23 May 2010

The General takes a bullet, the Toad eats crow

Well there’s no denying it. However the Thailand situation resolves itself, the Toad was wrong: The Thai government managed to clear the Red Shirts from their Bangkok fortress and hold on to power.

While I don’t deny my prediction was incorrect, I’m trying to understand the shift in the battle that permitted this end game.

The government’s actions on 19 May don’t seem to be any more ruthless than their efforts of 10 April. So why did the Red Shirts send the troops packing a month ago, but were flushed out with only six causalities this time?

Obviously there are lots of things happening with the power structures in Bangkok that your humble blogger isn’t privy to. However, from the known facts, its possible to speculate a little.

Back in April, when the army went in for round one, it was far from clear that the Thai army was a united force. There was plenty of speculation that the loyalty of certain key units was with the Red Shirts.

The informal leader of the Red Shirts defences was Major General Khattiya Sawasdipol, formerly part of Thai Internal Security Operations Command, but demoted and suspended for pro Red Shirt statements.

A hard man by any definition with experience in counter insurgency operations, he had the personal loyalty of troops within elite units such as the Rangers and enjoyed celebrity status. I expect he maintained close ties with fellow officers still serving who provided intelligence on the government’s plans and orders even after he was kicked out.

We can be pretty sure that one or more senior officers were feeding intelligence to General Khattiya, as its really the only way to explain how the Red Shirt leaders could have escaped the raid on their hotel back on 16 April.

It seems logical to me that General Khattiya would have been making deals with old buddies advising them that he would be generous to those who sabotaged the efforts of the government once the Red Shirts came to power and would punish those who stood against them

With real prospects of the Red Shirts forcing the government out, field officers would be forgiven for hedging their bets so that, whichever side won, they wouldn’t be purged.

This would explain the disconnect between the Prime Minister’s order on 10 April to clear the street by any means necessary and the army’s inability to push out unarmed civilians.

However, everything changed on 13 May 2010, when a sniper took out General Khattiya with a single shot to the head. It had three immediate and significant consequences:

1. It ended the relationship between the Red Shirts command and the army making informal communication between them impossible;

2. It made any deals between General Khattiya and army commanders in a post election world null and void; and

3. It served notice on commanders that the government was prepared to liquidate its enemies.

The change in the government, Red Shirts and army was immediate and profound. On 19 May the government was so confident the army would clear the streets, it could afford to ignore any further calls for negotiation or discussion from the Red Shirts. The army seemed more determined, moving confidently to clear the protest site with troops and APCs. The Red Shirts seemed sure the army would use all the force necessary to clear the streets and the protesters melted away rather than face the troops.

Perhaps with a single bullet the government undermined a popular protest movement that had held the centre of Bangkok for two months and, at least for now, has succeeded in holding power.

But Thais should ponder that what goes around, comes around. Once you authorise targeted killing of your political opponents, you open Pandora’s box. General Anupong Paochinda and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva should carefully consider all trips past tall buildings and book repositories for the foreseeable future.


  1. Hmm, audacious indeed for the Thai government to simply shoot Khattiya in the head to temporarily ease their problem (particularly whilst he is being interviewed by a NYT journalist).

    Our message: "We'll shoot your leaders in the head; these are the rules we'll be playing by from now on".

    Which is extremely short-sighted, as you say, "the rules" cut both ways and bullets are cheap.

    The savvy strongman always agrees up front that only the "poor folk" will be used as grist for the mill of their power struggles.

  2. I agree with you Dave. The better move would have been for the government to arrange an accident for the General.

    However, as an old hand at counter insurgency, I assume he was being careful. The only times he exposed himself was when there were plently of witnesses and media. Seems he didn't appreciate how desperate the government was.