The attack by Maoist extremists in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on Saturday, that killed 17 security personnel and injured 15, including two critically, presents a grim picture on how poorly India continues to fare on this front. There was intelligence that Maoists were going to assemble at Elmagunda village, which is dominated by the Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army Battalion 1. Accordingly, security forces, comprising District Reserve Guards, Special Task Force, numbering 500, were dispatched into the forests to deal with the emergent situation. In retrospect, despite the intelligence, they did not encounter even one Maoist and began their journey back, in two groups, to their camps at Chintagufa and Burkapal, not more than six kilometres apart as the crow flies. The smaller contingent, numbering 100, headed to Burkapal, encountered fire six kilometres from the base camp and they duly returned it. The Maoists retreated and fired again and the security forces fired and followed till they had been lured into an open area in hilly terrain where the Maoists, some 350 of them, had the advantage of numbers, line of fire as well as height, a classic ambush. The Maoists then picked off their targets. The other much larger group, not more than three kilometres away, also came under diversionary fire that kept them pinned down.
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The real story is still to emerge, but it is odd that in the battle that began about noon and lasted five-and-a-half daylight hours, reinforcements could not be sent to hapless personnel. It can be surmised that at the very least those who got ambushed did not know the terrain or the tactics enough, although that should not be the case considering the composition of the DRG. It is yet to be convincingly explained how as many as 400 personnel so near did not rush to aid their uniformed brethren. Was it a leadership or assessment issue? Was there a communication breakdown? Was the initial intelligence properly vetted or was it bait? Was this entire operation properly supervised? It is remarkable, too, that helicopters were able to evacuate the wounded afterwards. So complete was the rout that even though the security forces said they took down some Maoists, there is not much physical evidence to support this claim. It is also significant that as many as 13 of the dead security forces were locals from Sukma district, many of them surrendered Maoists. And unfortunate that many of them bled to death waiting for assistance. There is a lot to answer for but it seems that despite dedicated training the security forces get for just these eventualities, the Maoists are able to improvise and come out on top, smarter, nimbler, and many steps ahead.