Tuesday, February 16, 2010

EFR jawans were ill-prepared when Maoists struck

17 Feb 2010, 0705 hrs IST, Bharti Jain , ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: Lack of training in guerrilla warfare and disregard for standard operating procedures (SOPs), prescribed by the Centre to minimise

casualty during counter-Naxal operations, appear to have done in the Eastern Frontier Rifles jawans who were mowed down by Maoists in West Midnapore on Monday.

When the Maoists swooped down on the EFR camp on motorcycles, cars and SUVs — a pointer to their growing might and resourcefulness — on Monday, the troops were not armed. Oblivious of the planned assault, the policemen had their weapons deposited in the camp’s armoury. This obviously made them sitting ducks when Naxalites started firing. Needless to say, they took away the AK-47 s and INSAS rifles after killing 24 policemen.

The vulnerability of EFR jawans — who had no intelligence from the state agencies on the impending Maoist assault was there for all to see. The state police admittedly fail to secure the camp by posting armed guards, preferably with sandbags for cover.

The concrete perimeter wall too had not been replaced by barbed wire, as advised by the Centre, to ensure a better view of the approaching adversary. Even SOPs prescribed for camps in Naxalhit zones and shared time and again with all affected states — such as physical protection of forces’ accommodation from gunfire, quick access to arms 24x7 and a communication link between the guard outside and inmates of the camp and also between the camp and the force’s headquarters to seek reinforcements — were not followed.

The commanding officer of the camp, a sub-inspector, was not present inside at the time of the attack. “This clearly points to the complete lack of training and preparedness of EFR personnel in taking on the Naxalites ,” a senior MHA official pointed out adding that “in a normal situation, a policeman may deposit his weapon when off-duty , but with training in counter-Naxal tactics, the first thing he must learn is to keep his weapon close at hand all the time.”

Central agencies are not ruling out the possibility of the Naxal attackers having crossed over from Jharkhand. This, officials here felt, only strengthened the Centre’s case for inter-state operations — which chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had opposed in January 2009, before coming on board in the Lalgarh aftermath.

Notwithstanding the massive casualty it suffered on Monday, the West Bengal government has decided to learn from mistakes and be more careful in dealing with Maoists. Some correctives that may be introduced are training of police personnel in jungle and guerrilla warfare, ensuring that a policeman always retains his weapons and putting a barbed wire around camps and armed guards outside always.

A senior MHA official will travel to West Bengal to review the situation in view of the Naxal attack and once again reiterate the standard operating procedures and precautions that must be taken by the police on counter-Naxal deployment. The need to have the state police trained in jungle warfare to improve their response and preparedness against Maoists will also be stressed.

The state police will also be told not to review the security of all police camps in the Naxal belt and introduce safety measures such posting of a round-the-clock sentry with sandbags for cover. Importantly, the Centre will insist that police camps are not located in a crowded neighbourhood and are properly manned and commanded by a senior officer

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