A CRPF team sees a telltale sign of Maoist presence in Khasjangal, felled tree trunks to slow down the forces. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Ramgarh, June 28: Security forces are giving finishing touches to a plan to launch the final assault on armed Maoists holed up in villages in and around Khasjangal, a 12sqkm area between Ramgarh and Lalgarh.
“We have information that Maoist action squad members are hiding in these villages. It’s just a matter of time before we launch an assault,” said a senior state police officer.
According to the plan, the security forces will launch a pincer attack with small te- ams moving in from both the Ramgarh and Lalgarh ends.
Khasjangal, a forest with many villages within it or on the fringes, starts around 8km from Lalgarh and 1.5km from Ramgarh police station.
“The strategy is to trap the Maoists so they can’t escape to Bankura using the forest cover,” said the officer, who was part of the planning.
The central and state forces have drawn up maps of vil- lages such as Bankishole, Ha- thigonsa, Kantapahari, Chhotopelia and Barapelia with the help of Ramgarh residents.
“These villages are scattered in and around Khasjangal and so the forces will not move along the metalled road,” the officer explained.
Hours before the operation — expected in the next 36 hours — members of the Cobra force, who specialise in jungle warfare, will approach Khasjangal from Ramgarh and Lalgarh while sanitising the surrounding areas.
CRPF teams of 15 to 20 members each will carry out the actual operation. They will keep a distance of at least 300 meters from each other and hit the villages like waves, a CRPF officer said.
“We know the Maoists have stockpiled arms and ammunition in this area and will put up a fight. They have a strong base among the tribals and we are also sure to encounter human shields,” he added. Each participant has been briefed on how to break the shields.
Although minimising loss of innocent lives is an important objective, the final mission will have enough firepower. “Each team will have at least two light machine guns and one mortar launcher,” said a senior officer, poring over the map of a village.
According to him, knowing the topography is paramount for success. “The enemy is capable of inflicting heavy casualties before beating a tactical retreat. We are trying our best to trap them and that is why we are taking time,” he explained.
Till late this evening, central and state officers were in a huddle to finalise the strategy. “If we are satisfied with our preparations, the Cobras will be on the job from midnight and the others will set out early morning,” the officer said.
A CRPF team went around Khasjangal this afternoon and found telltale signs of Maoist presence — two trees felled along the Lalgarh-Ramgarh road and pamphlets denouncing the crackdown.
A resident of Arma village, 1.5km from the police outpost at Ramgarh, confirmed that the guerrillas had been preparing villagers to be used as shields.
“They told us last week we would have to stand in front of the marching troops. Almost half the people in the village fled after that. We don’t know what we will do when the troops finally arrive,” the man said.