THE BIJAPUR BLOODBATH
India Today|April 19, 2021
As they close in on the last redoubts of the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, the security forces come under a deadly attack. Lessons from past ambushes remain unlearned
SANDEEP UNNITHAN and RAHUL NORONHA

On the night of April 2, around 2,000 security personnel left their camps in Tarrem, a village in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, for an operation. The mixed group included men from the state police’s Special Task Force, the District Reserve Guard (DRG), the Bastar Battalion and the CRPF’s counter-Maoist force, the CoBRAs. They had intelligence confirming the location of an elusive Maoist field commander, Madvi Hidma. Hidma, a veteran of several ambushes, including the April 2010 massacre of 76 CRPF troopers in Dantewada, commands the most lethal fighting unit of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), Battalion No. 1. Comprising some 180 well-trained fighters, the group operates south of an 80-km stretch between the villages of Dornapal and Jagargunda in the state’s southern tip. The area has seen some of the heaviest fighting between Maoists and security forces in recent years. The operation was preceded by a slow build-up. In the past few months, the forces had set up four new camps around the borders of Sukma and Bijapur districts and moved five battalions into the area. The operations, directed by the Union home ministry and CRPF officials in Delhi, had even explored the idea of using the central counter-terrorism force, the National Security Guard (NSG), for special missions inside the jungle.

The forces had entered new territories, and every new camp had shrunk the Maoists’ exclusive zone. At their peak over a decade ago, the Maoists controlled a Kerala-sized region in the south of Chhattisgarh. A burst of road construction activity in the past few years and the induction of security forces have now boxed them into an area a little bigger than Sikkim. Maoist leader Nambala Keshava Rao alias Basavaraj and his 21-member politburo, which has steered the violent insurrection since 2004, are thought to live somewhere in this last Maoist redoubt. The task of neutralising Battalion No. 1 and its commander was thus key to the security forces’ objective of entering the region.

SIX AMBUSHES, SIMILAR STORIES

Security forces have repeatedly been ambushed by large groups of Maoists using very similar tactics over the years. Why does it continue?

1.APRIL 6, 2010, DANTEWADA Maoists kill 75 CRPF personnel and a state police constable. Largest single-day loss of life in internal security. What went wrong: Officers did not know the terrain; troopers camped at a tribal village, revealing their numbers; returned by the same path they had arrived

2.MARCH 11, 2014, SUKMA Eleven CRPF personnel, four policemen and a civilian were killed at Tahakwada village, Sukma district. What went wrong: Three vehicles set on fire to lure in security forces. Three CRPF patrols arrived in batches, all were ambushed by Maoists occupying high ground, 15 weapons were stolen

3.MARCH 12, 2017, SUKMA CRPF personnel en route to providing security to a road construction team ambushed. 12 CRPF jawans killed. What went wrong: No manoeuvre by the remaining force to bring fire on the Maoists and break the ambush

4.MARCH 21, 2020, SUKMA Seventeen Chhattisgarh Police personnel killed in an ambush; 15 wounded, 16 weapons stolen. What went wrong: Leadership failure. Three security columns moved in three different directions. When one column was ambushed, others did not rush to the rescue

5.APRIL 24, 2017, SUKMA 300 Maoists ambush 99 CRPF troopers guarding road workers. 25 troopers killed, seven critically injured. What went wrong: CRPF let their guard down. Were at lunch when they were ambushed by the guerrillas

6.APRIL 3, 2021 BIJAPUR 22 personnel killed in ambush, one CRPF trooper captured by Maoists. What went wrong: Warning signs of empty villages ignored. Reinforcements arrived late

The plan was to converge on the Jonaguda, Tekalgudam and Jeeragaon tribal villages. One of the five columns entered the villages at dawn, only to be greeted by an eerie silence. On finding no one there, a team began searching an adjacent hill. A little while later, a few teams began heading back to their camp at Terram. Just then, a barrage of improvised rockets and LMG fire from another hill hit them, prompting them to rush back to the village for shelter. It was a trap. Near the village, the Maoists had laid a series of linear ambushes—neither one facing the other—and each designed to kill as many as possible.

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