Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Op Green Hunt groundwork begins in Bengal

Ajanta Chakraborty, Caesar Mandal & Sukumar Mahato, TNN, 11 February 2010, 05:20am IST

KOLKATA/MIDNAPORE: Operation Green Hunt, the Centre's military offensive to crush the Maoists in their jungle hideouts, will be launched this month-end or by mid-March. And it will kick off in Bengal with West Midnapore as the first target of the offensive.

The ground work for this "careful, controlled and calibrated" assault started within 24 hours of home minister P Chidambaram's meeting with delegations from the Maoist-hit states of Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand. Though the chief ministers of Jharkhand and Bihar skipped the meet, it is clear by now that they will actively cooperate in Operation Green Hunt.

Bengal DGP Bhupinder Si-ngh led a high-level security team to Midnapore on Wedne-sday to chalk out the nitty gritty of the battle plan and carried out a helicopter survey of Maoist-controlled stretches of Lalgarh and Salboni and the Jharkhand-Orissa borders.

According to sources, the Maoist corridor in these four states will be divided into 10-12 zones for operations. West Midnapore was picked as the first target because this is where the rebels have their strongest base, said an officer. "The Maoist network is most well-established here. With the help of PCPA, they have secured the sentiments of tribals," said an officer.

"Contrary to the Lalgarh operation, this mission will focus on penetrating the jungles along the 600-km inter-state Maoist corridor, chase away the leftwing extremists and reclaim the area so that government agencies can move in to start development work," said another officer.

The operation will begin with gathering information from disgruntled Maoists and breakaway factions. On the basis of field intelligence and aerial surveillance, the CRPF's crack force, the Cobra commandos, will spearhead the assault, say sources. There will be a lot of emphasis on infiltration operations. Cobra troops will track down guerrilla training camps in the jungles and destroy them. Two such camps were recently discovered at Ajnasuli in Lalgarh.

Cobra assault squads will undertake operations lasting 48-72 hours at a stretch. After sanitisation, bomb disposal squads will move in, backed by heavily armed paramilitary teams. As the forces make inroads, camps will be set up and areas dominated.
Unlike Lalgarh, security forces here will not leave the recaptured areas unmanned. But like Lalgarh, the forces will open fire only when they are attacked.

Operation Green Hunt will focus on avoiding collateral damage and civilian casualties.

In case the Maoists resort to their usual tactic of mobilising villagers and throwing women and children before the forces, the troops will avoid a confrontation with the human shields, say sources. The riot police will tackle the crowd as the main armed force splits and moves rapidly to encircle the Maoists from behind, thus minimizing bloodshed.

"We will make sure that no innocent person faces harassment at the hands of the forces. Many common people are helping us by providing information about Maoist movement. This is a positive change," said West Midnapore SP SP Manoj Verma, who attended Wednesday's war strategy meet with DGP Bhupinder Singh, district magistrate N S Nigam and top police and paramilitary officers.

Silent search operations have already started, and a report submitted to the Union home ministry, say sources.
According to one report, 20 senior Maoist leaders have fled the jungles and taken refuge in towns and subdivisions. "A section of the top Maoist rank is already away from the operational zone. They have moved out to areas where policing is not so intense and are living as paying guests."

As the DGPs of four states exchanged notes at Writers' Buildings on Tuesday, they were surprised to find that an automatic flushing out of top-ranking Maoist leaders had quietly been taking place over the last one month.

"This is quite a boost ahead of the main operation," said an official.

Eight Maoist leaders including Balraj, head of the northern regional bureau of the CPI(Maoist) and associate of Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy were arrested at Kanpur last Monday. Some others were held in Allahabad and Gorakhpur.

According to intelligence sources, Maoists have been pushed on the back foot as increased patrolling had made it difficult for them to smuggle arms and ammunition.

Union home minister P Chidambaram has spelt out a cut-off time of six months for Operation Green Hunt, but Bengal officials have stretched it to eight months or beyond. "It will be a simultaneous mission in more ways than one. It will happen in our neighbouring states as well, followed by intense developmental activity. A flexible time frame is needed to win over the tribals," a senior official told TOI.

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