Weeks before Lok Sabha elections in Bastar, Maoists launched their biggest attack on security forces in three years on Tuesday and killed 15 personnel who were pursuing intelligence inputs and looking for the extremists on the border of Bastar and Sukma districts.
A villager was also killed in the attack launched by about 100 Maoists. Eleven victims belonged to the CRPF and four to the district police.
The security team was deployed to provide security to the road construction work on National Highway 30 that connects Raipur to Sukma. Officials said there was “information about the heavy assembly of Maoists and the possibility of an attack” but the team of 45 personnel, which left the Tongpal police station around 10 am, may have become a soft target in the hostile terrain.
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They said the Maoists surrounded the police team from both sides and fired indiscriminately near Takabada village under Tongpal police station of Sukma.
The firing lasted less than 15 minutes and the rebels managed to loot heavy ammunition from the dead, including six AK-47s, some of which were fitted with Under Barrel Grenade Launchers, 18 magazines of the same rifle, one LMG with 10 magazines, nine INSAS rifles with 30 magazines, two SLRs with six magazines and two wireless sets.
The ambush took place barely 10 km south of the spot where the Maoists had attacked a Congress convoy last May and killed 27 people, including PCC chief Nand Kumar Patel and former minister Mahendra Karma. Days after that attack, the CRPF had set up a major camp at the spot.
Police said three injured personnel had been shifted to Raipur and two of them were critical.
“We knew about it. A road was being constructed there and we knew that Maoists had assembled to attack the security forces deployed to ensure construction. We had been sending several alerts in this regard. We were alert, local police was alert. This morning the CRPF’s company commander discussed it with the police. They decided to go into the jungle, but unfortunately they were caught,” ADG (Intelligence) Mukesh Gupta told The Indian Express.
“It was our bold, courageous step to go in their pursuit. But the terrain and the dominant position it gives you has a great role to play. If someone has a good weapon and holds a dominant position, he can wipe out an entire company.”
The intelligence department, it is learnt, sent at least six inputs from March 5 to March 9 about Maoists assembling in the area and the possibility of an attack. A March 6 alert mentioned the presence of noted Maoist Gaganna in the area and said “these Maoists can attack a police party deployed in the security of road construction”.
A March 9 alert also mentioned the heavy presence of Maoists and said “they can launch a planed attack on security forces deployed for the protection of road construction”.
“Inspector Subhash of CRPF was leading a team of around 40 security personnel. He was also killed. We suspect that the Maoists have escaped towards Orissa border. We have launched STF operations to trace them,” DIG (Intel) Dipanshu Kabra said.
Some experts claimed the security team did not follow standard operating procedure. It was a road-opening patrol but the forces did not take a sideways route through the forests as advised in such situations. Instead, they marched on the road and were targeted, they said.
The spot has a hill on one side and a ditch on the other. The Maoists took positions on the hill and in the ditch, making it difficult for the forces to retaliate.
“The leader of the ROP did not follow the standard procedure and that caused the attack. It’s a major negligence that they keep repeating,” said former BSF DGP E N Rammohan, who led the one-member commission to probe the Tadmetla ambush of April 2010 in which 75 CRPF personnel were killed.
Chhattisgarh’s leader of opposition T S Sinhadev demanded Chief Minister Raman Singh’s resignation.
“If he has even the slightest of morality left in him, he should resign. It’s not a lapse, it’s sheer incompetence. This administration has been rendered completely incapable of tackling the issue. The administration has everything at its disposal, still it’s unable to provide security even to those who are assigned to ensure the security of others,” he said.