Seven personnel of Chhattisgarh’s elite Special Task Force were killed and 10 injured in a Maoist ambush Saturday morning in Sukma in south Bastar, in the biggest attack on security forces this year in the state.
The bodies had not been recovered until Saturday night. The spot of the ambush, in forests near Pidmel village, is about 11 km from the Kankerlanka police camp.
This is the STF’s single-biggest casualty in a day in several years. The men, numbering around 60, were attacked between 9 am and 10 am by cadres suspected to belong to the CPI (Maoist)’s South Bastar battalion, headed by Hidma.
The STF personnel were forced to retreat, leaving the dead behind. Maoists also looted several quality weapons and ammunition.
A massive contingent of forces is now being deployed to retrieve the bodies, but the exercise will have to wait until Sunday morning, almost 24 hours after the encounter.
Among the deceased was STF Platoon Commander Shankar Rao, called ‘Fighter Rao’ by his colleagues. “He was extremely courageous. We lost a brave personnel,” said R K Vij, ADG (Naxal Ops).
The others killed were Head Constables Rohit Sori, Mohan Uike and Manoj Baghel, and Constables Rajman Tekam, Kiran Deshmukh and Rajkumar Markam.
Rao had left the Polampalli police camp with his team around 2.30 am Saturday, and headed into interior forests. While some police officers said the Platoon Commander was acting on a specific intelligence input, others questioned the wisdom of going into the forest at that time of the night with just 60 men.
After the first encounter in which most deaths happened, the STF men tried to retreat but continued to face Maoist fire for nearly an hour more. A couple of more men died in these encounters.
The injured personnel reached Kankerlanka in the afternoon, and were airlifted to Raipur hours later. They have been admitted to a private hospital.
“Sahab (Rao) was killed in the first burst of fire. They surrounded us from all sides and fired,” said an injured Constable.
STF personnel are handpicked and then receive special anti-Naxal training. Of late, it has undertaken a series of operations in interior areas.
The encounter will come as a blow at a time when the force is facing a severe shortage of officers. It has two battalions but only ADG Vij, who also looks after Naxal operations and the Special Intelligence Branch, and a DIG and two SPs to head them.
It was in the same area, Sukma, that the CRPF had lost 14 personnel last December, while in 2010, Naxals had killed 76 security personnel there in their biggest ever attack.
Chief Minister Raman Singh got a call from Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the encounter and held a high-level meeting with senior officers in the evening. “Extra CRPF teams have been rushed to the spot,” Rajnath Singh tweeted.
Major Maoist attacks in Sukma earlier
1. April 2010: 76 personnel killed
2. April 2012: Collector Alex Paul Menon abducted
3. March 2014: 15 state police and CRPF men were killed
4. Dec 2014: 14 CRPF personnel killed
5. April 2015: 7 STF men killed