In the deadliest Maoist attack till date,at least 76 security personnel,75 of them from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF),were killed and seven seriously injured early this morning when they were ambushed deep inside the forests of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh.
The dead included at least two CRPF officers Deputy Commandant Satyavan Singh Yadav and Assistant Commandant B L Meena.
The attack was carried out by a battalion-strong contingent of the Peoples Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA),the military wing of the outlawed CPI (Maoist),in the dense forests between Chintalnar and Tadmetla in Dantewada.
Heavy firing and multiple blasts were reported during the ambush. The Maoists had placed landmines and IEDs in what clearly was an elaborately planned operation. They also looted weapons from the dead and injured personnel.
Four helicopters were deployed to airlift the injured to a hospital in Jagdalpur,the divisional headquarters of Bastar. One of the helicopters came under fire from the Maoists but returned safely.
The attack took place early this morning when a team of CRPF personnel from the 62 Battalion went to Tadmetla following a tip-off about the movement of rebels in the Mukrana forests. As the team engaged the Maoists in an encounter,another CRPF team,comprising 81 personnel,rushed to the spot and walked into a trap laid by the Maoists.
Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar told The Indian Express: There has been a major lapse. We need to tighten coordination between state police and paramilitary forces besides strengthening our intelligence network to deal with the Maoist menace. He admitted there had been failure at all levels,including intelligence gathering.
Considered a Maoist hotspot,a major portion of Dantewada in South Bastar falls under the so-called liberated zone of Dandakaranya where there is no physical presence of the civil administration and Maoists run a parallel government. The state government calls this region an area dominated by Maoists.
Under Operation Green Hunt,security forces have entered many places in the so-called liberated zone,including the Abujmarh hills,spread over an area of more than 3500 sq km.
Dantewada SP Ambareesh Mishra said 75 personnel were dead. The rebels triggered blasts from all directions and opened indiscriminate firing, he said.
Mishra said an intensive search operation was on to rescue security personnel who may have escaped into the forests during the attack.
Additional DGP and spokesman Rajinder Kumar Vij told The Indian Express that a CRPF Deputy Commandant,an Assistant Commandant and a state police head constable were among the dead. The exact sequence of events will be known only from the statements of the injured, Vij said.
But a senior police officer said: It seems that the security personnel just walked into a trap. A large number of Maoists were apparently hiding in bunkers built atop nearby hillocks. Being at a height,the rebels were at an advantage and they ambushed the security personnel from all sides.
Paramilitary forces deployed in the Maoist areas of Bastar,the officer said,are briefed regularly about rebel ambush strategies and told to first cover such positions before advancing further. Unfortunately,something went wrong. They virtually walked into a trap,resulting in heavy casualty, the officer said.
Another senior police officer said the securitymen appeared to have ignored the standard operating procedure (SOP) and guerilla warfare guidelines that vehicles should not be used while moving into a location where there is risk of landmine attack. The securitymen,the officer said,are supposed to trek only on foot in such an area.
Given the humid conditions in Bastar,security personnel tire very quickly and often prefer to get into a vehicle,the officer pointed out.
Sources said the paramilitary forces were on an area domination mission for the last three days following inputs on movements of separate Maoist groups,comprising about 150 people each. But nothing unusual was noticed during this area-domination.
The rebels,it appeared,were hiding on hillocks and laid a trap by engaging a small group of security personnel in an encounter,forcing another team to rush to the spot through a road passing close through these hillocks.
On March 18,2007,Maoist rebels had carried out a similar attack at Ranibodli police camp,killing 55 policemen,including Special Police Officers (SPOs). The rebels had attacked another police party in Rajnandgaon district and killed 32 personnel,including DSP Vinod Kumar Choubey,in July last year.
During the Ranibodli attack,the rebels cordoned off a police camp after midnight and rained arrows fitted with grenades,without giving security forces an opportunity to retaliate. In Rajnandgaon,rebels lined up on both sides of the road and ambushed the security personnel.
After the attack today,CRPF Special DG Vijay Raman,who is coordinating anti-Maoist operations in seven states,rushed to the spot while Chief Minister Raman Singh convened a high-level meeting to take stock.
Raman Singh condemned the attack,calling it an act of cowardice. He said anti-Maoist operations will continue in the state till rebels return to the political mainstream. With ENS from New Delhi