The killing of 22 security personnel in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district is a grim reminder of the Maoist’s capability to strike at will. As a soldier, my heart bleeds for those 22 families who have lost their breadwinners. Politicians will condemn the killings as a cowardly act of the Maoists; media will cover the incident for a day or two and would be back to business to cover the ongoing elections in various states; security forces will order an enquiry to reveal the truth and lapses of the strategy and tactics. No leader will take ownership of the fiasco. But one thing that will remain constant is that we would continue to lose the precious lives of the soldiers year after year. The soldiers were killed by our people. Are they meant to be used as cannon fodders by our top leadership?
The security forces received information about the presence of a dreaded commander, Madvi Hidma along with a large number of Maoists, in a particular location. It is believed that the information was collated by intercepting radio messages of the Maoists which was confirmed by State intelligence (SIB) and the physical source of the security forces. The operations were planned at the highest level wherein over 2000 men from various security forces, comprising of ten teams, were pressed into action in search and destroy mission on 02 Apr from Sukma and Bijapur district from various directions to target multiple locations, but found nothing at the target area. While they were returning from the mission on 03 Apr, 60-70 Maoists launched a surprise attack on the security forces of 450 men, from three different directions near Jonnaguda village along the Sukma-Bijapur border. The Maoists took advantage of the dominating heights and rugged jungles to lure the security forces into their preselected killing ground to unleash the deadly fire. The Maoists were well entrenched on the adjacent hilltops and jungles. The two nearby villages were also vacated. The vacated villages should have sounded a warning bell that something was wrong. They used sophisticated weapons like Under Barrel Rocket Launcher (UBGL), automatic machine guns, Ak 47 rifles, and other sophisticated weapons to cause maximum damage to the security forces. It was a hellacious barrage of fire unleashed by them. The forces were taken by surprise and were like sitting ducks. They quickly organised themselves, took positions and retaliated forcefully against the Maoists. A fierce gun battle followed after that with the heavy exchange of fire which commenced at 11 am and continued till 4 pm on 04 Apr. The shooting continued from both sides. It was a substantial firefight. A volley of gunfire rattled back and forth between the two sides. 22 security personnel were martyred, 31 seriously injured with gunshot wounds and one missing in action, probably under the captivity of the Maoists. Presumably, four casualties were also suffered by the Maoists in the bargain, as revealed by them.
Every operation must be analysed to identify the mistakes that we committed so that we learn valuable lessons from them so that these crucial lessons are not re-written or relearned with more blood. The aim is not to belittle any leader for the lapses. We know what it means to fail – to lose or simply to be surprised! Those lessons are the hardest, but perhaps most important. We learn our lessons through success and failures. We are far from being perfect. We continue to learn and grow as leaders every day.
The first casualty in any such incident is intelligence. It was the failure of intelligence that led to the loss of so many precious lives. We hear this again and again but fail to do anything about it. It is believed that the Maoists planted false information about the presence of Madvi Hidma at a particular location to lure the security forces into that area and then strike at will when they were withdrawing. Did the forces exercise due diligence on the intelligence they received? Were other means like satellite imagery or drones used to confirm the intelligence input? The security forces took the bait and suffered unwanted casualties in the bargain. Therefore, strengthening the intelligence network at the ground level for actionable intelligence needs to be beefed up. We need to subvert the Maoist cadres and crack a whip on the overground workers (OGWs), who act as eyes and ears of the Maoists in the affected areas.
Secondly, the security forces did not ensure the security of their plans. The Maoists were aware of the impending operations of the security forces that is why they could strike at will at their place and time of choosing. Did the security forces follow all SOPs before launching the combing operations? Did we have any deception plan to confuse the Maoists about our real intentions?
Thirdly, large scale operations of 2000 men have their limitations as they can alert the Maoists through their network of overground workers (OGWs) in the villages about the movement of security forces. Small scale operations based on specific actionable intelligence are a more productive way of dealing with the Maoists. Also, small team concept operations which our special forces of army follow in J& K insurgent areas is the right way to follow in Maoist affected areas.
Fourthly, why did the Maoist decide to attack when the security forces were withdrawing? Generally, after the operation is over and the forces are going back to their respective locations, the guard is low. They knew that when the forces are going back, they would be tired after the full night operations and would be less vigilant. This is exactly what the Maoists took advantage of.
Fifthly, contingency planning to deal with various unforeseen situations is the backbone of any well-planned operation. Was there any contingency planning to deal with the situation where the Maoists would launch a surprise attack, which they have done in the past too?
Sixthly is the question of leadership. The leader must accept the responsibility for everything, good or bad, in the organisation. He should not blame his subordinates for the failures It is a well-known fact that the CRPF cadre has learned on the job to deal with the Maoists and they have done it well despite taking heavy casualties. I have no complaints against their training too. But their leadership at the middle level and senior level appears to be the weakest link. In the armed forces, the officers lead their men from the front and many army officers including some commanding officers have sacrificed their lives leading their men from the front. Well, this is not so in CRPF especially at a middle and higher level, where these officers are from IPS, who are not aware of ground realities and do not have the required repo with their men. Therefore, when the men get caught in a critical situation, the leadership is not able to provide direction to its men. This aspect needs to be corrected.
Lastly, the government should embark to track Madvi Hidma and bring the culprit of the recent attack to justice quickly. More attacks in near future may be carried out by the Maoists. We need to be more offensive in our dealing with the situation by using the technology to track and neutralise them using drones/ armed helicopters/ Special Forces at the earliest. Any delay could lower the morale of the security forces. It is high time that the government controls this menace before it becomes too late.