Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stick to drill: Centre to Naxal-hit states

15 Jul 2009, 0128 hrs IST, Bharti Jain, ET Bureau



NEW DELHI: With the Centre convinced that the killing of 36 Chhattisgarh police personnel by Naxalites in Rajnandgaon on Sunday could have been
averted had the forces adhered to the standard operating procedures (SOPs) formulated by it for minimising casualty during counter-Naxal operations, it has issued a fresh advisory to all the states reminding them to strictly follow SOPs.

In its advisory sent to all the Naxalism-hit states, including Chhattisgarh, on Monday, the Centre reiterated that the state police should undertake operations as per their own plans rather than working as per the plan of Naxals and often walking into their death traps.

SOPs formulated by MHA require counter-Naxal forces to tread on foot or cycles rather than using vehicles in extremist-infested jungles to avoid landmines; avoiding sending reinforcements during a Naxal attack for fear of subsequent ambushes that are part of the multiple-attack strategy; sticking to guerrilla warfare only; and using different approach and return routes while travelling through a Naxalite stronghold.

As was the case in Chhattisgarh, the state armed police had been undertaking operations in the Naxal-hit district, and had set up a forward outpost perilously close to an extremist stronghold. Naxalites, obviously, were keeping a close eye on the outpost which lacked even the basic toilet facilities. With the security personnel forced to venture into the jungles to relieve themselves, they had the Naxalite attack coming.

On Sunday, the fears of the force becoming sitting ducks came true as the Naxalites went about their plan, first killing two police personnel who had ventured into the jungles and then laying the ambush for the reinforcements.

To give them the benefit, the SP, who was killed in the attack, did wait 4 hours before rushing reinforcements, but erred in not adhering to SOP of not to use a vehicle while operating in a Naxal-infested area, exposing his men to landmine attacks.

The Naxalites, who had obviously been watching the forward post closely, were prepared, and laid a landmine along the approach route, rather than the area held by them, foxing the state police who had probably decided to set on foot only when they entered the Naxalites’ area.

Not only this, they climbed on treetops and fired upon the policemen as they ventured into a plain terrain, thus maximising casualty.

“It was possibly a faulty assessment of the Naxalite plans...notwithstanding the fact that it is an established practice of the Maoists to trigger multiple attacks and lay traps for the police reinforcements as they arrive...this has been the case in all the recent attacks,” a senior MHA official said.

The Chhattisgarh police insist that its personnel, especially the SP who was leading from the front, put up a valiant fight. “What is an SOP...how can you have a standard drill for a war zone,” asked a senior state police official. The official added that the state armed police were bravely undertaking operations in deep jungles even when CRPF refused to assist them until a senior police officer was in the lead.

“The police is short-staffed...some 5 battalions of state armed police as against 13 battalions of CRPF...how can one spare enough police personnel to match the strength of CRPF for operations,” asked the official.

At the Centre, officials insisted that all what CRPF has asked for it is a senior police officer to accompany them on operational tasks, as against earlier practice of sending a couple of SPOs or constables, making CRPF men easy targets.

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