Monday, July 20, 2009

College that trains cops to take on Naxalites

The motto of the Kanker Jungle Warfare College is ‘Fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla’
Man Mohan
Our Roving Editor

Brig (retd) BK Ponwar, head of Chhattisgarh’s first Counter-terrorism and Jungle Warfare College, Kanker Chhattisgarh’s Jungle Warfare College trainees — before and after the course

Kanker (Chhattisgarh), July 19
The police are not following the basic rules of jungle warfare while fighting the Naxalites, Chhattisgarh’s top terrorism expert Brigadier (retd) BK Ponwar has charged.

Ponwar is heading Chhattisgarh’s first Counter-Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College here in north Bastar, 145 km from state capital Raipur. At least, 39 policemen, including the Superintendent of Police Vinod Kumar Choubey, were killed in a gruesome guerrilla attack by the Maoists (commonly called Naxalites) in Rajnandgaon district on July 12.

Maoists have become more offensive in Chhattisgarh as the state police recently breached the “Red Corridor” in its two northern districts, Sarguja and Jashpur, flushing out ‘red rebels’ from there. The “Red Corridor” runs through the dense forest belt from the Nepal border to Andhra Pradesh.

“I do not want to rub salt on wounds after a spate of killings but it hurts me a lot when the police do not follow the basics of jungle warfare,” Ponwar told The Tribune.

“If one does not follow traffic rules while driving, it may lead to an accident,” said Ponwar emphasising that “similarly, if the police will not follow the basics of jungle warfare, they will continue to meet the same fate as they did on Sunday (July 12)…the policemen had just walked into a booby trap”.

The incident had witnessed the highest-ever casualty that the security forces had suffered in a single day in the three-decade history of Naxal violence in Chhattisgarh. The tragedy has shaken up the police.

Chhattisgarh, in 2005, opened its own jungle warfare college. In early 2004, the policemen were sent to the Army-run Mizoram jungle warfare school, then headed by Ponwar. On his superannuation, Ponwar was requisitioned by the Chhattisgarh government in the rank of Inspector General of Police to head the Kanker College.

The Kanker jungle Warfare College has trained over 7,000 policemen, including officers from Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa and Kerala. Of late, West Bengal has also started sending policemen here - perhaps after learning the lesson from the Lalgarh episode.

However, despite the July 12 deadly attack by the Maoists, Ponwar is optimistic. The recent defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka after a 30-year conflict has raised his hopes. “If Colombo can do it, we can also do it…the Bastar jungles are not that difficult,” he said.

Ponwar tells every batch of commandoes, “Your fight with Naxals starts right at your doorstep…be careful otherwise your body will go back.”

Still, the police and security forces deployed all over the state are not careful. The Maoists killed many of them when they went for a nature’s call in early hours.

The Kanker college has unique facilities of 14 reflex shooting, and special firing ranges, rock climbing, rappelling, slithering, unarmed combat areas, natural obstacle course, endurance track, hills, rivers, thick jungles and remotely populated villages close by making an ideal area for combat training similar to the battle field.

The course is open to all age groups, both for men and women. Over 200 police women have done the course so far and many have performed better than the men. “Many trainees are scared on arrival but after the course they feel confident on rediscovering their strength,” said Ponwar.

Maoists some time back made a daring plan to blow up the vehicles of top officers of the Kanker jungle warfare college. The Naxalites dug up a five feet tunnel under the main highway near the college to install a massive landmine in it. A timely alert from local people prevented the tragedy.

The Maoists hate this college as it has been producing the best commandos for various Naxal-infested states. The college’s motto is: “Fight a guerilla like a guerilla.”

“I have always cautioned policemen not to move in vehicles on jungle roads and always carry de-mining squads and sniffer dogs capable of detecting IED while going on operations,” said Ponwar.

“But policemen are flouting warfare rules over and again...what was the hurry on Sunday (July 12) for the SP to rush without clearing landmines? The policemen should have avoided use of vehicles and moved in a V-formation along the jungle road but surprisingly they did not carry either mine detection equipment or sniffer dogs,” said Ponwar.

Ponwar has seen action in counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency areas in Nagaland, Punjab and Tripura. At Mizoram jungle warfare school, Ponwar had conducted the Indo-US defence cooperation exercise “Yudh Abhyas”.

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