Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 55, 25 March 2020

India: In an ambush, the Naxals kill 17 security personnel
D Suba Chandran

In the news

In the jungles of Sukma district in Chattisgarh state, the Naxals killed 17 security personnel in an ambush and looted their weapons, including 12 AK-47s, and a UBGL, an INSAS, and an LMG. The personnel was a part of a security operation, following information regarding the gathering of the Maoists in the forests of Elmagunda in Sukma district. 

The operation includes 600 personnel drawn from the District Reserve Guards (DRG), the Special Task Force (STF) of the state police, and the CoBRA commandos of the CRPF. According to available reports, the operation could not materialize as the information about the gathering was false. The team was returning in two groups, when more than 250 Naxals ambushed one of the groups, resulting in a crossfire – leading to the killing of 17 personnel. The intensity of the casualty from the Naxal side is yet to be ascertained.

Issues at large

This is not the first time that Sukma is in the news relating to anti-Naxal operations, and also a substantial casualty of the security forces. In March 2014, 16 people, including 11 from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed by the CRPF in an ambush. In December 2014, 14 personnel from the CRPF were killed, again in the same district. In March 2017, 16 people, including 15 from the CRPF, were killed in the border between Sukma and Bastar districts.

The security forces have been on a learning curve in understanding the naxal strategies. The Naxals would set an ambush – with misinformation, to trap the security forces in a geographic terrain of the forests that would give them an advantage. 

Another strategy has been to stage a minor attack to draw a larger team of security forces into the area and ambush them in a bigger number. One of the reasons, why the reinforcement took time to get back into the areas where the firing was taking place for hours was to avoid a possible trap.

Perhaps, the raiding party was led by misinformation, carefully planted. There was information regarding one of the largest gatherings of two companies of the Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), and about the dreaded Maoist leader Hidma’s presence. According to Durgesh Awasthi, the Director-General of Police (DGP): “It was the biggest yet congregation of the Maoists in the area from Bijapur and Sukma. Following the information, our men went to fight them and were ambushed.” According to the Hindu, “despite the intelligence, they did not encounter even one Maoist and began their journey back, in two groups, to their camps at Chintagufa and Burkapal, not more than six kilometers apart as the crow flies.” It was a trap that the security forces walked into.

In perspective

In retrospect, it is easier to blame the security forces for falling due to false information. The Hindu, in its editorial, has raised crucial questions: “It is yet to be convincingly explained how as many as 400 personnel so near did not rush to aid their uniformed brethren. Was it a leadership or assessment issue? Was there a communication breakdown? Was the initial intelligence properly vetted, or was it a bait? Was this entire operation properly supervised?” These are important questions that need to be answered. If not to the public, at least internally within the government and the security forces.

The presence of Naxal leader Hidma and the gathering of two companies of the PLGA is something that the security forces fighting the Naxals in the region could not resist. It was a risk and a bold attempt. Nevertheless, they took; and failed. But did they?

The guerrilla warfare, especially by the Naxals in Chattisgarh, cannot be taught in any counter-insurgency manuals. This has been a harsh lesson that the security forces have been learning in fighting the Naxals in the jungles. It is a long haul.

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