NEW DELHI: Exactly a year after India’s security forces gunned down 40 Naxalites in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli area, the insurgents struck back on Wednesday killing 15 soldiers and a driver in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast. The Naxalites also torched 27 machines and vehicles.

The attack, which comes close on the heels of the assassination of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Bhima Mandavi in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada, serves as yet another stark warning of the group’s growing stronghold outside its traditional regions in Chhattisgarh’s south Bastar.

The Naxals were observing a week-long protest to mark the death anniversary of 40 cadres, who were gunned down by the state police.

The Naxals torched vehicles belonged to private contractors at a road construction site in Kurkheda in Gadchiroli and targeted the local C-60 commandos in the IED blast.

Intelligence units had warned of heightened activity among the Naxals under the new commander, Basavaraj, who is trained in armed warfare and the use of explosives. The cadres, who had been pushed back by the security forces across Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, were asked to regroup and undergo training in setting up IEDs and covert operations in the run-up to the general elections, an intelligence officer had said just before the Lok Sabha elections.

While senior security officials said they were looking into both incidents, they denied having ignored intelligence inputs. “It would not be right to term this as an intelligence failure. It is a dastardly attack and we will try our best that such incidents are not repeated. Our people are present at the spot and more information will come out. We are prepared to give a befitting reply to this attack. Operations are going on in the area to ensure that no further casualties take place," Subodh Jaiswal, director general of police (DGP), Maharashtra, told reporters.

The C-60 commando unit—like the Greyhounds in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh—is a district-level force, which has significant representation from the indigenous tribal population, to fight the Naxalites.

“I strongly condemn the despicable attack on our security personnel in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. Salute all brave personnel. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten. My thoughts and solidarity are with the bereaved families. Perpetrators of such violence will not be spared," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis took stock of the situation. “Anguished to know that our 16 police personnel from Gadchiroli C-60 force got martyred in a cowardly attack by Naxals today (Wednesday). My thoughts and prayers are with the martyrs’ families. I’m in touch with the DGP and Gadchiroli SP (superintendent of police)," Fadnavis said.

All opposition parties extended their support in favour of the soldiers who had lost their lives, without lending a political colour to the attack.

Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel also condemned the attack. “The attack in Maharshtra shows that Naxal attacks should be looked at as a major challenge and not through a political lens," he said.


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