Monday, July 20, 2009

For surge against Naxals, Govt to raise 26,000-strong force

Pranab Dhal Samanta

Posted: Monday , Jul 20, 2009 at 0840 hrs
New Delhi: Related ArticlesMost Read Articles

Taking the first steps for a massive surge against Naxalites, the Government has decided to set up a 26,000-strong task force that will be equipped and trained to carry out clearing operations in Naxal-affected areas of the country.

It is learnt that 26 battalions, picked from across paramilitary forces, will be placed under an officer of Additional Director General rank. Sources said the process has already started and troops are being identified for this purpose. They will receive specialised training in different places including military training institutions.

The aim is to first prepare and train the force at the earliest. Having already spoken to Chief Ministers of Naxal-affected states for coordinated operations, the Home Ministry feels there is now a broad understanding that drastic steps will have to be taken and most state governments are on board. In fact, after the Lalgarh incident, West Bengal has given up its initial reluctance and is now backing the plan for a surge against the Naxals.

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According to reliable sources, the task force will not be spread out thin across states but will be used in specific areas in coordination with state and paramilitary forces deployed there with a bigger strategy in mind. While officials do have a time frame and a rough plan, it is a closely guarded affair to retain the element of surprise.

The broad objective is to “secure, hold and administer” an area and then move on to the next, which is where coordination is vital. While the task force can clear and secure an area, it can only be held by the state police which must be followed up quickly on the administrative front. Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar is already heading a committee of secretaries which is working with the state governments on an administration model that includes ways to incentivise officials at different levels to serve in these areas.

On the operations front, there is emphasis now on qualitatively improving the tactical and fighting abilities of the state and paramilitary forces. For this, even the Defence Ministry is being roped in with a plan to earmark military units that will be located around Naxal areas, where forces currently deployed can train with Army units to improve their tactical skills. Sources said the Army has been asked to work out a plan soon.

The Centre is particularly upset by the repeated tactical mistakes on the ground. It recently issued an advisory to all concerned states after the incident in Chhattisgarh last Sunday where a SP along with 26 personnel were killed. As it turned out, proper procedures were not followed as the police rushed in after two of its men were found dead earlier in the morning.

By now, sources said, it is evident that this is the way Naxals lay traps by drawing the police to an incident site and then springing an ambush. In this case there was also a hint — a tree trunk had been felled across the road and the police removed it, went forward and were killed. There is a view that the police ought to have realised there was an ambush when they found the road was blocked.

Similarly, on June 21 in Dantewada district, a police patrol moved out late in the night when reports came in that a truck belonging to a private contractor had been set on fire by Naxals. The patrol inspected the site of the incident and on their way back were ambushed and 11 personnel were killed. The advisory suggests that the police must be careful in responding to every incident as it would have been better to wait till morning and move with proper preparation.

Even on Friday night, a police post in Kandhamal was attacked and, to the horror of the Home Ministry, the police were not armed. These incidents, sources said, fly in the face of any serious effort to tackle the Naxal menace. Much of this is expected to be straightened out in the days ahead so that a final surge can be effective. Where, when and how this surge will be launched is a decision the Centre is keeping to itself.

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