ARMED FORCES OF BANGLADESH
Military and security forces: Bangladesh Defense Force: Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force; Ministry of Home Affairs: Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Bangladesh Coast Guard, Ansars, Village Defense Party (VDP). The Ansars and VDP are paramilitary organizations for internal security
In 2005, the Bangladesh army had 110,000 members; the navy had 9,000 members, and the air force of 6,500 members. Paramilitary forces of border guards, armed police, and security guards numbered 126,200. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Starting with a nucleus of Bengali deserters from the Pakistan Army — paramilitary personnel, police, and civilians who had fought with the Mukti Bahini — the Bangladesh Army has expanded considerably although erratically since its formation on December 26, 1971. Between 1973 and 1975, the army absorbed many of the 28,000 personnel who had been detained in Pakistani jails for the duration of the war of independence. Following the 1975 coup, additional personnel were absorbed into the regular army when the martial law government abolished the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini. Under Zia's rule, army expansion slowed, in part because of his campaign to purge mutinous elements and collaborators from the ranks. When Ershad assumed power in 1982, army strength had stabilized at about 70,000 troops. Starting in 1985, Ershad accelerated the transition from martial law to elected civilian government. The army then experienced another spurt in growth. As of mid-1988, it had about 90,000 troops (although some observers believed the number was closer to 80,000), triple the 1975 figure.*
Zia reorganized the army following the military upheavals of the mid-1970s, in part to prevent coups and jawan uprisings. Under Zia's program, the reorganization was intended to neutralize rival factions of freedom fighters and repatriates. Bangladesh was divided into five military regions. The army — cooperating with civilian authorities while maintaining autonomy — preserved internal security and resisted possible Indian domination. Divisions coordinated their operations with paramilitary groups in their respective areas of command, and they mobilized mass support of the government.*
Army of Bangladesh
The army is the dominant service in Bangladesh. Because of its historic role in influencing civilian governments and taking over the administration of the country, the army is also a critical political institution. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]
The seven-division army is modeled and organized along British lines, similar to other armies on the Indian subcontinent. However, it has adopted U.S. Army tactical planning procedures, training management techniques, and noncommissioned officer educational systems. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]
The army in 1988 was divided into six strategically located divisions. The location of these divisions' headquarters, five of which were formerly brigade headquarters, underscored the army's primary mission of internal security rather than defense against external threats. The most powerful and prestigious commands were the Ninth Infantry Division, headquartered at Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka, and the Twenty-fourth Infantry Division, headquartered in the city of Chittagong. Elements of both divisions have been involved extensively in the military upheavals that have plagued Bangladesh since independence. Although the Ninth Infantry Division has an armor regiment, the Twenty-fourth Infantry Division does not. The Ninth Infantry Division has played a central role in staging coups and maintaining military governments once they were in power. According to one observer of the Bangladesh Army, "the role of the Savar division would be crucial in any military coup." The Twenty- fourth Infantry Division, with four brigades, has conducted counterinsurgency operations against tribal guerrillas in the Chittagong Hills since the late 1970s. The army garrison at Chittagong was the site of the coup of May 30, 1981, that resulted in Zia's murder. Other infantry divisions were headquartered at Jessore (the Fifty-fifth), Bogra (the Eleventh), and Comilla (the Thirty-third). Each of these divisions has an armor regiment. In April 1988, a sixth infantry division (the Sixty-sixth) was formally established with headquarters at Rangpur, and plans were in place to raise its armor regiment. The major generals who commanded the six divisions, along with the army chief of staff, formed the center of power within the army and, by extension, within the government, in the late 1980s.*
