By Sanjeev Miglani
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is sending its national security adviser to Myanmar to calm tempers over a rare cross-raid against insurgents that it trumpeted as a warning to countries harboring anti-India militants.
Days after Indian Special Forces crossed into Myanmar from two northeastern states to hunt down militants who had killed 18 soldiers in an ambush, it turns out that the operation was minor and only low-level rebels were targeted.
But Indian ministers portrayed the military action - which was meant to be covert - as a major success and a declaration that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ready to carry out surgical strikes against militants beyond India's borders.
Myanmar broke its silence over the operation after the chest-thumping, saying no fighting had taken place on its soil and military experts in New Delhi said it would be harder to get Myanmar's support for further counter-insurgency actions.
National Security Adviser Ajit Kumar Doval, who was a key player in the June 9 operation against two rebel camps in Myanmar, will meet government leaders in Myanmar during a two-day trip starting on Tuesday, officials said.
"Damage limitation will be an overwhelming component of this visit after the embarrassment that has been caused to Myanmar by the intemperate statements from our ministers," said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management that tracks militant activity across South Asia.
India's mountainous northeast, bounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, is home to dozens of insurgent groups, some fighting for greater autonomy and others for secession.
India's army said it inflicted significant casualties during the pre-dawn raid last week. But intelligence assessments have since revealed that one of the camps was empty when the commandos struck.
Only seven bodies had been recovered, the Indian Express said, quoting assessments conducted by the army with the intelligence services. Wireless intercepts suggested fewer than a dozen rebels were wounded.
"This was a relatively minor operation and will have only transient tactical and psychological significance. Operationally and logistically, the Myanmar attack was unexceptional," Sahni said.
But junior information and broadcasting minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said the attack was a message to arch foe Pakistan that New Delhi would go after militants beyond its borders, a thinly veiled reference to Kashmir where India blames Pakistan for fomenting a militant rebellion.
Former Indian ambassador to Myanmar Preet Malik told The Wire website that advertising the covert strike was uncalled for and had put a strain on relations with Myanmar which had cooperated with India on security issues.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Nick Macfie)