Elite combat unit heads South

Elite combat unit heads South

The South has its own special ops unit, helping keep the region safe

Most Bangkok residents would be unfamiliar with the LRSU. But for those in the restive South, this elite special operations unit needs no introduction.

Border patrol police officers under the Long Range Surveillance Unit take a patrol boat to Bang Lang dam in Yala’s Than To district. WASSAYOS NGAMKHAM

The Long Range Surveillance Unit, which operates under the Border Patrol Police Bureau (BPPB), comprises specially-trained border patrol officers whose combat skills are unrivalled among their peers.

The unit’s members are heavily armed and carry more than 30kg of equipment into combat. It is the go-to force for confronting armed elements during an emergency situation, particularly in Hala Bala forest along the Thai-Malaysian border.

The forest covers Betong, Than To and Bannang Sata districts of Yala province and Si Sakhon, Sukhirin and Chanae of Narathiwat. This area is classified as the red zone — an area heavily infiltrated by insurgents, with a high risk of attack.

Pol Col Narong Thanananthakul, superintendent of the 44th Border Patrol Police Unit and head of the LRSU, said the elite unit’s training course is based on a programme devised by the United States.

He said he travelled to the US on a study trip to observe the training of a US border patrol special operations unit. As the operation of the US forces was more efficient, Pol Col Narong decided to use it as a model to train his officers.

As the topography of the deep South consists of thick forests, mountain ranges and aquatic areas, special training is provided for LRSU recruits to make them proficient in mountain, forest and water combat operations. They also receive underwater combat operations and air rescue training.

Pol Col Narong said the LRSU training course has been running since 2010. Although 100 recruits are accepted into each course, the intense physical and mental demands mean the dropout rate is high.

After training, officers are deployed to special operations companies based in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. “What makes the LRSU different from other units is that its members are specially trained for combat. They can engage the enemy in the jungle, mountains, water, and underwater,” Pol Col Narong said.

After completing training, some LRSU members will be sent to the Nang Nuan outpost, in the Hala-Bala jungle. The outpost is also positioned next to Bang Lang dam in Than Tho and Bannang Sata districts of Yala, deep in the insurgent red zone.

Pol Col Narong said the LRSU uniform was designed to make the officers look more fearsome than other units; each squad member is equipped with an M16 rifle fitted with an M203 under-slung grenade launcher, a 9mm pistol, grenades, a jackknife, a radio communications device and 180 rounds of ammunition.

Although the LRSU unit is heavily armed, training instructor Pol Snr Sgt Maj Veerapong Prapaiwan said it places more emphasis on human interaction with local residents. Communication is the most important tool for receiving cooperation from locals, he said.

The BPPB believes winning the hearts and minds of local residents in the South is the key to defeating the insurgents, and the LSRU is on the front line if that effort. During their patrols, LRSU officers encourage locals to participate in tourism promotion activities for their villages. The activities enable them to earn extra income.

Pol Sgt Maj Pradap Kuadnamkaew, 39, a LRSU officer, said one of the unit’s main tasks is to provide security for VIPs who visit the deep South. The officers are regularly deployed to search suspected insurgent hideouts and serve as a rapid response team in emergency cases.

The unit has not suffered any fatalities since its operations began in 2010.

Pol Sgt Maj Pradap and his team had clashed with insurgents on several occasions, the most violent of which took place at Ban Aijuekor village in Narathiwat’s Si Sakhon district. Four insurgents were shot dead and several officers wounded.

LRSU officers generally operate on 30-day deployments, after which they are given 10-12 days of leave to return home.

Contact Crime Track: crimetrack@bangkokpost.co.th

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