Army formations subordinate to the six division headquarters included fifteen infantry brigades, four armor regiments, nine artillery regiments, six engineering battalions, and various support elements, such as signals, medical services, and ordnance. In addition to the six division headquarters, major army cantonments (barracks and housing areas that serve as the focal point of army life) were at Saidpur, Tangail, Khulna, Jalalabad, and elsewhere. The army also has a small fixed-wing regiment stationed in Dhaka. Army units are not known to operate with the navy in an amphibious assault capacity, although an amphibious assault map exercise is done at the staff college. The army's lack of bridging equipment was a severe liability, especially for its armor regiments. Unlike armies in Pakistan and India, the Bangladesh Army did not have a specially designated "para" (airborne assault) brigade but in 1988 was planning to develop such a capability. In mid-1988 the army reportedly was planning to raise a seventh infantry division to be held in reserve.*
Soldiers and Organization of the Bangladesh Army
In 2005, the Bangladesh army had 110,000 members. Military service age and obligation: 16-21 years of age for voluntary military service; Bangladeshi nationality and 10th grade education required; officers: 17-21 years of age, Bangladeshi nationality, and 12th grade education required (2018). An effort is being made to recruit women into the military. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020; Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]
The army adopted and has retained the British Indian Army system of ranks. As of mid-1988, Lieutenant General Atiqur Rahman, the army chief of staff, was the only three-star general in the army. Immediately below him were twenty-one two-star generals, eighteen of whom were from the more prestigious combat arms (fourteen of the generals were infantry officers). The remaining officers ranged in rank from brigadier to newly commissioned second lieutenants. Between the commissioned officers and the enlisted ranks is a separate category of junior commissioned officers (JCOs), who act as a bridge between the officers and their troops. Borrowed from the colonial commissioned officer system of the British Indian Army, JCOs are roughly equivalent to United States Army warrant officers (although few JCOs are technical specialists). JCOs are selected from noncommissioned officer ranks and advance through a three-tier ranking system (naib subedar, subedar, and subedar major). At the bottom of the hierarchy are the jawans, or common soldiers, who make up the bulk of the army. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]
Recruitment into the all-volunteer army is open to all male citizens of Bangladesh. There are no restrictions based on religious or ethnic affiliation, though the army is composed almost entirely of Bangla-speaking Sunni Muslims. The language of the military is Bangla. All officers are required to have at least a working knowledge of English. Army officer recruits must be between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. Before 1980 the maximum age for both officer and enlisted recruits who had fought in the war of independence as civilian irregulars was twenty-three years. With the aging of the liberation generation, however, the army discontinued preferential recruitment of freedom fighters.*
Officer candidates must be unmarried and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. The minimum height requirement is 160 centimeters; the minimum weight is 49.8 kilograms. Promising candidates attend a two-year officer training course at the Bangladesh Military Academy at Bhatiary, near Chittagong. After successful completion of the course, graduates receive commissions in the army as second lieutenants. The academy graduated its first class in 1977. Advanced military training is offered at the Defence Services Command and Staff College, founded in Dhaka in 1977. Attendance at the staff college is a preferential assignment for mid-career officers. In addition, the army operates a number of combat schools, such as the School of Infantry and Tactics in Sylhet. The only advanced training beyond the staff college point is in foreign military schools, primarily in the United States or Britain. These choice assignments are reserved for a few select officers. An officer usually serves from fifteen to twenty-five years, after which he is eligible to receive a pension, as well as perquisites such as preferential hiring in the civil service, reduced-price housing, and free land on or near military cantonments.*
Military pay and allowances are fixed by the National Pay Commission into ten grades with a total of seventeen steps, or pay scales. Nevertheless, the range in pay between the upper and lower strata of the officer corps remained basically the same in 1988 as in earlier years.*
Weapons and Hardware of the Bangladesh Army
The Bangladesh military had 276 tanks in 2020. The Bangladesh Defense Force inventory is comprised of mostly Chinese and Russian equipment. China and Russia have been the chief suppliers of arms to Bangladesh since 2010. Pakistan and Eastern Europe have also been major defense suppliers to Bangladesh, but military leaders are trying to find affordable alternatives to Chinese equipment. In 2005, he Army's main weapons systems included 180 main battle tanks, more than 40 light tanks, over 180 armored personnel carriers, and over 190 artillery pieces.
