The body of one of the two CRPF jawans being put into an ambulance in the Metala forest, about 3km from the encounter site, on Monday. Picture by Samir Mondal
Goaltore, Oct. 1: Maoists today shot dead two CRPF jawans in a pre-dawn attack on a makeshift jungle camp, inflicting their first casualties on the security forces in Bengal since Mamata Banerjee assumed power 16 months ago.
The rebels, said to be a squad of 10, took no hits in the 2am encounter at Metala forest in West Midnapore’s Goaltore, where a team of 36 jawans had just finished a week’s counter-insurgency jungle warfare training.
The attack comes three days after suspected Maoists killed a Trinamul activist in Jhargram, suggesting the rebels were stepping up activities ahead of the panchayat polls to try and regain their lost stronghold of Jungle Mahal.
Constable A. Vijay Kumar Reddy, 26, was shot in the head and assistant sub-inspector R.N. Mahakudda, 37, in the chest, suggesting he was not wearing bullet-proof gear.
Sources said the jawans may have taken their flak jackets off while relaxing at the end of training. However, a jawan said the contingent had received a last-minute tip-off about the impending attack and taken up position around the camp, which makes the failure of at least some personnel to wear the appropriate battle gear surprising.
The camp was barely 200 metres from the spot where Maoist leader Sidhu Soren and seven other guerrillas were gunned down in July 2010.
“A group of 10 armed Maoists exploded an improvised explosive device and fired at the men. Our men fired 229 rounds but there is no report of any rebel being injured or killed,” CRPF inspector-general Vivek Sahay said.
Local police officers blamed the deaths on the CRPF’s “overconfident attitude”.
“The Metala forest is a known Maoist hideout. There were intelligence reports about an armed squad headed by Maoist leader Bikash roaming in the adjoining villages to recruit guerrillas,” said an officer at Goaltore police station.
“Before organising the training programme, the CRPF should have completed area domination and secured the jungle.”
The officer said the rebels must have been watching the jawans and their training schedule. “Selecting the last night is very significant: they knew the jawans would be in a relaxed mood at the end of a tough week’s training.”
One of the jawans said they were “sitting and relaxing” near the camp. Apart from the 36 trainees, 15 other CRPF personnel were present, he said.
Around 2am, the team received the tip-off about an impending attack by a rebel squad assembled inside the forest.
“We immediately took up position and started condoning the area. A reinforcement of about 40 troops arrived from the Barabari CRPF camp, about 800 metres away,” the jawan said.
“There was a loud explosion and we took cover behind the trees. Suddenly, the rebels started firing but we could not see them in the darkness. They fired at least 100 rounds and fled. I saw two of our men lying dead about eight metres from me.”
A CRPF officer said 36 personnel had been selected from three battalions for a two-phase, six-week training programme.
“The first phase of five weeks’ training was held at our camps; then the jawans were taken to the Metala forest a week ago for the concluding session on how to combat Maoists in a dense forest,” he said.
On July 30 this year, The Telegraph had reported how key Maoist leaders were active in Lalgarh, Goaltore and Salboni, trying to reorganise rebel units in forest villages.