Twenty-two jawans killed in Chhattisgarh Maoist gun battle
At least 22 jawans were killed and 31 injured in a four-hour gun battle with Maoists in Chhattisgarh on Saturday, with unofficial accounts suggesting they had walked into a trap though the police brass dismissed reports of a “meticulously planned Naxal ambush”.
Security officials alleged an intelligence failure and poor leadership by the CRPF commanders and drew parallels with the February 2019 Pulwama massacre of 40 personnel in the run-up to the general election. However, CRPF director-general Kuldiep Singh denied any lapses.
Union Home minister Amit Shah on Monday is scheduled to chair a high-level meeting at the Police Coordination Centre in Raipur on the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) situation. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, senior officials of the state police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will attend the meeting, an official said.
The bullet-riddled bodies of 17 jawans were recovered on Sunday, after five had been found on Saturday, from the forests on the Bijapur-Sukma border while one jawan was still “missing”, a senior official said.
This is the highest casualty the security forces have suffered at the Maoists' hands since April 2017, when the insurgents ambushed and killed 25 CRPF personnel near Burkapal in Sukma.
Former diplomat K.C. Singh tweeted: “The #NaxalAttack is like a horror film replay. It happens time & again due to intel failure & repetitive operational & patrolling flaws. Who is answerable? HM of course. But his mindspace is preoccupied with elections & BJP politics. Is this sustainable?”
Senior officers claimed more than 10 Maoists had been killed in Saturday’s encounter but other sources said the police had found the body of a lone rebel — a woman. The Maoists are known to carry away their dead and injured.
Eight of the dead jawans were from the CRPF — seven from the elite Cobra commando unit — while the rest were from various state police units. Two of the dead CRPF jawans were from Assam, where Assembly polls are on.
Unofficial accounts by CRPF and state police sources suggested the insurgents had laid a trap for the forces in the middle of a five-pronged anti-Maoist offensive, but inspector-general of police (Bastar Range) Sundarraj P dismissed any “meticulously planned Naxal ambush”.
“The security forces fought bravely and inflicted a heavy blow on the ultras during the face-off,” PTI quoted Sundarraj as saying.
Sources said five teams totalling 2,000-plus security personnel had on Friday night launched a concerted operation in the Maoist-hit Bijapur and Sukma districts after learning that rebels led by the dreaded Madvi Hidma had gathered in the forests in large numbers.
The operation was launched from five places — Tarrem, Usoor and Pamed in Bijapur, and Minpa and Narsapuram in Sukma.
While a team was advancing through the forests near Jonaguda, around 500km from state capital Raipur, it was ambushed by some 250 Maoists on Saturday afternoon, a CRPF officer said. He said the forces were scattered and trapped along a 2km stretch of forest.
A senior police officer gave PTI a somewhat different account. He said some 400 Maoists had strategically positioned themselves on a hillock in front of Tekalguda village and around it.
The patrolling team from Tarrem came under heavy fire, prompting some of them to move to what appeared a deserted village, where the Maoists lay in wait for them.
Visuals from the spot showed slain jawans lying in the fields and on the village streets, PTI added.
It quoted an eyewitness as saying the jawans' bodies had bullet injuries and gashes inflicted by sharp weapons.
The Maoists fled with the weapons, bullet-proof jackets and the shoes of the dead troops, sources said.
Sources in the security establishment said that initial reports suggested an intelligence failure and poor leadership on the part of the CRPF, which reports to Union home minister Amit Shah.
“The commanders did not handle their men properly and counter the ambush,” a security official said, requesting anonymity.
“The Maoist leadership is said to have been giving arms training to its cadres for the past few months in the jungles. They were well prepared and our jawans walked into the trap and were slaughtered. Who is accountable for this intelligence and operational failure?”
He added: “Has this government fixed any accountability for the gross intelligence failures in the Pulwama massacre and the Chinese intrusion in Ladakh? These killings are likely to go the same way.”
CRPF chief Kuldiep, who rushed to Chhattisgarh from Delhi, denied any intelligence or operational failure on the part of the country’s top anti-Maoist agency.