The army's armor regiments in the mid-1980s were equipped with Type 59, Type 54/55, and, its most recent acquisition, Type 62 light tanks (not to be confused with Soviet Type 62 medium tanks). The Type 59 main battle tank and Type 62 light tanks were supplied directly by China. Details regarding the terms of purchase, the training of Bangladeshi tank crews, and maintenance arrangements were never publicized. Following the series of coups and mutinies that erupted between 1975 and 1977, Zia removed the army's tanks from Dhaka in order to guard against further coups. The appearance of Type 59 and Type 62 tanks at the Victory Day parade in Dhaka in 1987, however, marked the first time that any tanks had appeared in a Victory Day parade and suggested that tanks may again be deployed in the vicinity of the capital. Other army weapons included 105mm and 122mm howitzers, 60mm and 120mm mortars, and 57mm, 76mm, and 106mm antitank weapons. The weapons had been acquired from a variety of sources, including as spoils of war from the Pakistan Army.*
Bangladesh has had to court a variety of states for weapons and training support. The country's only defense production facility was a munitions factory built during the Pakistan era with Chinese assistance. Because it depended on foreign sources for most of its military equipment, Bangladesh had a diverse weapons inventory. However, most of the inventory was obsolete, even by Third World standards. The diversity of equipment imposed severe maintenance problems for a military that lacked technical sophistication. Most overhauls of major equipment items had to be performed by foreign technicians or in the country of origin. Whenever these services have not been available — for instance when Soviet military assistance ended after the 1975 coup — foreign-supplied weapon systems have become inoperable. In extreme cases Bangladesh has had to cannibalize weapon systems, such as older MiG-21 aircraft, to keep some of the inventory in operation.*
The Bangladeshi military began its development with weapons surrendered by Pakistani forces and small arms supplied by India to the Mukti Bahini. After Indian forces left the country in October 1972, Mujib turned to India and its primary supplier, the Soviet Union, for military equipment and training. The Soviets supplied MiG-21 aircraft, An-26 transports, and some miscellaneous equipment items. In addition, Egypt transferred thirty Soviet-built (Type 54/55) tanks, and Yugoslavia donated a small naval patrol craft. Following Mujib's assassination, the military looked elsewhere for basic equipment items. Britain sold three aging frigates to Bangladesh, and the United States transferred limited quantities of small arms, mostly for police and paramilitary use. A major breakthrough occurred in 1975, when China extended diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh following the normalization of relations between Dhaka and China's longtime ally, Pakistan. By the early 1980s, China had become Bangladesh's primary supplier of military equipment.*
The United States gave the Bangladesh Air Force four U.S. C-130 B transport aircraft in 2001 under the excess defense article (EDA) program. These aircraft will improve the military's disaster response and peacekeeping capabilities. The Bangladesh Navy is mostly limited to coastal patrolling, but in 2001 it paid to have an ULSAN-class frigate built in South Korea. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]
Navy of Bangladesh
The Bangladesh Navy has one amphibious warfare ship, four frigates, 10 corvettes and two non-nuclear submarines. In 2005, the navy had 9,000 members, five frigates, 33 patrol/coastal vessels, and 4 mine warfare ships. The Bangladesh Navy is mostly limited to coastal patrolling, but in 2001 it paid to have an ULSAN-class frigate built in South Korea. The International Maritime Bureau reports the territorial waters of Bangladesh remain a risk for armed robbery against ships; in 2018, the number of attacks against commercial vessels increased to 12 over the 11 such incidents in 2017
The three primary missions of the Bangladesh Navy are to maintain sovereignty over the nation's territorial waters, to safeguard Bangladesh's economic interest and exercise maritime control within the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, and to protect Bangladeshi shipping. During the Pakistan era (1947-71), the navy was accorded a low priority. Pakistani leaders were preoccupied with maintaining the West Wing's land defenses against India. The Mukti Bahini did not have a naval force, other than a few frogmen who sabotaged Pakistani merchant ships. Wartime naval operations, including an amphibious landing near Chittagong, were left entirely to the Indian Navy. As a result, at independence, Bangladesh inherited virtually nothing in the way of naval equipment or personnel. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]
Founded as a separate military service on April 7, 1972, the Bangladesh Navy started with a nucleus of twelve officers and 1,000 seamen, most of whom had served in the Pakistan Navy. Their equipment included six captured speedboats and some miscellaneous small arms. From these humble beginnings, the Bangladesh Navy grew into a coastal and riverine defense force estimated in 1988 to include 600 officers and 6,900 enlisted personnel. The navy's center of operations and training was at the country's major port, Chittagong, where, in 1988, the new Bangladesh Naval Academy began its first academic year. Navy headquarter was in Dhaka. Smaller naval facilities were located at Kaptai and Khulna.*
