NEW DELHI :
Naxals dealt a heavy blow to security forces in Chhattisgarh killing 17 personnel of the Chhattisgarh police during an ambush in the Bastar region of the state on Saturday.
The attack, in Sukma district of the Naxal-hit state, has proven to be one of the deadliest in the region against the security forces. It comes almost two years after another deadly attack by the Naxals in the same area in July 2018 led to the death of 24 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.
As many as 14 soldiers were injured and airlifted to a hospital in the state capital of Raipur.
Soon after the offensive, the police launched a manhunt for five missing Special Task Force (STF) personnel and the 12 District Reserve Guard (DRG) soldiers. “All 17 bodies have been recovered," state police informed the media.
A joint team of the DRG, STF, and the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) of the CRPF had launched an operation after receiving intelligence inputs about substantial “Maoist presence in the area", the police said.
A senior security force officer said the Naxals had laid an ambush for the troops when they were returning in the afternoon after the encounter had ended. The security personnel “responded heavily and aggressively", the police said.
The armed cadre of the Naxals are being trained by their new commander Nambala Keshava Rao, alias Basavaraj, who had lost a key person, Madkam Hidma, in an encounter in 2019, “to inflict maximum damage to security forces with minimal loss to their own cadres", said a senior police official.
“They (Naxals) have been re-grouping for a long time now under Basavaraj, who is highly trained in guerrilla warfare and improvised explosive device (IEDs) and ambushes. We acted well on time, but our men were highly outnumbered with 300-350 Naxals being involved in the ambush," said a senior intelligence official.
Security forces have, since Hidma was eliminated, been bracing for increased attacks by Naxalites across the so-called red corridor in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, following intelligence inputs that more than 350 cadres had joined the Central Military Commission, the main fighting unit of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), headed by Basavaraj.
Security forces had been preparing to counter increased attacks between November and April, according to the Union home ministry.
“During this period, Naxalites usually launch their tactical counter offensive campaign, wherein they conduct the maximum strikes. The months prior to that, from the onset of the monsoons, they had been recruiting more people who were trained between June and September 2019," said a senior official of the home ministry on condition of anonymity.
“Basavaraj is known to be aggressive and has, therefore, expanded the armed cadres because there were some specific attacks in 2019, such as those on Bharatiya Janata Party legislator Bhima Mandavi and the attack in Gadchiroli, which were all masterminded by him. Their training usually takes place in Abhujmaad in Chhattisgarh because that is their nerve centre," said a security official familiar with the developments, requesting anonymity.
The Naxals’ stronghold remains concentrated in the south Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. However, the Union home ministry said troops across all Naxalites zones in Jharkhand and the Andhra-Odisha border have now been put on high alert.