In their deadliest attack on paramilitary forces yet, Maoist rebels killed 74 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and two policemen from the Chhattisgarh police, and destroyed an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) in the early hours of Tuesday in Dantewada district.

The attack took place in the Mukrana forest, about 540 km southeast of the State capital Raipur. Seven injured personnel were evacuated by helicopter to the Maharani Hospital in Jagdalpur.

Area domination exercise

“A joint operation involving one company of the CRPF's 62nd Battalion and troops from the Chhattisgarh police were ambushed,” confirmed Inspector-General R.K. Vij. “The force was returning to base camp after a three-day area domination exercise.” Apart from the 73 foot soldiers and policemen, Deputy Commandant of the 62nd Battalion Satyavan, Assistant Commandant B.L. Meena and head constable R. Siyaram Dhruv of the Chhattisgarh Police were killed.

The following account has been pieced together from press statements issued by the Chhattisgarh police and interviews with sources in the security forces and intelligence sources in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi. A comprehensive account will be possible only after interviews with the survivors.

The ambush occurred at about 5.30 a.m. when one company of the 62nd Battalion, and between 30 and 40 men from the Chhattisgarh police, were returning from the area domination exercise. While the troops were going on foot, the APC was proceeding along a dirt track.

Four kilometres short of the CRPF camp at Chintalnar, a massive Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was detonated under the armoured vehicle, killing the lone driver, even as the troops came under heavy suppressive fire from a raised hillock bordering the path.

Booby-trapped

Troops rushed to take cover behind trees, only to find that the Maoists had booby-trapped the trees with anti-personnel IEDs. Soldiers who stayed in the open were gunned down by Maoists who used automatic weapons. In all, 75 members of the security forces were killed and seven injured. All their weapons were taken away by the Maoists.

In the second phase of the incident, reinforcements were rushed from the CRPF camp at Chintalnar, Dornapal and Chintagufa to rescue the survivors. According to a press note circulated by the Superintendent of Police, a vehicle brought to ferry the injured and the dead was also blown up with an IED, killing the driver and pushing the toll up to 76.

The planners

Sources in Andhra Pradesh told The Hindu that the attack was planned by Kosa, Leader of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI Maoist and was executed by three Maoist companies led by Ganeshanna and Ramanna, two top leaders from the same Committee. The Maoists trailed the security forces for the better part of two days before working out the route of return and laying the ambush.

The sources said the CRPF violated two basic doctrines of jungle warfare. “First, never return to the camp along the same route that you left,” said a counter-insurgency expert with experience in Chhattisgarh, “Second, if you must, you have to clear and secure all raised terrain and hillocks.” Neither of these precautions was followed, said the source.