The most formidable ships in the navy were three vintage frigates purchased from Britain in the late 1970s. These included two Leopard-class Type 41 frigates, renamed Abu Bakr and Ali Haider, and one Salisbury-class Type 61 frigate, renamed Umar Farooq. The most modern craft in the inventory were twenty-four patrol boats purchased from the Chinese between 1982 and 1984. These included four Hegu-class fast attack craft, armed with missiles; four P4-class fast-attack craft, armed with torpedoes; and eight Hainan-class and eight Shanghai II-class fast attack patrol craft. These vessels patrolled coastal waters and rivers to interdict foreign fishing vessels and assert Bangladeshi sovereignty over its territorial waters. Other vessels in the Bangladeshi inventory included vintage patrol craft purchased from China, Yugoslavia, India, Japan, and Singapore; a recommissioned Pakistani patrol boat; a similar craft converted from a Thai fishing boat; and five indigenously built Pabna-class riverine patrol craft. Bangladesh also maintained a merchant fleet comprising 274 vessels. Since all were government owned, merchant vessels could be pressed into service during hostilities. In the late 1980s, the Bangladesh Navy had no air wing, marine corps, or reserves.*
Air Force of Bangladesh
The Bangladesh Air Force has 81 military aircraft and 18 attack helicopters. In 2005, the air force had 6,500 members, 29 fighters and 34 fighter ground attack aircraft. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007] . The Bangladesh Air Force, descended from the Pakistan Air Force, had a 1988 personnel strength of 5,000, including more than 400 officers, of whom about 175 were pilots. Like the navy, it started from humble beginnings, inheriting destroyed aircraft, damaged runways, looted stores, and neutralized maintenance facilities. After its formation as a separate service in April 1972, the air force acquired various fighters and transport aircraft from the Soviet Union. The Soviets also trained some air force pilots. Following the political turmoil of the mid-1970s, the air force looked to China for the bulk of its aircraft, as well as for training. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]
As of mid-1988, the air force inventory included three squadrons of combat aircraft, some of which were probably unserviceable. These squadrons included vintage MiG-21 interceptors supplied by the Soviet Union during the Mujib period. In 1978 China supplied fifteen F-6s (the Chinese version of the Soviet MiG-19) and sixteen A-5s in 1986. The Chinese-supplied fighter inventory in early 1988 totaled two squadrons, or about thirty A-5s and F-6s. Transport aircraft included one An-26 squadron supplied by the Soviets. Helicopters, used in disaster relief and troop transport operations, included thirteen American-made Bell 212s (twin-engine Hueys) and eleven Soviet-supplied Mi-8s. The air force's main operating base and headquarters were in Dhaka. Other air force bases were located at Jessore, also the site of the Bangladesh Air Force Academy, and Chittagong. Small satellite airfields, all of which doubled as civilian airports, were dispersed throughout the country. The government-owned passenger airline, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, could also be considered an air force asset during emergencies. Aside from conducting relief operations, the air force's main mission is to transport troops and equipment to isolated army outposts in the tribal insurgent belt in the Chittagong Hills.*
The United States gave the Bangladesh Air Force four U.S. C-130 B transport aircraft in 2001 under the excess defense article (EDA) program. These aircraft will improve the military's disaster response and peacekeeping capabilities. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]
Auxiliary Forces, Bangladesh Rifles and the Ansars
In addition to the three service branches, Bangladesh supports an internal security establishment. In 2005, paramilitary forces of border guards, armed police, and security guards numbered 126,200. According to “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook”: “A Coast Guard has been formed, under the home ministry, to play a stronger role in the area of anti-smuggling, anti-piracy, and protection of offshore resources. Recognition of economic and fiscal constraints has led to the establishment of several paramilitary and auxiliary forces, including the 40,000-member Bangladesh rifles; the Ansars and village defense parties organization, which claim 64 members in every village in the country; and a 5,000-member specialized police unit known as the armed police. In 2004, a new police unit called the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was constituted with personnel drawn from the military and different law enforcement agencies. RAB is designed to fight hardcore criminal gangs. Bangladesh Rifles, under the authority of the home ministry, are commanded by army officers who are seconded to the organization. [Source:“Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]
Bangladesh’s internal security establishment that numbered approximately 55,000 personnel in mid-1988. These formal auxiliaries included two paramilitary forces — the 30,000-member Bangladesh Rifles and the 20,000-member Ansars — and a 5,000-member specialized police unit known as the Armed Police. Although large — there were 10 million members in 1988 — a fourth paramilitary/police element, the Village Defence Party, played a marginal internal security role. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]
The country's first line of defense, the Bangladesh Rifles, is descended from the East Pakistan Rifles formed during the period of a united Pakistan. The mission of the force includes patrolling borders, interdicting smugglers, investigating transborder crimes, and extending governmental authority in isolated areas. In addition, paramilitary forces provide backup to the army during wartime.*
The Bangladesh Rifles came into existence shortly after independence. The original complement of 9,000 personnel were mostly East Pakistan Rifles deserters who had fought with the Mukti Bahini. By 1973 a vigorous recruiting campaign had swelled Bangladesh Rifles ranks to about 20,000 personnel. For budgeting purposes, the Bangladesh Rifles are subordinate to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The army, however, plays a major role in staffing, training, and directing the force. Most Bangladesh Rifles officers are seconded from the regular army. For instance, the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Atiqur Rahman, served as director general of the Bangladesh Rifles for four and one-half years. In addition, retired JCOs and jawans are often assigned to the Bangladesh Rifles in recognition of long years of service. Although Bangladesh Rifles units can be called upon to assist the police in putting down domestic disturbances, their primary role is to guard the nation's frontiers. The force is organized into battalions along military lines. During wartime or declared national emergencies, the president, in his role as commander in chief, can authorize the military to assume direct control over all paramilitary and police forces.*
