Updated: March 23, 2020 9:51:58 am
Confirming the worst fears, bodies of 17 security personnel, who had been declared missing after an encounter with Maoists Saturday in the jungles of Minpa in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh, were recovered Sunday. Officials said this is the biggest Maoist attack on security forces since the attack in Sukma in 2017 when 24 CRPF personnel, part of a road opening party, were killed.
Chhattisgarh DGP Durgesh Awasthi said: “We have recovered all 17 bodies. All of them are from Chhattisgarh. Our men came under very heavy fire for over five hours, and they fought valiantly.”
Bastar IGP P Sundarraj said: “We are unable to trace 12 AK-47s, one each of UBGL, INSAS, LMG that the men had on them. We have reason to believe that these were stolen by the Naxals.”
Why this is a worrying sign
The first such major attack in nearly three years, it reinforces the suspicion that the relative calm is misleading. There are worrying signs, pointers to tactical anomalies — the men remained untraceable till their bodies were recovered. There are suggestions within Chhattisgarh that its heartland politics is turning the focus away from anti-Naxal operations, and that Bastar needs priority, efficient handling.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a tweet, said: “Strongly condemn the Maoist attack in Sukma, Chhattisgarh. My tributes to the security personnel martyred in the attack. Their valour will never be forgotten. Condolences to the bereaved families. I pray for a quick recovery of those injured.”
Based on information that a large number of Maoists were gathering near Elmagunda, a team of over 600 personnel of the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and the Special Task Force (STF) of the state police and CoBRA commandos of the CRPF were sent on an operation on Saturday morning. The personnel didn’t find any Maoist presence near Elmagunda and were on their way back when they were ambushed by over 250 Maoists in the jungles of Minpa, police said.
The encounter happened in two clearings in the jungle, hardly a few kilometres away from each other, to where the personnel were apparently herded before being killed.
In a statement late Saturday night, police had said 15 personnel, all DRG, were injured in the encounter in Sukma. While the 15 injured were airlifted, 17 personnel — 12 DRG and five STF — could not be found and were declared missing.
However, on Sunday, when a team of over 500 men were sent to the jungles for a recovery operation, the personnel came across the bodies of their colleagues. All 17 bodies were brought to the Burkapal camp and later taken to the Sukma headquarters Sunday evening.
At Ground Zero of the attack, between Minpa and Rengapara, bullet markings on tree trunks, five to six feet from the ground, tell the story of an operation gone wrong. The Indian Express saw boots, caps and food packets, which the security personnel had on them, scattered in the bushes.
A syringe and an empty packet of cotton wad, apparently part of the first-aid kit that the men carried, lay in a thicket, slightly away from one of the clearings. Wooden plaques, carrying messages from the Maoists, were nailed to tree trunks. One of them read, “Boycott the fake Rajya Sabha election in Chhattisgarh.”
All the 15 injured DRG personnel, who were airlifted to Raipur on Saturday night, are stable, said a spokesperson at the hospital where the personnel were admitted. “Three people with bullet injuries are under observation, but as of now, are stable,” he said.
Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel will attend a wreath-laying ceremony in Sukma Monday morning for the 17 personnel. On Sunday, the Chief Minister and State Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu visited the injured personnel in hospital.
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