Maoists Ambush in Chhattisgarh: Faulty Leadership, Strange Tactics and Unlearnt Lessons!

The Centre’s policy on Counter-Insurgency operations is lopsided. Both state and central governments are confused to think of Maoists as “our misguided youth”. Anyone who picks up arms against the State is its enemy. Such an “enemy” needs to be crushed like in Punjab and J&K

Indian Army

By Col Rajinder Singh (Retd)

New Delhi. On April 3, between 2 pm and 4 pm (broad day light), a counter-insurgency task force (CITF) comprising CRPF, state police of Chhattisgarh and some special forces, was ambushed by Maoists insurgents in the Sukma forest area. There were 27 fatal casualties and more than 30 were injured. This operation was undertaken by the CITF based on the specific information of the presence of Madvi Hidma, an infamous Maoist leader known for brutalities against security forces. Tragically, instead of the CITF getting him, Hidma got the better of the CITF.

The very fact that out of 27 casualties none was an officer reflects upon the lack of seriousness and sincerity of the officers who had planned and executed this headless operation. Reports suggest that there was one Assistant Commandant who was injured. Was the rest of the force of around 2,000 persons, in six teams, led by only inspectors? There is definitely something amiss with their officer cadres to lead their men from the front.

It is also strange that information on Hidma was not properly analysed. It now appears that it was a well-planned trap by the Maoists. What was more surprising is the kind of tactics used. There was no proper drill to break the ambush. Nor were the high ground and hills on the flanks secured.

The DG CRPF says that the force was suddenly surprised from behind, while returning. Suddenly surprised? Did they expect a “marriage party” being hosted by the Maoists? The question arises: had this force gone on some picnic like the “Mughal Army”? They did not secure the flanks nor clear the area where the Maoists had deployed themselves.

The CRPF and state police – call them COBRA or STF – is good only for action against “law-abiding citizens going astray”. The fault is not of the jawans but the composition of officer cadre, which is basically IPS in the top echelons. They have no idea of training for CI operations and the need for high quality leadership in the conflict zone. As a result, untrained and poorly-led jawans are being sacrificed.

The CRPF was basically created to augment the state police in the maintenance of law and order. It is trained, organised, equipped and officered for such tasks only. Therefore, it is good for election duties or handling political riots. They are not good for fighting against the motivated and well-trained insurgents like Maoists. Also, it is not accustomed and trained to lead a hard life like the Maoist insurgents. It is basically an urban-oriented force. The jawans are not trained to fight in jungles and mountains.

The latest ambush shows that the forces conduct road and track-bound operations, which always result in them being trapped in an ambush. This has been happening since the Dantewada ambush of 2008. The CRPF had lost some 78 constables then. Unfortunately, the CRPF leaders have not learnt their lessons. CRPF and state police cadres have to be properly trained to do justice to their new role. Asking for Army deployment is not the answer. The Army can train it and orientate it. But the CRPF has to have its own cadre right till the top. IPS intake must be stopped forthwith.

One is reminded of General Moshe Dayan of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war fame. In the early 1970s, he visited the US Army in Vietnam. After the visit, he had predicted that the US Army would fail in Vietnam, which it actually did in late-1970s. His reason was that the US soldiers had the dream weapons, equipment and facilities but they lacked the will to operate off the roads and tracks — which gave initiative to the Viet Cong. Same is true of the Indian police forces fighting the Maoist insurgency in central India.

Some scholars and analysts are now suggesting an easy way out by palming off the responsibility to the army. It must be resisted by the army at all costs. It has become a routine for all such dirty jobs. Let all instruments of state power do their role sincerely.

It is important to note that there was a need to create equally well motivated leaders of the force. More often, CRPF is led by only inspectors in such operations. The IPS guys stay away and only fly in and out when such mishaps occur. They are not as emotionally connected as the permanent cadre. They just fill the slot and enjoy the perks and privileges. In fact, it is true of all CAPF (SB, ITBP, CISF, and even Intel agencies such as IB etc) that have IPS cadre on the top. No wonder DG CRPF was astonished by Maoists “suddenly surprising” his force from behind. This is the reason the CAPF has been losing 30-50 men every time since the Dantewada incident of 2008.

The scene of the latest ambush was just 14 km away from the permanent camp of the CRPF Bn. Surprisingly, there was no control HQ monitoring the operation, probably there were no communications either. There was no reserve force for quick reaction. It is also strange that while the ambush had taken place between 2pm and 4pm the previous day, the bodies of the slain jawans were recovered only a day later. The DG CRPF should have been rueing this inaction, rather than making alibis for such inaction.

Lack of conceptual and directional leadership, as well as poor motivation compounded by training deficit, make such forces incompetent to handle insurgency /militancy whose cadres are always on a “suicidal” mission. In counter-Insurgency operations numbers do not matter, rather it is the quality of motivation and competent leadership. There is a flawed operational strategy by the CRPF and state police to flood the forest with numbers. This works to the advantage of the Maoists.

Therefore, large-scale operations are anti-thesis of counter -insurgency. Mission-oriented or target-based operations need to be worked out. Operate in small teams, with laid down specific targets, acting on actionable and real-time intelligence will bear dividends. Operating like the “Mughal Army” will only lead to casualties.

The analysis of intelligence is also very important. Most often misleading information is also floated by insurgents to lure security forces. In the instant case, indications are that it was a trap and intel agencies fell for it. They were enticed into a killing field.

Reports indicate that when bullets began to fly, all men of the so-called CITF ran helter-skelter. The non-availability of officer leadership made it difficult to organise a coordinated resistance to minimise the damage. There are obvious grey areas in CITF training and ability to tackle insurgency. This is the difference of non-officer led troops.

They should have known and practised the tactics of breaking an ambush — a reserve force should have been immediately launched. Communication system was probably lacking. If it existed, then the control HQ would have immediately known it and reacted with a ‘Plan B’.

These above thoughts explain the state of affairs of the Central Armed Police forces (CAPF). And one expects them to fight highly motivated Maoists! As highlighted earlier, CAPF jawans are not only poorly led but untrained and are not tuned to fight insurgency. Moreover they are a “law and order” force deployed against those who violate laws and not against those who openly flout the Constitution of India.

The government’s policy on CI ops is lopsided. Both state and central governments are confused to think of Maoists as “our misguided youth”. No, Sir! They are enemies of the State. Anyone who picks up arms against the State is its enemy. Such an “enemy” needs to be crushed like in Punjab and J&K.


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