The Ansars, formed in 1948, are a lightly armed auxiliary force that assists the police in maintaining law and order, participates in civic action projects in rural areas, and performs rear area missions in conjunction with the army during wartime. The word ansar (Arabic for helper) alludes to the companions of the Prophet Muhammad who traveled with him during his exile from Mecca. [Source: James Heitzman and Robert Worden, Library of Congress, 1989 *]
After independence, Mujib suspected Ansars personnel of being disloyal to his regime and a potential armed threat in the countryside and so played down their role. After Mujib was killed and the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini was disbanded, however, army leaders resuscitated the Ansars in an effort to improve rural security, which had deteriorated sharply under Awami League rule. In 1976 the Ansars were designated a "people's defence force," reorganized into battalions, and placed under the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Army personnel are routinely posted for duty with Ansars battalions. In 1980 the Ansars raised four coastal battalions and made plans to post female Ansars contingents to each district. Ansars headquarters and its National Training Center are located at Gazipur, about thirty kilometers north of Dhaka.*
Peacekeeping Forces from Bangladesh
Bangladesh has participated in numerous United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping missions, up to almsot a dozen at . In 2013, it was the biggest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations, with more than 8,000 personnel, followed by Pakistan and India. In 2007, Bangladesh had more than 9,650 peacekeepers deployed around the world, making it the second-largest troop contributor to international peacekeeping operations at that time.
Military deployments: 1,025 Central African Republic (MINUSCA); 1,650 Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); 115 Lebanon (UNIFIL); 1,300 Mali (MINUSMA); 1,580 South Sudan (UNMISS) (March 2020). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]
In 2007, Bangladesh peacekeeping troops were deployed in Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sudan, Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Western Sahara, Georgia, East Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan. A 2,300-member Bangladesh Army contingent served with coalition forces during the 1991 Gulf war. [Source: “Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook” 2009]
Countries contributing the most troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations in 2000 (number of troops): 1) Nigeria (3,322); 2) India (2,520); 3) Ghana (1,797); 4) Australia (1,760); and 5) Bangladesh (1,525).
At least 132 Bangladeshi peacekeepers have died during their missions. In December 2003, 15 Bangladeshi soldiers died in a plane crash in Benin. Thirteen were based in Sierra Leone, two in Liberia. The were returning to their bases after a holiday on a Boeing 727 that crashed with 161 people on board.
According to the United Nations: “The South Asian nation first deployed uniformed personnel to serve with the Organization in 1988 when they were deployed to help monitor the armistice between Iran and Iraq. Over the past three decades, the contributions of these brave men and women in the countries in which they serve have been immense. As of December 2017, there were 7,246 Bangladeshi troops and police personnel in 10 missions around the world. Bangladeshi peacekeepers work in various roles — some provide protection, others heal and design roads — but all serve under the blue flag to support the governments and peoples of the countries in which they serve. [Source: United Nations]
Bangladesh Peacekeeping Units
According to the United Nations: In Haiti, an all-female Bangladeshi Formed Police Unit served with the UN mission, known as MINUSTAH, from 2015 until October 2017, when the mission completed its work. The 160-strong contingent focused on reconstruction efforts after the deadly earthquake in 2010.
UN peacekeepers from Bangladesh have worked in some of the world’s hotspots, including the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the Darfur region of Sudan. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bangladeshi troops regularly patrol villages to ensure security. Patrol commander from the Bangladeshi battalion work with chiefs in Ituri Province of eastern DRC, during a routine security patrol.
Members of the Bangladeshi contingents play different roles in UN peacekeeping missions around the world. They have provided free medical consultations to residents of a community in the Central African Republic. In 2017, Bangladesh sent two female combat pilots to the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) — Flight Lieutenant Nayma Haque and Flight Lieutenant Tamanna-E-Lutfi.
Bangladeshi engineers serving with the UN mission in South Sudan are leading efforts to improve a 78-kilometer stretch of road between Gumbo and Mangalla, on the artery between Juba and Bor. The road connects local communities, allowing them to more easily bring goods to the market. It is "virtually impossible" to fully serve and protect civilians who rely on UN peacekeeping missions around the world without the participation of women within the ranks. That's the firm view of Major General Mohammad Humayun Kabir of Bangladesh, Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, which goes by the acronym UNFICYP.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Bangladesh Tourism Board, Bangladesh National Portal (www.bangladesh.gov.bd), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022