In what is among the biggest operations in the state, the Chhattisgarh Police Monday said that 15 Maoists had been killed in an encounter in the Konta region of Sukma. Senior police officials said that the operation was launched based on specific intelligence on Sunday night and that two alleged Maoists, one of them a woman who was shot in the leg, and an area committee member carrying a Rs five lakh warrant, have been held.
With 15 killed in the operation early Monday morning, 86 Maoists have been killed in Chhattisgarh so far in 2018. Sources also said that a “larger operation” is also presently underway at Sukma district, which also involved the CRPF’s elite CoBRA battalion.
The encounter comes just two weeks after the Dantewada Police allegedly killed eight Maoists in the Timenar forests of Bijapur. In 2012, the CRPF and the Chhattisgarh Police had claimed the deaths of 17 alleged Maoists in Sarkeguda in Bijapur, in an encounter which was then called fake by villagers and activists, with a commission of inquiry on the case still in progress.
DM Awasthi, Special DG, Anti Naxal Operations said that on Sunday night, an operation had been launched by the Sukma District Reserve Guard (DRG) and the Special Task Force (STF). “Around 200 personnel were involved in the operation, and based on specific intelligence, travelled to a place near Nalkatong village, which is an extremely difficult area. The spot is at a trijunction. It is around 20 km north-west from Konta, 18 km south-east from Bhejji and Golapalli. Two teams were sent on Sunday night,” he said.
Awasthi said that the teams were operating based on information that a camp had been set up by Maoist cadres of the Gompad, Belponcha, and Balatong militia formations. “The teams reached their locations late on Sunday night, and a little after 7 am there was an exchange of fire that lasted for close to an hour. Once the exchange of fire broke out, we sent another team as reinforcements from Bhejji. We recovered 15 dead bodies from the encounter, and 16 weapons including one 12-bore and one 315-bore rifle,” Awasthi said.
While 14 are yet to be identified, one of those killed has been identified as Vanjam Hunga, commander of a militia formation.
Senior police officials also said that two Maoists, one woman who suffered a bullet injury to her leg, and one alleged Maoist identified as Deva, a Konta Area Committee Member, have been held and are being questioned. “This will be helpful for us in terms of further information about the area,” Awasthi said.
With security forces suffering no casualties in the operation, senior police officials said that On questions that they “had a tactical advantage.” “We have been aggressively pushing operations even in the monsoons for the first time. During the rains, movement becomes difficult for anyone in the forests and therefore the Maoists set up camps. We had information about one such camp in this case, and reached the place late at night,” Awasthi said.
“This is a very difficult area for forces, with no camp in a 20 km radius. Which is why they consider these interior areas their safe zones. There was, therefore, a tactical advantage. There were around 30 Maoists in the camp. Some managed to flee.”
Pressed on why the weapons recovered in the encounter did not include advanced weapons such as an INSAS or an SLR, a senior officer, who did not want to be named said, “This camp was not of top line commanders, but militia formations, who are on the lower rung of the Maoist military hierarchy. They did fire at us with two 303 rifles but managed to escape with those. These militias form the bulk of the cadre that carries out attacks, or even set up IEDs,” the officer said.
“IEDs were recovered in the material that we got. But yes, they do not have the tactical training senior cadre have, which is perhaps why they were successfully flanked.”
In fact, in terms of targeting senior cadres, sources in the Chhattisgarh Police told the Indian Express that a “larger operation” is presently underway in Sukma district. “This operation was launched at the same time as the other one but is in even more difficult terrain. The number of personnel involved is higher, and the CRPF’s elite CoBRA battalion is involved as well. This operation is based on intelligence inputs about a camp of an influential divisional commander and is right in the area of the Maoist military Battalion number one. Thus far, there has been no exchange of fire in that operation, but it is being monitored closely,” a senior police officer said.