Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The killing lack of intelligence in Dantewada

The April 6, 2010 attack on the 62nd battalion of our force in Chintalnar, Tadmetla area of Chhattisgarh, shook the entire nation. Different people had different takes on why the soldiers were killed. Some blamed it on the weaknesses of the soldiers themselves, others found fault with the intelligence system. Still others saw the incident as a result of lack of coordination between the central forces and the state police. But no one paid attention to the actual situation.

The whole country was in grief when we lost 76 of our colleagues. People burnt effigies of Naxalites at many places. Some people also organised memorial services and lit candles. We felt that we are not fighting alone in these jungles, that the entire country is behind us. This has raised the morale of the forces.

A small district of Bastar region, Dantewada is extremely sensitive. The Naxalites’ influence is supreme from the hills of Malkangiri, Orissa, in the east to Gadhchiroli in Maharashtra in the west. The terrain — dense forests, narrow, winding, unpaved roads, hills, the Indravati and its tributaries — has played a very vital role in the war being fought for the last few decades. These natural resources are the sole property the tribals have. The ‘people’s government’ (in Naxalite lingo) is their democracy. Even the local police concede they have control only over one third of the area. Another one-third is under the control of the Naxalites, and the rest is what both sides are fighting over.The most important reason for the failure of the police and security forces in their operations against the Naxalites is the lack of authentic information and intelligence. It is not easy to gather information about the Naxalites in these areas. The Naxals have a terrorising influence over the locals. They themselves communicate in the local Gondi language and use traditional methods of communication which the security forces find difficult to decipher. Locals living in the interior areas would not dare to provide any information to the police because the only punishment, if caught, is death.

Intelligence normally is based on four things — money, ideology, conscience or enmity (MICE). A person becomes a police informer because of any

of these four reasons. In Bastar, however, people lead an extremely ordinary life. They neither have unlimited needs nor are very greedy. Ideologically, they are influenced by the Naxalites who have been present in these areas for the last 20 years and have their own people in every village. In such a situation, gathering intelligence becomes a very difficult task, and without proper intelligence, no operation can be successful.

The use of modern equipment for intelligence-gathering cannot be utilised in these forests because of the lack of communication facilities. There are no telephones, and in many areas mobile phones don’t work. The sparsely populated villages have no access to water, electricity or roads. The tribals living in these villages are so terrorised by the Naxalites that they avoid the police at all costs, leave alone helping them.

Since most of the Naxalites are locals, they know the terrain well. They know where to plan an ambush, and which way to get out. They attract the security forces by firing at them and then take a different way to surround the forces from a different direction, causing heavy casualties.

The Naxalites are experts in handling both modern weapons like AK-47s, INSAS, rocket launchers and IEDs, and more traditional guns like .303s. When the situation demands, they are very adept at fighting with bows and arrows, axes or other sharp weapons. They do not undergo any formal training but learn on the job.

The lesson from the Dantewada attack is that we are now facing a new enemy which we need to tackle with a lot of patience, skill and courage. As their tactics and methods start becoming known, we will have to change our operations accordingly. At the same time, we will also have to pay attention to the following:

NUMBERS AND COORDINATION

Considering that the area under Naxal control is very large, the current strength of central forces deployed in Chhattisgarh is inadequate. The way Naxalites gather in hundreds to carry out an attack, one or two companies of security forces don’t mean much. More deployment of central forces and better coordination with local police is a must for a successful operation.

DEPLOYMENT

There should be a rethink on the deployment, and it should be carried out in phases. At present, the deployment is very disorderly. The forces are deployed deep inside the forests, at great distances from the district headquarters, where it is difficult to carry out even the daily routine and administrative work. Due to the fear of the Naxalites, local traders do not provide supplies to the security forces. The companies have to make their own arrangements. In addition, manpower is often diverted for other works like escorting colleagues going on leave or for treatment, and that hampers operational efficiency. Therefore, the forces need to be deployed at regular distances from the district headquarters. It will not just ensure a check on the Naxals’ movement, but also help in rushing reinforcements in times of need.

INFORMATION

It is often seen that a battalion or a few companies carry out operations in their respective areas on a small scale while the Naxalites generally attack in very large numbers. Therefore, prior to an operation, there should be proper flow of information to everyone deployed in neighbouring areas so that everyone is alert and can contribute to the operation if the need arises.

TRAINING

Before being deployed in Naxal areas, soldiers must be given training in jungle warfare. Normally, soldiers doing law and order duty or election duty are all of sudden sent to fight armed Naxalites in jungles. How can they be expected to succeed? For success, it is essential that the Special Action Force, whch is specially trained in guerrilla and jungle warfare, is expanded and the CRPF soldiers are given proper training before being deployed in the Naxal areas.

INTELLIGENCE

The forces will have to rely only on intelligence-based operations. Humint, or human intelligence, needs to be strengthened considerably though it is correct that it will take years to do so. In the meantime, techint (technical intelligence) will have to be developed, which includes the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and airships. The intelligence network of both the central and state governments need to be improved and the services of drones and helicopters can be availed for keeping better vigil.

EQUIPMENT

Since transportation is a major problem in the jungles and the entire area is infested with landmines, the use of helicopters becomes all the more crucial in transporting forces to the right place in less time, or even carry supplies of ammunition and other things. Apart from modern weapons, the forces need to be given additional special equipment like explosive detection devices, night devices, drones etc. Communication facilities need to be improved, taking the help of satellites.

Over the years, the Maoists have changed their strategy, and are now trying to prepare the ground for their entry into politics. Their aim is to establish an autonomous region in Dandkaranya. To counter their influence among the locals, the government needs to provide active encouragement to the villagers and make serious efforts at development and welfare of the people. A non-political three-pronged strategy, disarm-develop-dialogue, needs to be adopted so that common people’s faith is restored and they are freed from Naxal influence.

In the last six decades, we have faced rebellious movements in the north-east, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir and have earned valuable experience and skills in tackling these. The problem of Naxalism seems to be following the trajectory of tribal rebellion in the north-east. The irony is that at the start almost every movement in this country is very violent and by the time the elements in the movement realize that they can never defeat the government, many valuable lives are lost.

Here, we want to make two things very clear. The Naxalites will surrender their arms only when they are convinced of the futility of an armed battle with the government. And the second, that a peace agreement should be arrived at only when we are in a stronger position. We have to fight a long battle with minimum force. What should be the quantum of this minimum force, the government has to decide. We have to keep our morale high and be ready for a long battle.

(This is a translated and edited version of an article that appeared in the CRPF’s in-house magazine, CRPF Samachar.)

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