Even as members of the ill-fated battalions 223, 206 of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the state police battled the Maoists near the Kasalnar village close to Chintagufa in Chhattisgarh’s troubled Sukma district, in what is the biggest internal security setback for the Narendra Modi administration, lack of coordination coupled with the remoteness of the location ensured that not a single helicopter sortie could be conducted for the troops either to provide reinforcements or to evacuate those in need.
As a result, the 13 dead and as many injured have been left to brave it out in the jungle, not too far from where they were ambushed. It was confirmed that the first helicopter flight will take off only the next day morning. Meanwhile, it was informed that the effort was to somehow get the injured and the dead bodies to the safety of camps.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) deploys eight Mi17 helicopters towards what it terms as Operation Triveni, a dedicated logistical effort in support of the force battling the rebels.
According to information pieced together, the firing on the troops began close to 11am and lasted for over four hours. All along the senior authorities claimed they were in touch with the troops and were organising support. However, the IAF was not informed till very late. Till about 5pm, force personnel were trying to get the choppers airborne but failed to. “We were trying to ensure that at least the injured and dead bodies are brought to Jagdalpur town but it did not materialise,” said an officer.
“By the time the IAF was told, it was already close to 5pm and the sun had nearly set. Flying in such circumstances is impossible,” said a source from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). This inability flies in the face of claims made by successive IAF chiefs of how the choppers deployed have night flying capability. Speaking at this year’s annual Indian Air Force (IAF) day press conference, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha spoke about the ‘night flying capability’ of the helicopters deployed in the anti-Maoist offensive. His predecessor too had highlighted the acquired capability.
“Night flying means helicopter can fly from point A to B, not a terrain like a jungle. There needs to be illumination, reference points and so on. Even sanitising needs to be ensured which it was jointly agreed was not feasible,” said an IAF spokesperson.
Troops engaged in the effort and the IAF have often had a troubled relationship with both sides accusing the other of inadequate response every time a situation emerges. While the air force has repeatedly highlighted the need to sanitise the area where the chopper has to land, it believes that force often fail in doing so. “As a result, we have been fired upon and even our personnel have been injured. Maoists are known to target us and some precautions need to be taken,” a MoD official stated. On the other hand, the forces feel the IAF follows a risk-averse policy. “BSF choppers have often landed in difficult circumstances,” complained a CRPF officer.
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