With a hint of anger in his blood-shot eyes, he revealed, “We were close to seven hundred. They were barely over a hundred. Yet we could neither save our colleagues or their weapons nor could we eliminate the rebels”. Rajat and three of his colleagues (names changed on request) were a part ‘Operation SS 14 (South Sukma)’ from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who faced off with the Maoists on Monday and lost fourteen of their men including two officers. They are presently awaiting their return to their original location.
While Rajat Kumar is a young ‘sipahi’, joined hardly two years ago, his colleagues are not. “Nothing is going to change. I am looking at completing twenty years of service and exiting with pension,” said Mahesh Raj, a constable. For the force that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wants to become the arrow head of India’s anti-Maoist effort, it is a difficult time. Those outside see it as fighting a difficult battle. Those inside have little hope of things improving.
By November 10, officers in various battalions were informed of a major, ‘four phase’ operation to be conducted later in the month. By November 15, personnel were sought from an array of battalions which included 74th, 150th, 201st & 206th CoBRA, team directly under Deputy Inspector General (DIG) CoBRA, team directly under Inspector General (IG) CRPF and 223th battalion. Before November 15, over 600 personnel had gathered at camps like Pollampalli, Kankerlanka and Puswada among others in Sukma.
“Our operations would take two nights and three days. We had nil intelligence. We would search, wander from one location to the other, expose ourselves to the Maoists and return,” said Rajat. It was reliably learnt that the operation has come under question from several quarters within the CRPF. When asked, the acting Director General RC Tayal had earlier commented, “The traditional area domination operations need to now change. We must hit the Maoists and operations need to be pinpoint, specific and swift.” As these operations progressed, on November 21, in its second phase, seven personnel were injured by the Maoists. Later, the third and fourth phases were merged into one and undertaken from November 29 to December 1.
On November 30, five of those who participated in the operations were detected with malaria and required immediate evacuation. However a Border Security Force (BSF) helicopter flew in on that day but did not land, citing unfit conditions. “We covered a hillock and slept there for the night. Next morning, you can say our operation had turned into one where we were only scurrying to detect a suitable landing spot for the helicopter,” said Pankaj Kumar, another constable.
As luck would have it, coordination with the helicopter fleet for such a massive operation was another debacle.
The IAF team at Jagdalpur readied itself to fly but all day the CRPF could not confirm just where to land till it was in the sunset range! “Helipad locations kept changing throughout. At 1610 hours, the fourth location came. And mind you, all along CRPF never uttered a word that there was an ambush. We got curious. Finally, at 1640hrs they asked us to go to evacuate their injured and we couldn’t because it was too late.The state government, despite repeated reminders has failed to install equipment which can allow us to land at night. Had they done that even at their Chintagufa camp, where the troops returned that night, we would have evacuated the injured,” said a MoD official.
Little of this means anything to these men on ground. “Forget malaria cases, even if the IAF/BSF had flown the next day when we asked them to on the day of the ambush, two of out men would have been alive today,” said Pankaj Kumar.
On ground, before all hell broke loose, all the team commanders were called to meet the IG at the ground zero. It was close to 9:30am. As the encounter began with firing from a ridge on to CRPF position near Kasalpad village, instead of fighting the hundred odd Maoists, different units of the CRPF were moving in different directions. “We still don’t know why many things happened the way they did. We did not act as one,” conceded an officer who was a key element of the entire operation.
Frustration written over his face, Rajat said, “We were looking for the Maoists all these days. We were tired but we wanted to finish them off because they had showed up finally. But when firing began we noticed that not all were fighting.” His colleague, Mahesh, quiet till now said, “In J&K, when militants show up, the entire area is cordoned and militants are not allowed to walk away like it happened here.”
The MHA has announced a slew of committees to investigate the lapses and review the CRPF’s functioning apart from the statutory Court of Inquiry (CoI).
An inspector who was watching the conversation flow said, “I have seen the CRPF for over 25 years. Never before has the force taken so many hits. We are being called upon to do the kind of work that militaries do yet we neither have that kind of training nor powers.”
BOX – WEAPONS MAOISTS LOOTED
- 2000 AK47 rounds
- 300 rounds INSAS Light Machine Gun
- 30 Under Barrel Grenade Launchers
- 10 AK47 rifles
- 01 Self Loading Rifle
- 01 INSAS LMG
- 04 Bullet Proof Jackets
- 01 GPS Set
- 01 VHF Manpack set
- 02 Binocular