A search operation was underway on Sunday to trace 18 security personnel who went missing after a fierce gun-battle with Naxals in a forest along the border of Bijapur-Sukma districts in Chhattisgarh, police said.
At least five security personnel were killed and 30 others injured in the three-hour-long encounter that took place on Saturday afternoon near Jonaguda village which falls under Jagargunda police station area (in Sukma).
"Following the gunfight, at least 18 security personnel were untraceable. Various police teams have been searching for them in the forest," a senior police official posted in Bastar said on Sunday morning.
He also said "chances of their survival are slim, but we are hopeful of finding them alive".
Separate joint teams of security forces, comprising over 2,000 personnel, had launched a major anti-Naxal operation from Bijapur and Sukma districts in the South Bastar forests, considered as the Maoist stronghold, on Friday night.
Personnel belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), its elite unit CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and the Special Task Force (STF) were involved in the operation launched from five places - Tarrem, Usoor and Pamed (in Bijapur), and Minpa and Narsapuram (in Sukma).
When the patrolling team that was dispatched from Tarrem was advancing through a forest near Jonaguda, located around 500 km from the state capital Raipur, it was ambushed by cadres of the PLGA (Peoples' Liberation Guerilla Army) battalion of Maoists, leading to the gun-battle.
Five security personnel were killed and 30 others received injuries in the gunfight, state Deputy Inspector General (anti-Naxal operation) O P Pal said on Saturday.
"Some jawans, both from the police and paramilitary, were reported to be missing following the encounter and efforts are on to trace them, he had said.
Out of the injured personnel, seven have been admitted to a hospital in Raipur, while 23 others are undergoing treatment in the Bijapur district hospital.
Citing the "ground report", Pal had claimed Maoists suffered a huge loss in the gunfight, but the body of only one woman Naxal could be recovered from the spot amid the heavy exchange of fire.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Sunday condoled the death of security personnel in the encounter, and said their valour will never be forgotten.
I bow to the sacrifices of our brave security personnel martyred while fighting Maoists in Chhattisgarh. Nation will never forget their valour. My condolences are with their families. We will continue our fight against these enemies of peace & progress. May injured recover soon.— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 4, 2021
Shah also said the government will continue its fight against such enemies of peace and progress.
"I bow to the sacrifices of our brave security personnel martyred while fighting Maoists in Chhattisgarh.
Nation will never forget their valour. My condolences are with their families. We will continue our fight against these enemies of peace & progress. May the injured recover soon," he said in a tweet.