and students.
In the beginning, the battles were of conventional nature, which continued till May. Conventional tactics were employed so as to restrict the enemy to the cantonments and prevent them from capturing the communication centres. The tactic was to create as many obstacles as possible for the enemy, preserve as many existing natural obstacles as possible, and at the same time hit him from the flanks and his lines of communication (L of C). In spite of being fewer in number, the Mukti Bahini put up a brave fight. During this phase, quite a few spectacular battles were fought, e.g. the battle of Bhairab-Ashuganj. Here the enemy employed two full brigades against a battalion of the EBR. The enemy was held up here for four days.
But I want to stress something here. We had to readjust the conventional tactic of our regular force, they being fewer in number. We employed small groups like patrols or platoons and company groups to hold up the enemy and even attack them. This is how the battle had started in Chittagong and other areas.
About that time it became clear to me and my commanders that it would not be possible for us to conduct the war through conventional means because at that time we had only five battalions of troops. Apart from that we had with us soldiers of former Ansar, Mujaheed, police and the youths. It was somewhat difficult to provide the young volunteers with weapons. We could somehow manage to train them with the weapons we carried away with us. We were facing an enemy of three to four regular divisions. And it was clear to us that with that ratio it was not possible to resist them, much less destroy. By April it became clear to me that we needed a large unconventional people's force. This force should be such that would be capable of neutralising the numerical superiority of the enemy. It would, as a guerrilla force, destroy the weapons of the enemy from within like a germ destroys an organ of a body from within. It was not possible to defeat the enemy otherwise. They had larger number of weapons, they had an air force which we did not, and they had much more war materials.
However, it was at the same time clear to us that it would take a long time to liberate our land if we employed classical guerrilla warfare tactics. By then the country would face destruction. Our biggest resource – manpower – would be destroyed. There would be very little left to salvage. Thus by end of April the need for a new modus of operation became clear. The idea was to employ a large guerrilla force from within to make the enemy fight in smaller numbers and disperse and isolate its troops which would neutralise its superiority in numbers.
For this I required a regular force also. I communicated our requirement to the government in writing and also sought support of our allies. My aim was to raise a guerrilla force of minimum 60,000 – 80,000 and a regular force of about 25,000. And these forces should be raised immediately.
We implemented our policy on ground. Gradually a guerrilla – people's force - was created. At the beginning we established bases in different areas and by the end of June the guerrilla force went into action. But before the end of Jul-Aug the enemy did not feel the effect of our guerrilla force, although we had infiltrated a few young men inside the country after training. They had gone to Chittagong and had come to Dhaka too. But it was from July that the enemy began to feel the effect of our guerrilla operation.
At the same time our attention was drawn to another aspect. We received many regular navy officers, warrant officers and sailors. Some Bengali navy personnel of Pakistan Navy undergoing submarine training in Paris defected and joined us. We organised a naval commando group with these personnel and the young volunteers, who conducted successful raids on the waterways. . .
The enemy wanted to internationalize the war in order to save their skin -- so that there was a ceasefire under UN and that observers were employed and they save their lives by handing the problem over to the UN. They were sure of their inevitable defeat. When the UN did not intervene they tried to give the conflict an international colour to force the UN to get involved. To this end they conducted air raids on our bases and positions inside Bangladesh and also on areas in West Bengal and Tripura.
There is one more thing I want to say. I had no air force. All we had were two helicopters, an Otter, and a Dakota for my movement. The helicopters and Otter were fitted with machine guns. And from the fliers who were engaged in the field we managed to successfully organise a small air force. Their tasks were to carry out attacks on a few enemy bases and interdictions.
I wonder whether you are aware that the first air attack on the enemy was conducted by our brave airmen. In the battles conducted between March 26 and December 3, even though we did not have aircrafts, we nevertheless conducted raids on the enemy air bases successfully. Sometime by the end of the war, a brave freedom fighter brought effective machine gun fire on a C-130 at the Sylhet airbase. Although the aircraft was not brought down, it somehow managed to reach Shamshernagar airport where it was laid off for many days for repair.
Q: What were the strategy and tactics of the joint forces from December 3 to 16?
A: [. . .] The Indian forces entered the battle on December 3 till the surrender of the enemy on December 16. When the involvement of the Indian military became imminent we drew up a plan jointly. Since they had tanks, artillery and aircraft, the Indian forces were to engage the enemy's main forces at the beginning. Mukti Bahini forces were to outflank the enemy and engage them in their flanks or attack the enemy rear while the Indian forces engaged and held them from the front. Those areas that the Mukti Bahini liberated were done under the battle plans of the Mukti Bahini. . .
Q: When the joint forces advanced together it was Mukti Bahini that led the advance with the Indian troops in support?
A: It was done in two ways. First, suppose there was an enemy strongpoint. The resources of the Indians were used to engage the strong point from the front while the Mukti Bahini elements engaged in outflanking that strong point to make their position untenable. Thereafter if a subsequent enemy position were to be engaged the Mukti Bahini would lead the advance, they being familiar with the terrain. Where necessary we would be supported by the Indian artillery and air force. . .
Q: How many sectors were there? Where were the headquarters?
A: There were eleven sectors under a sector commander. The sector headquarters were inside Bangladesh territory. . .
Q: What was the strength of the regular forces and how were they armed? What was the size of the Gano Bahini?
A: We had difficulty in expanding the size of regular forces. It was difficult to acquire weapons in spite of the good intentions of everyone. My intention was to acquire various categories of weapons as quickly as possible. And if the Indians had not joined the war on December 3 then we might have had to continue the war for another six months.
By the end of the war we were able to raise a regular force of about 20 to 22 thousand strong men with the help of the regular officers and troops. We started the war with five EBR battalions. 1 EBR was decimated and I got only 188 personnel. Eventually we made up the strength of the five battalions and raised an additional three battalions by the end of the war. Apart from that we raised sector troops with each sector having a number of companies. The regular EBR troops made up the three brigades named as "Force" after the initial of the force commanders like "Z" Force, "K" Force and "S" Force.
We raised two artillery batteries, the first with some old guns provided by the Indians. It was named, "Number -1 Mujib Battery." It participated in the war. The second battery had newer guns and participated in the war too. . .
Q: Was the Gano Bahini under a different sector? What was the so-called C-in-C's special organisation?
A: Bangladesh armed forces, known as the Mukti Bahini, composed of army, navy and air force. Many mistakenly think that the guerrillas were the Mukti Bahini. There were two components of the Mukti Bahini, the regular forces and the guerrilla or the irregular forces. And the Gano Bahini and Mukti Bahini worked under the 11 Sectors.
About C-in-C's Special Force, initially the guerrillas were given training for two weeks, later it was increased to three. I had devised special training for some guerrillas as special course and their task was to provide leadership to the other guerrillas and do special operations not possible by the ordinary guerrillas. These people were specially selected and I personally employed people to select them. There was nothing like C-in-C's special force as such. . .
Q: How did you maintain contact inside Bangladesh?
A: We had organised bases inside the country from the early stages of the war. These were activated further after Gano Bahini started operating. There were three types of bases and we maintained contact through couriers and wireless communication.
Q: What type of response did you receive from the people in the occupied areas?
A: We received unstinted support from the people of Bangladesh, except for a few – the Razakars and al-Badrs. We felt as if the seven crore Bengalis were breathing with us. . .
Q: Did you ever come to Dhaka during this time?
A: No, I did not come to Dhaka, though many say that I did. I have been to different areas but not to Dhaka. It was not possible. . .
Translated by: Editorial Desk
Source: Smritite Muktijuddho edited by Mahmudul Huq Jahangir, Pearl Publishers, 2011