Chhattisgarh gunfight: Using tough terrain, Maoists repeat the rerun of 2010 Dantewada attack

Express News Service
NEW DELHI/RAIPUR: A group of around 200 Maoists silently observed the movement of the team of CRPF and state police soldiers for nearly a day before identifying the more isolated group of 150 and then attacked them with all their might, killing 22 soldiers on the spot and injuring 35 more soldiers, in what is the biggest blow to the security forces since the April 2017 Burkapal attack.

Given that the modus operandi in Saturday’s encounter appears to be the same as that employed in the 2017 Burkapal attack or the 2010 Dantewada attack – in which the armed guerrillas isolate and attack a party of soldiers returning from an area domination exercise, when they are already out on the field for over 24 hours and vulnerable due to exhaustion – questions are likely to be raised about the learnings of the forces from their past brushes with the Maoists.

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According to highly placed sources, despite the best efforts of search parties, one soldier is still untraceable. “The possibility of him being captured alive by the Maoists cannot be ruled out,” a highly placed source told the New Indian Express. The missing soldier belongs to the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, sources told New Indian Express.

Gunfight in tough terrain led to high casualty

The twenty-two personnel who were killed in the fierce gunfight on April 3, include eight each from the elite Cobra battalion of CRPF and District Reserve Guards (DRG), six belonged to Chhattisgarh’s Special Task Force (STF) and one from the CRPF’s Bastariya Battalion. While the number of casualties on the side of Maoists couldn’t be established, one body of a Maoist leader with an INSAS rifle was recovered. She has been identified as Madavi Vanoja, believed to be the commander of the Local Guerilla Squad (LGS) of Pamed area, with an INSAS, was recovered by the forces.

“Our aggressive anti-Maoist operations will continue with the renewed strategy. As per our information, the naxals too had suffered heavy casualties and our sources revealed they carried their dead on four tractors”, said Ashok Juneja, Director General (anti-Maoist operation).

The officials informed that the troopers were attacked by the Maoists with UBGL rocket launcher and indiscriminate firing by LMG and other weapons, while they were returning from the operations. It took almost 24 hours for the reinforcements pressed into rescue operation to cautiously tread and reach the ground zero of the encounter site near the villages of Jonaguda and Tekalgudam, close to the Silger forested landscape on Sunday.

Based on an intelligence input a massive operation to attack an assembly of Maoist leadership was launched on Friday, April 2. After combing through the Sukma-Bijapur border as the forces were returning from a different route, the Maoists are believed to have isolated the group of 150 personnel, whom they had been following through the day, and rained bullets on them.

“Since the terrain is tough, once firing is opened from any side, pushing in reinforcement becomes tough since you don’t know the strength and position of your enemy right away and you want to avoid friendly fire at all costs. In such situations your training and your instinct are your only support systems,” said a highly placed police official.

The armed guerrillas have been repeatedly employing this modus operandi of hiding till the last moment, as security forces are returning from an operation – when they are most vulnerable, and then launching the attack on the most vulnerable group of the armed forces. “They continue to engage the forces over a period of time, till our personnel’s ammunition runs out. That’s when they launch the all-out attack,” the official added.

Most recently this modus operandi was seen in the attack the Maoists carried out in Burkapal in April 2017 when they killed 25 CRPF soldiers.

The most feared group of CPI(Maoist), the PLGA battalion number 1, which comprises of nearly 100-150 armed and most experienced guerrillas led by Hidma, is believed to have led the attack. This group is believed to have been behind every major attack on security forces in the last two decades, including the 2010 Tadmetla attack in which 76 CRPF soldiers were killed and the 2013 Darbha valley attack in which 27 people including Congress’ entire state leadership were massacred.

“This period from April [in which the Tadmetla and Burkapal attacks happened] and May [2013 attack], till the onset of monsoon, is the period when Maoists are most active. This period is what they refer to as Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign or TCOC,” a source in the state’s intelligence department told New Indian Express.

The source added that the Maoists, who had been using the period of lockdown to regroup themselves, launched the attack this year for two reasons. “One is that since 2017 Burkapal incident, they really had carried out no large-scale operation. They were desperate to carry out a large attack, which helps them in increasing recruitment and re-stocking their ammunition, which they snatch from our personnel.”

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The second and more pressing reason was pure desperation because of the substantial increase in the number of camps established in the region dominated by the Maoists.

“We have been using the past few years to really ramp up our network of camps in the area. For instance this attack happened near our recently set up camp at Tarrem, which is our forward base and which has allowed us easy access into launching ops in their heartland. Slowly we have begun to bifurcate and even trifurcate their areas of influence. Moving around for them has become quite difficult. So this is their desperate bid to push against our growing influence,” a senior intelligence official said.