Kadashole, June 27: Troops on the Maoist trail entered the Kadashole forest today, making their first attempt to engage the rebels in the jungles.
The retaliatory firing was instant.
The jawans immediately hit the ground, fired in the direction of the enemy and launched a mortar.
The scene and the action were repeated several times in the next three hours, for most of which the jawans crawled along the forest floor between thorny bushes.
The 200 jawans, mostly from the central forces, carried automatic rifles, rocket launchers and mortars. They entered the forest around 8am, looking to sanitise it while their comrades set out on the road to Ramgarh along the battle zones northern axis.
This was not the troops first entry into a forest in an area that has many forests. Last week, they had trekked 4km through the Jhitka jungles on their way to Lalgarh from Bhimpur along the southern axis, fearing a Maoist behind every tree. But nothing happened.
The decision to enter the Kadashole forest was finalised at a meeting this morning between the deputy inspector-general (CID operations), S.N. Gupta, and CRPF commandant Pankaj.
We had to enter the forest after the Maoists fired from there yesterday, an officer said. We had to take the offensive, else there would have been fierce resistance from them.
Satellite pictures forwarded by the military intelligence had shown clusters of people in the Kadashole jungles. The troops believe they were Maoists. So there was no option other than entering the forest and taking them on, the officer said.
While the troops were in the forest, a helicopter hovered overhead trying to scan the area for Maoist movement.
The jawans used 51mm mortars to clear the way. The mortars are powerful, an officer said. They have a range of 400-500m. After one of them lands, anyone within 50sqft of it would be dead and those within a 450sqft area would be badly injured.
An hour and a half into the operation, the troops came across a village deep in the forest. They fired, suspecting that rebels were hiding there, but there was no response.
They surrounded the village and fired in the air a couple of times. The village had been deserted. A single white flag fluttered in a courtyard.
Maybe it was put up by a frightened villager when he learnt we were advancing, an officer said.
It seemed the villagers, or the Maoists, had fled only a short while ago. The cattle were still tethered and the chicken scuttled around.
The troops moved forward again, to be greeted by more firing. But the jawans sanitised three more deserted villages: Napitpara, Bandhgara, Bhuinyapur.
After the three-hour operation, the troops emerged from the forest at Tentultala, about 3km from Kadashole, called back after having gone too far into the jungles.