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By Brig Akhelesh Bhargava (Retd)
Among the many threats that our country witnesses, internal threat by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) is one that has been simmering for long. Over the decades, our Paramilitary Forces (PMF) have been given a free hand to equip themselves with improved weapons and support technology, as required to combat the Naxals in Central India. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) raised Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), to combat the Naxals but time and again the force has suffered at the hands of these Naxals.
The most lethal fighting unit of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), Battalion No. 1 headed by Madvi Hidma; has its base in Bastar Division. The Gondi speaking tribes residing in the dense forest of Bastar, Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Narayanpur, Kanker and Kondagaon are known to be exploited by the Naxals. The Naxals are adapt in living off the land and have become a messiah to these tribes in the absence of governance and development. Further the terrain is ideal for hit and run and Naxals have adapted to the tactics; surprising the forces at will. CRPF, the lead agency for anti-Naxal operations, has suffered many setbacks at the hands of the Maoists.
On the night of April 2, around 1900 plus security personnel left their camps in Tarrem, (Bijapur district of Bastar Division), for an operation. The multi-force group included men from the state police’s Special Task Force (STF), the District Reserve Guard (DRG), the Bastar Battalion and the CRPF’s CoBRAs. The operation was planned against Maoist commander, Madvi Hidma, mastermind of several ambushes. The planning for operation was apparently done by IG Operations Nalin Prabhat, IPS. He was DIG during the April 2010 massacre of 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada.
The operation has been analysed by many and an after-action report will also be submitted. Four new camps (equivalent of company operating base or COB) were established by the forces, months preceding the operation. The forces were expected to carry out area domination by patrolling on different routes and getting to know their respective area of responsibility (AOR). Middle rung officers were supposed to accompany the platoon and company size forces for such activity. A log of such activity should be available if it was done at all. The media could reach the sight, before the forces could retrieve their martyrs. How come, they could not find any Maoist casualty, though the DG CRPF claim that a large number of Maoist were also killed. If the force strength was so big, a counter attack should have been launched albeit if the leadership was present on ground. For such an operation, few Quick Reaction Teams (QRT) should have been deployed, foreseeing such an eventuality (taking a cue from the past) to get behind the Maoist and encounter them from the rear. Apparently, there were none. The withdrawal from operations site should have been bound to bound in small parties; keeping ones back covered. The men were perhaps in great hurry to get back to safe confines of their camp – clearly reflecting that the senior leadership was not in control and had left the personnel to their fate.
The availability of drones, jammers, snooping devices, satellite imagery, et all; is available in the country. When an operation of this size was being planned, was the employment of these gadgets to provide real time picture to junior leadership on ground considered? Looks like this was overlooked too!
The release ceremony of the captured CRPF commando in front of the huge gathering of villagers and the photo-ops; is a great demoraliser. Hope it is avenged soon. For that to happen, the CRPF hierarchy and the Indian Police Service (IPS) officers have to carry out some introspection. Some suggestions that should be incorporated are listed below:
Administrative Aspects: CRPF should move complete battalion to operational location instead of just the operating companies. The battalion headquarters are hundreds of miles away from ground realities. The Battalion Commander (60 to 70 % IPS) is disconnected from the troops on ground. He should lead from the front rather than from the precincts of his office. The administrative requirements of the troops deployed in intense operational environment are a plenty including proper relief planning. In the Bilaspur Division Gondi language is spoken. By now CRPF should have a sizeable number of Gondi speaking troops to act as interpreters. Basic understanding of the language should be compulsory for all officers posted in the region.
Operational :The top hierarchy while planning operation at such large scale should stay in AOR for considerable time, walk on foot to see the ground realities and not rely on intelligence which is weeks old. A grid of company sized camps be established in Naxal prone areas to give a honey-comb effect. Just a few camps which are far spread, won’t reap much help. Company officers should stay within camps and not in rest houses. They should have tenures of minimum two years in operational area and know their men in detail. The camps should be located within the AOR and troops should carry out area domination in a random manner.
Tactics: When troops move for an operation, they should never stay close to villages as they are generally infested with over ground workers (OGW) and they act as ears and eyes for Naxals. Small teams are better than single large one and they should operate from multiple direction. Thorough use of navigational aids, good inter team communication with provision for continuous surveillance and intelligence inputs should be ensured. Route out and route in should be different as to mislead the Naxals. Post operations the troops are fatigued, sleepy and restless and therefore calls for extra caution. Higher ground has a definite advantage in a fire fight and therefore it is a must that troops should choose routes along high ground or atleast have their spotters at vantage points. When a large force is being deployed, surprise is compromised due to noise factor. Diversionary operations would keep the Naxals guessing regarding the real intentions of the forces. A few QRTs at key location must be earmarked to act as reinforcement as well as get behind the Naxals and hit them from another direction.
Post Ambush: It is known that the primary task of Naxals is to inflict maximum casualties on the forces and secondary task is to capture maximum arms and ammunition and live to fight another day. However, past records show that the CRPF personnel never make an attempt to counter-strike the Naxals in the act of ‘looting weapons’.
Technology: With the availability of high-resolution drone and helicopter mounted cameras in the country, adequate real time surveillance should be provided before such a massive operation. For specific periods, resources such as battlefield surveillance radars (BFSRs), satellite imagery, and jammer detachments should be made available and utilised innovatively.
Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) (Madhya Bharat): Based on the ‘son of the soil’ concept, Madhya Bharat IRB Battalion should be raised to assist CRPF. These battalions must recruit men from the Naxal infested areas. The men should be trained to operate in deeper jungles of Bilaspur Division and similar places.
Accountability: The failure of operations will surely be studied by the chain of command. It is important to pin point responsibility to avoid many more fiascos that may happen in the future. In the instant case, leaving the martyrs behind and reporting them as missing, is a ‘recipe for promoting poor leadership’ and needs to be ‘nipped in the bud’.
What happened in Tarrem, Bijapur should not be repeated again. It is time that the plan to avenge the act in a quick time frame should be put in place, for the ‘CoBRAs’ to salvage their image and sting.
(The author is Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)