Updated: April 5, 2021 3:02:59 am
THE HUTS were shut and the bodies laid out on the ground outside, one of them on a bed of dry leaves dull red in colour like the caked blood, dotted with small mahua flowers.
Twenty-four hours after a group of security personnel were ambushed by Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, Jhiragaon village in the jungles along the borders of Sukma and Bijapur bore the scars of the gunbattle: 22 dead, 30 injured, one still missing — the highest casualty in such an attack over the past four years.
Two bodies had been found Saturday. On Sunday, the bodies of 20 more personnel were found along with that of a woman from the Maoist ranks and an INSAS rifle. The 22 bodies of security personnel were retrieved around noon by squads of the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and Special Task Force (STF) who had escaped the ambush.
Chhattisgarh Police said in a statement that at least 12 Maoists were killed and 16 injured in the gunbattle following the ambush. “On the basis of our sources and technical information, we have reasons to believe that our forces caused damage to the Maoist forces… We have information that they had to carry their injured in trucks towards Jabbamurka and Gomguda villages (in Bijapur),” police said.
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According to officials and personnel on the ground, the ambush occurred within a 1.5 km radius as the forces were chased down the Tekulagudem hill to a flat ground close to where the villagers spread out their mahua leaves to dry.
The security personnel were part of a “combined operation” that had been planned for weeks and was intended to target Battalion No. 1 Area Commander Hidma, one of the most wanted Maoists said to be responsible for several attacks against security forces.
Starting Friday, more than 2,000 personnel had set out from five camps to a location around 14.5 km from Tarrem, a camp near the Sukma-Bijapur border. Officials said the operation had been delayed by two days because of a law and order situation in Bijapur.
The ambushed group was part of a 450-strong contingent that had not met with any resistance or come across any human presence. But on the way back, officials said, they were attacked by around 600 Maoists who chased them, killing and maiming several. The firing that started at around 11.30 am went on till beyond 4 pm, a jawan said.
Senior officers said the Maoist cadre involved in the ambush were under Hidma, and used guns, grenades and “other sophisticated weapons”. The ferocity of the attack was visible the day after: one of the bodies had tourniquets around the leg and thighs from two bullet wounds; another had been shot in the head at close range; others had bullet injuries on the chest, stomach and head apart from blast wounds.
According to officials, those dead included eight personnel from the DRG, six from the STF and eight from the CRPF.
Two MI-17 helicopters of the IAF were deployed to evacuate the injured, and at least nine ambulances were rushed to Tarrem from where the wounded were taken to the Bijapur district hospital late Saturday night. At the district hospital, around 18 jawans are being treated for bullet and shrapnel wounds, and their condition has been described as stable.
On Sunday, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel spoke over the phone with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. But while Baghel said in a statement that “security forces will campaign against Naxalites” with more force, the Opposition BJP questioned him and the ruling Congress.
BJP leader and former CM Raman Singh said: “It is a sad incident in Bijapur. Yet, the Chief Minister is busy campaigning in Assam. He doesn’t think it’s important to come and visit the injured, or at least go to Bijapur. It’s very insensitive on the CM’s part.”
Saturday’s encounter comes 10 days after five DRG personnel were killed when Maoists blew up their bus with an IED in Narayanpur district.
In 2017, 26 security personnel died in a Maoist attack in Sukma. In 2020, 17 personnel were killed in a similar ambush in Sukma’s Minpa. In the Minpa attack as well, security forces were attacked as they were returning from an intelligence-based operation.
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