Intro: Maoist attack on security forces in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh has raised many questions once again by killing jawans in big numbers.
The Maoist attack on the security forces in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Monday, December 1 underlines a glaring truth – that the security forces are waging a battle already lost in the Maoist heartland, where the latter repeatedly emphasise their supremacy, by killing jawans in big numbers. The latest count is 14 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel killed in an ambush in the forest of Elamgunda in the Chintagufa area in Sukma district (South Baster), about 400 kms from the state capital Raipur.
RSS strongly condemns cowardly attack by Maoists on CRPF Jawans
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) strongly condemned the Maoist attack on CRPF Jawans in Chhattisgarh in which 14 soldiers were killed on December 1. “We strongly condemn yesterday’s cowardly attack of Maoists in Chattisgarh in which 14 of our brave hearts were martyred”, said RSS Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Dr Manmohan Vaidya in Delhi on December 2.
Few days back, the Chief Minister of state, Dr Raman Singh had said “the Maoists would be finished from Chhattisgarh soon”. In more than half a dozen attacks in 2014, the Maoists had killed 22 security personnel and civilians between February and April.
Each time a Maoist attack takes place that kills security personnel and civilians, question arises what goes wrong and why we are so helpless in front of extremist attacks despite having well-trained forces. This operation too has pointed fingers at several factors that led to a failure.
Plan that was chalked out
On November 29, eight teams comprising over 550 personnel from 223rd Battalion of the CRPF, 206th Battalion of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) – an elite fighting unit created to track, hunt and eliminate Naxalite groups and Chhattisgarh Police got into an intense search and flush out operation by entering into the jungles of Elamgunda—10 km from Chintagufa police camp on November 29. Eight locations were identified as per the strategy, these teams before proceeding to Chintagufa, spent the night at a nearby hill, a joint team reportedly comprising nearly 500 jawans from the battalions of CRPF, CoBRA and the state police left for Chintagufa.
The paramilitary force is said to have undertaken the operation, as they were of the know that the CPI (Maoist) cadre would gather, with some of their senior leaders to observe People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) Week, an annual affair scheduled to begin on December 2.
The paramilitary force didn’t realise that they had stepped into the most dangerous zone of the Maoists (liberated zone)—part of the Red Corridor, which also is a safe haven for the Maoist cadre. Surrounded by hills and deep forest, Elamgunda makes an ideal ground for guerrilla warfare.
“It’s a Maoist tradition to carry out strikes against security personnel during the PLGA Week to exhibit their strength and control in areas under their dominance. And, this time too they did the same, and the CRPF personnel probably missed this point or couldn’t guess its severity,” a Counter-Insurgency Expert, having a know of LWE functioning said.
Preliminary information indicates that armed guerilla cadres were positioned on three sides, assisted by local villagers (used them as human shield), attacked the CRPF personnel and overpowered them with heavy firing, probably with Light Machine Guns (LMG).
“There are serious lacunae in the methodology of the operation. First, the Maoists fired from behind the human shield, but as reported till now, not a single civilian has got wounded or killed in the cross-fire. Second, despite being specially trained, how the CRPF battalion got into the trap laid by the Maoists in their liberated zone is ambiguous,” pointed out defence Analyst Maj Gen (retd) Dhruv C Katoch.
“Lack of knowledge of the terrain like Bastar also leads to such disaster. The CRPF wasn’t initially designed to combat militants, and it’s involved in multi-tasking from safeguarding elections to peace-keeping during riots, and moreover they are constantly on move. The need is to deploy a highly trained specialized force dedicated to take on Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) and their guerilla warfare in difficult forest terrains,” added Katoch, who has led several counter-insurgence operations.
Error of Judgment
“First, it was a safe haven of the Maoists. Second, during PLGA Week, they gather heavily armed in large numbers to take on any kind of counter operation against them. It seems to be an error of judgment and the security forces failed to read the writing on the wall,” a Counter-Insurgency Expert said.
Former Director General, CRPF, Pranay Sahay added, “It’s too early to comment anything, but prima-facie it seems there was a lapse of procedure in the operation that caused such a big casualty.” The Indian Air Force (IAF) has refused to get its rescue chopper in Sukma due to poor light and uncertain ground situation.
Do we’ve the right kind of policy to tackle the growing LWE? “Everything is wrong in tackling the Naxal menace. From policy formulation to its implementation, nothing is right. Rampant corruption in the police administration and lack of commitment lead to failures in dealing with such grave situations in a war zone,” said former Director General, Border Security Force, Prakash Singh.
Failed Back-up Support
Instances show failure in providing backup support to jawans in the war-zone. The sources said the CRPF team that faced casualties, failed to get backup support from the team that had moved ahead.
In another case, sources claimed that the IAF had reportedly refused to get its rescue chopper on pretext of poor light.
“But, the fact is that they didn’t provide chopper due to uncertain ground situation. It delayed movement of injured and ill jawans to next day,” a source said.
Local support to Naxals
Contrary to the claim that Maoists held villagers hostage, the local sources said the passive sympathy of villagers are with the Maoist cadre. “It’s a regular feature that police visit villages and physically abuse villagers. The jawans have picked up five villagers and have taken them to their camp at Chintagufa. Due to this villagers support Maoists and provide them hideout,” a source in know of things claimed. The analysts believe that this also weakens an operation, due to lack of local support.
There were five jawans on duty, who were reportedly suffering from fever due to Malaria. Malaria has become epidemic in the area where CRPF has camped.
“Our jawans are losing morale of working in Naxal-infested regions, due to the killing of their colleagues in such gruesome manner. There’s so helplessness growing in them, and they pray that one shouldn’t get posted in these belts, said CRPF official on condition of anonymity
Debobrat Ghose (The writer is a Delhi-based journalist, who writes on political economy and national security)