New Delhi, Dec. 27: Over 20,000 troops have launched an offensive against Maoists in seven states, including Bengal, simultaneously for the first time in two years to prevent them from exploiting a “security vacuum” at inter-state borders for escape and refuge.
Officers of the CRPF, which planned the operation, described it as a “unified and combined” blitzkrieg in the seven most affected states that also included Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The five-day offensive, involving 10,000 troops of the CRPF and as many from state police, began yesterday and will continue till December 30, sources said. The CRPF’s number is almost a third of its total strength in the states on anti-Maoist duty. BSF and air force helicopters are on standby while an unmanned aerial vehicle is making sorties in Chhattisgarh.
In Bengal, the Belpahari forests of Jhargram and Ayodhya Hills in Purulia are part of the drive. A Bengal police officer confirmed the hunt.
In neighbouring Jharkhand, a “gun factory” suspected to have been set up by the rebels was busted deep inside a forest in Simdega, sources said. Machines, gun parts, barrels, bombs and over a dozen timers were part of the cache found.
CRPF director-general Dilip Trivedi confirmed the exercise and said it was prompted by their experience in most operations that Maoists fled either by getting deeper into hotbeds or flitting across state boundaries.
“We thought of conducting simultaneous operations, pursuing Naxalites when they cross a state border where they could be challenged by more forces,” Trivedi said. In Jharkhand, the forces hope to get CPI (Maoist) central committee member Prasanta Bose alias Kishan Da, said to be holed up along the border with Bihar.
Sources cited the hunt for Bose to explain that their main aim was to shrink the “manoeuvrability space” of Maoists who often found “a comfort zone” in the security vacuum on either side of inter-state borders.
Elite units of the state police engaged in anti-Maoist operations are part of the current drive. They include the C-60 commandos in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli, Andhra’s Greyhounds and Jharkhand’s Jaguars.
The last time the CRPF launched co-ordinated offensives was during the tenure of former chief K. Vijay Kumar two years ago. The hunt in Maad area, straddling Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, was seen as an effort to lift morale after the massacre of 75 CRPF jawans a year earlier in April 2010.