In the biggest Maoist attack on security forces in over two years, 12 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed and two injured in an ambush in the Bhejji area of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh on Saturday morning. All personnel belonged to the 219 Battalion of the paramilitary force, which has a post at Bhejji.
The attack came on the same day as a Maoist strike in 2014 in Tahkawada region of Bastar that had killed 16, including 11 CRPF men, four police personnel and a civilian.
The Maoists struck at 9 am, a kilometre from the Bhejji camp, towards Kottacheru, when more than hundred CRPF personnel were on their way for an area-domination exercise. Officials said the attack lasted for over an hour.
Security forces have launched a massive operation and manhunt to find two key Naxal commanders active in the area, identified as Hidma and Sonu, sources said.
The bodies of the CRPF personnel were brought to state capital Raipur by helicopter. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who flew down from Delhi to take stock of the situation, attended a ceremony to honour them.
Acting CRPF DG Sudeep Lakhtakia told The Sunday Express, “The troops first came under heavy fire, and when they were trying to launch a counter-attack, hidden IEDs were triggered, leading to serial explosions… Eleven weapons and two wireless sets were also snatched by the Maoists.”
Lakhtakia added, “A 2-km road from Bhejji and Kokacherru is under construction and the CRPF team had gone to provide security for it. The area falls under Sukma district, which is the last bastion of Maoists in south Bastar.”
The CRPF team would have also provided security to the weekly bazaar held in the area. CRPF officers said a consolidation of their presence in the area and the reopening of this market by locals since last year had made the Naxals desperate.
Senior Chhattisgarh Police sources said primary information indicates that the Maoists were able to isolate one part of the CRPF unit, and suspect that the Maoists were keeping a watch on the men. “This is an area where a road is planned, and while there is no active construction at the moment, the CRPF moves around as a routine area-domination excercise. According to our information, a total of 110 men left the post, but this was something they did every day. Therefore, prima facie indications are the Maoists studied their movements,” a senior police official said.
The deceased CRPF personnel were identified as Head Constables Jagdish Prasad Vishnoi and P R Minde, Inspector Jagjit Singh, Assistant Sub-Inspectors H B Bhatt and Narender Kumar Singh, and Constables Mangesh Pal Pandey, Rampal Singh Yadav, Goraknath, Nand Kumar Patra, Satish Kumar Verma, K Shankar and Suresh Kumar. Constables Jaidev Parmanik and Salim are reported to be critically injured.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he had spoken to Rajnath Singh on the matter. “Deeply pained to learn of the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma. My heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased. The Centre is in direct communication with the state government. Those who perpetrated this incident in Sukma will be brought to justice,” he wrote.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also expressed her concern at the killings.
The NDA government has been claiming that since it came to power in 2014, Maoist violence has dipped by more than 40-45 per cent. In 2016, Chhattisgarh accounted for more than 37 per cent of the Naxal violence, followed by Jharkhand and Bihar.