Developed in the 1950s with assistance from the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the paramilitary Border Patrol Police (BPP) has remained the country’s most effective internal security force. Although technically part of the TNPD, the BPP has always enjoyed a great deal of basic autonomy within the national headquarters as well as in its multifaceted field operations. Because the royal family was a principal patron of the organization, the BPP developed the esprit de corps of an elite unit. This traditional relationship benefited both the palace and its paramilitary protectors. At the same time, the BPP retained direct links with the larger Royal Thai Army--a relationship that afforded it an additional degree of political strength. Most BPP commanders were former army officers whose military ties were of considerable value in BPP operations.
Charged with border security along some 4,800 kilometers of land frontiers, the BPP’s mission included collecting information on the activities of smugglers, bandits, illegal immigrants, refugees, infiltrators, and communist insurgents. To fulfill its mission, it employed an extensive intelligence network and maintained surveillance over villages and farming districts that had a history of cross-border activities. When armed force was required, the BPP was able to respond effectively. Despite its modest size in comparison with the army, the BPP became a primary counterinsurgency force because of its training, motivation, and unique skills.
Thirty-two-man platoons functioning as security teams formed the basic operating units of the BPP. Each platoon was supported by one or more heavy weapons platoons stationed at the regional and area police headquarters. A special police aerial reinforcement unit airlifted BPP platoons to troubled areas when an emergency arose. Relatively well armed with modern light infantry equipment, the BPP also benefited from training by United States Army Special Forces advisers, who helped establish an instruction program during the 1960s.
The BPP served as an important adjunct to the Thai military and often operated under army (and sometimes marine corps) control during counterinsurgency operations. BPP units stationed along the Cambodian and Laotian borders following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979 often served as the first line of defense and bore the brunt of Vietnamese attacks.
In order to carry out its primary intelligence mission, the BPP worked to establish rapport with remote area villagers and hill tribes. They engaged in civic action projects to gain the confidence and loyalty of rural peoples, building and operating more than 200 schools in remote areas and helping the army to construct offices for civilian administration. In addition, they established rural medical aid stations, gave farmers agricultural assistance, and built small airstrips for communication and transportation purposes.
Responding to village complaints of banditry and harassment by elements the central government considered subversive, the BPP supported the development of a local law enforcement adjunct known as the Volunteer Defense Corps (VDC). Established in 1954, the corps was intended to provide law and order, much like a civilian militia responsible to local authorities, in the event of defense emergencies or natural disasters. The paramilitary VDC had the main responsibility for protecting local inhabitants from threats and intimidation by guerrillas who infiltrated the border provinces from neighboring Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. One of its chief tactics was to deny the insurgents access to the food and other supplies that made villages and farms favorite targets. VDC members received training from the BPP, and their effectiveness in both law enforcement and civic action was of considerable value to government goals.
In the late 1980s, VDC strength was estimated at roughly 33,000, down from a peak of about 52,000 in 1980. Part of the reduction was absorbed by the formation of a new organization called the Thahan Phran. With a strength of about 14,000, the Thahan Phran was a volunteer irregular force deployed in active trouble spots along the Cambodian and Burmese borders. The organization followed a military structure and had 32 regiments and 196 companies. The Thahan Phran gained considerable publicity and incurred significant casualties during Vietnamese bombardments and local assaults along the Cambodian border.