Another goof-up, another ambush

CRPF continues to make silly mistakes, leading to a loss of 14 lives, including four innocent villagers, in Latehar, Jharkhand


Prasanna Mohanty | January 16, 2013

There is no end to the blunders that the central reserve police force (CRPF) commits in its anti-Maoists operations. Less than seven months after its men went berserk and killed 19 people in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, most of whom turned out to be innocent villagers, it has again landed itself in a mess. This time in Jharkhand’s Latehar district.

The facts of this encounter make a chilling reading. A local CRPF commander leads more than 300 personnel (two companies of CRPF and one company of Jaguar, a force specifically trained and raised for anti-Maoist operations by the Jharkhand government) to an area-domination exercise in Latehar’s Katiya forests in December. The exercise goes uneventful for over a month and then they get wind of a contingent of the Maoists and decide to launch a direct attack on January 7. While most of the security personnel move towards a village, Amwatikar, a small group climbs up a nearby hill to provide them a security cover. While this band is climbing up the hill, the Maoists waiting for it at the top of the hill unleashes a volley of fire, killing 10 jawans (nine from CRPF and one from Jaguars).

The first mistake is committed here. Commonsense, if not the security drill, would dictate that an operation is launched only after getting specific intelligence ­– about the location, number of the ultras and arms and ammunitions with them. At least a scout or an advance party could have been sent to the village and the hill to find a vantage point before launching a full-scale operation. An ambush, in that event, would have been less damaging. As CRPF’s chief of operations, PK Singh (Inspector General), admits there was only a “general intelligence” of the Maoists’ movement. Just as has been the case with numerous other such instances.

What happens next is even more bizarre.

The security forces pull back, go to the village the next day and force the hapless villagers to escort them to search for the bodies. A report (January 16) in Indian Express quotes villagers as saying that they were forced at gun point to act as human shield (something CRPF has been accusing the Maoists of doing). They even refuse to let the villagers do the searching on their own (without the security forces accompanying them) so as to avoid Maoists’ retribution. When the bodies are finally located, the villagers are commanded to carry it down. At this point, one of the bodies explodes in their face, killing four villagers instantly and injuring another. Not one security personnel is injured in this explosion, which would only confirm the villagers’ account of being forced into it.

Next mistake happens when, unmindful of this explosion, rest of the bodies, and the injured villager, are airlifted, by a chopper, to a Ranchi hospital. It is the doctors who discover the source of the explosion when they notice the stitches on a security personnel’s body, something that the security forces had failed to. The doctors then X-ray the body and find an unusual object inside. A bomb disposal squad is called which pulls out a 2.5 kg IED and defuses it. Mercifully, the bomb had not gone up during its long journey to the hospital. Had that been the case, a few more lives would have been lost.

Commonsense, again, would dictate that the security forces ascertain the source of the explosion before proceeding further. The Maoists are known to booby-trap the site of encounter, though it is the first instance in recent memory of a body being booby-trapped thus. But they don’t. Even their seniors monitoring the operation from Ranchi and Delhi act dumb and fail to caution their men at the ground.

Ajai Sahni, a security expert and executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, rightly dismisses the whole approach of the CRPF as “lackadaisical”.

CRPF has constantly being accused of launching operations without specific intelligence and not following the standard operation procedures (SOP). That is why the ministry of home affairs has been insisting on developing proper intelligence and even got the security forces to rework their SOP after the Bijapur encounter in June 2012.

But can anyone do anything when the CRPF refuses to apply basic commonsense?




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