‘Disengage and retreat’ is the new mantra to avoid civilian casualty

Home ministry rewrites SoP for forces following Bijapur encounter


Prasanna Mohanty | July 13, 2012

The bodies of 20 suspected naxalites who were killed in a crackdown by the Central Reserve Police Force in the dense jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh
The bodies of 20 suspected naxalites who were killed in a crackdown by the Central Reserve Police Force in the dense jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh

Rattled by the Bijapur encounter in Chhattisgarh last month in which 19 people were killed, 12 of whom have been confirmed to be innocent villagers by the state and security forces, the union home ministry has instructed paramilitary forces and police force of Maoist-hit states to rewrite their rule of engagement during anti-Maoist operations and “hammer into” the minds of their personnel to think and act like the “protectors” of people.

Union home secretary RK Singh held a marathon meeting on Friday that started at 11 am and involved a working lunch with field-level operational heads of paramilitary forces and police force of the states to discuss and work out the details, which would then be circulated for compliance.

Two of the key elements that emerged were – (a) disengage and make tactical retreat when faced with the possibility of innocents getting killed and (b) provide orientation courses to the security forces to differentiate between people who may be Maoist supporters and the militant Maoists.

The first one requires rewriting the standard operation procedure (SoP), or the rule of engagement, that the security forces follow during any operation.

The new SoP that the union home ministry wants should ensure that there is no collateral damage or innocents killed in any anti-Maoist operation.

To ensure that, during a day-time operation, security forces are to make “tactical retreat” if there are villagers along with the Maoists or the Maoists are using human shield. “Choose another day” is the new dictum. It may be advantageous for the Maoists in the short-term but not in the long-term, because if human shields are used often, people would dump the Maoists, the security forces were told.

If it is night-time operation, “cordon the area and wait for the first light”. Borrow as many night vision devices from other forces as possible. Before launching any operation, get a complete detail of the area, villages in the vicinity, prepare maps through local help. If the destination is not a particular village, avoid it completely and take a detour. If a village is in the vicinity, get a thorough idea to avoid unwanted casualty.

In short, adopt “extreme caution” to prevent collateral damage.

As for the mental make-up of the security forces involved in anti-Maoist operations are concerned, strict instructions have been issued to “hammer into” the heads of the constabulary to act and think like protectors of people, to differentiate even between the villagers supporting Maoists and the hardcore militants. All new troops should go through an “orientation” course and be clearly told that if the villagers are supporting the Maoists it is out of compulsions. The existing troops should go through a “refresher course” towards the same end.

Good intentions are fine. The key lies in how these intentions are translated at the ground.



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