Maoists struck in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Monday, killing 14 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, including two officers. The Maoists allegedly adopted a cowardly tactic by using villagers as human shields for the ambush that took place about 6 km from Taarmetla, where 76 CRPF jawans were mowed down in April 2010 in the deadliest single-day insurgent attack yet on Indian security forces.
“The Maoists used villagers as shields, so our troops couldn't retaliate with full force as that would have cost villagers' lives,” a senior CRPF officer said. “The slain officers included deputy commandant D S Verma and assistant commandant Rajesh Kapuriya. At least 13 to 14 jawans were injured,” a senior CRPF officer supervising the rescue operations said over phone from Jagdalpur, the divisional headquarters of Bastar.
The toll may rise as the wounded jawans would have to survive the night on first-aid at CRPF medical camps. The nearest hospital is 100 km away. Helicopters have left for Jagdalpur to carry the injured to the state capital, but the evacuation could be done only on Tuesday morning. A CRPF officer said there could be casualties on the Maoist side as well.
The daring attack took place on a day when a team of National Security Advisory Board was in Chhattisgarh to meet the CM and top officials on the security situation in Maoist hotbeds. CM Singh is learnt to have drawn the team’s attention towards Maoist cadres surrendering in Bastar and expressing hope that the region was on track to normalcy.
CRPF personnel, drawn from paramilitary’s 223 and 206 battalions, were on an area domination exercise in the forests between Elmaguda and Errabore, where the rebels attacked. “Our forces retaliated and engaged the rebels in a fierce encounter,” a CRPF officer said. The security forces in Bastar have been on a propaganda drive in the recent weeks following surrender of a number of Maoists, with many rebels saying they want to join the political mainstream. But there has also been criticism that those surrendering were small-time cadres facing court cases for giving support to the Maoists.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh condemned the attack as an act of cowardice. He visited Raipur on Tuesday to assess the situation. Reinforcements were being sent to the area and the offensive was being led by CRPF inspector general (Chhattisgarh), H S Sidhu.
Few days ago, Sidhu had announced the killing of 15 Maoists during an encounter with CRPF forces in Sukma near the same place where the Maoists struck on Monday. The Maoists had then fired at an MI-17 helicopter, flown in to evacuate the CRPF men wounded in the operation.