An injured jawan said around 10-12 Naxalites must have got killed in the 'befitting' retaliation by the CRPF contingent.
At least 25 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed and six wounded in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on Monday, the deadliest attack by Naxalites targeting security forces this year.
Inspector Raghubir Singh, the commander of the 99-member CRPF company which was attacked by Maoists in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, was among the 25 personnel killed in the deadly ambush.
The names of the others, all belonging to the 'Delta' company of the 74th battalion of the CRPF, are:
Sub-Inspector K K Das, Assistant Sub-Inspectors Sanjay Kumar, Rameswar Lal, Naresh Kumar, Head Constables Surender Kumar, Banna Ram, L P Singh, Naresh Yadav, Padmanabhanand and Ram Mehar, Constables Saurabh Kumar, Abhay Mishra, Banmali Ram, N P Sonkar, K K Pandey, Vinay Chandra Burman, P Alagupandi, Abhay Kumar, N Senthil Kumar, N Thirumurgan, Ranjit Kumar, Ashish Singh, Manoj Kumar and Anup Karmakar.
The six injured have been identified as ASI R Chembram, Constables Mahender Singh, Jitender Kumar, Sher Mohammed, Lachhu Oraon and Sonawane Eashwar Suresh.
The Naxalites mounted the assault around 12.25 pm in Kalapathar area of south Bastar region, one of the worst-hit by Left-wing extremism in the country.
The area is close to the Chintagufa-Burkapal-Bheji axis, the hotbed of Naxal violence which has seen a number of such attacks in the past resulting in high casualties.
“As per the latest report, we have lost 25 men. We are still to account for all the personnel and a search is on. About 7-8 boys are still missing. The last word on the encounter will come once the entire area has been searched and all troops contacted,” a senior CRPF officer said, adding the paramilitary patrol was about 99 personnel-strong.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack.
‘Strongly condemn attack on CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh; condolences to families of deceased and prayers for injured (sic),’ the president said in a tweet.
Calling the attack a ‘cowardly and deplorable’ act, the prime minister tweeted, ‘Attack on @crpfindia personnel in Chhattisgarh is cowardly & deplorable. We are monitoring the situation closely.’
‘We are proud of the valour of our @crpfindia personnel. The sacrifice of the martyrs will not go in vain. Condolences to their families,’ he added.
The incident occurred near Burkapal village within Chintagufa police station limits, Sukma Additional Superintendent of Police Jitendra Shukla said.
While 11 bodies were recovered first, 12 were found during combing operations. A jawan succumbed to injuries while being evacuated by air, the officer added.
An injured jawan, brought to a hospital in Raipur, said the CRPF patrol was attacked by around 300 Maoist guerrillas.
“The naxals first sent villagers to check our position... I also saw some women Naxals. They were all wearing black uniforms and had sophisticated weapons like the AK series assault rifles,” the unidentified jawan said.
He said around 10-12 Naxalites must have got killed in the ‘befitting’ retaliation by the CRPF contingent.
Sourav Malik, another personnel who was injured in the attack, said the patrol came under sudden fire from Maoist rebels.
CRPF officials said the ambush set up by the Naxals was as deadly as the one on March 11 in Bheji area of the same district where 12 personnel lost their lives.
It is understood that the company commander, an Inspector rank officer leading the contingent which was ambushed on Monday, was also killed.
The officer said the CRPF patrol, like in the Bheji incident, was sanitising the area where a road is being laid between Burkapal and Jagargunda, when the assault happened.
The Naxals were believed to have also looted over a dozen weapons of the slain personnel, the officer said.
All the troops belonged to the 74th battalion of the force deployed in the area for anti-Maoist operations.
The CRPF later claimed that a considerable number of Maoists are believed to have been killed in retaliatory action by its men after the attack, adding that no body has been recovered yet.
The paramilitary force in a statement said about 300 to 400 Naxals ‘ambushed’ its patrol party killing 25 personnel and injuring six others in Sukma district.
‘A considerable number of Maoists are believed to have been eliminated (in retaliatory action by CRPF men) as the tell-tale sign indicate from the ground,’ it added.
The bodies of all jawans, it said, have been airlifted to Raipur, while the six injured have been admitted to a hospital in the state capital.
CRPF Director General (acting) Sudeep Lakhtakia and senior officials of the operations directorate of the force are expected to visit the site tomorrow to ‘take stock of the situation’.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was saddened by the attack and was sending Minister of State Hansraj Ahir to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation.
‘Extremely pained to know about the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma. My tributes to the martyrs and condolences to their families.’
‘Spoke to MoS Home Shri Hansraj Ahir about the attack in Sukma. Shri Ahir is going to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation,’ he tweeted.
He later briefed PM Modi about the incident and he will be visiting Raipur on Tuesday.
The officer added Ahir will be accompanied by Joint Secretary (Naxal management) in the home ministry Praveen Vashisht and acting CRPF Director General Sudeep Lakhtakia.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said he was ‘extremely distressed’ over the attack, as he cut short his Delhi visit and rushed to Raipur.
Another MoS in the home ministry Kiren Rijiju said the incident was a ‘setback and a big tragedy’.
Reinforcements, including CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) commandos of the CRPF and its other units, have been rushed to the scene from the nearest camp of the paramilitary force, the officer added.
The incident comes at a time when the country’s largest paramilitary force is without a full-time chief after K Durga Prasad retired on February 28.
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi also reviewed the situation in the aftermath of the attack at his North Block office.
Condemning the Naxal attack, Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi said such 'thoughtless violence' will never succeed in weakening the resolve to fight extremist forces.
The party also demanded that the Modi government take immediate and strong action against the forces behind the incident.
Describing the attack as 'mindless and ruthless strike on our security forces', Sonia Gandhi said the sacrifice of the brave men was a big loss to the nation.
"Such attacks will never deter the fight against extremism," she said.
The Congress president also expressed solidarity with friends and families of the martyrs and prayed for the early recovery of the injured.
Party vice president Rahul Gandhi lauded the courage and sacrifice of CRPF personnel while offering his condolences to the bereaved families.
'This thoughtless violence will never succeed in weakening our resolve to fight forces of extremism. My sincere condolences to the families of CRPF personnel martyred in the attack in Sukma. We salute the sacrifice and courage of our bravehearts,' he said on Twitter.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said it was an unfortunate incident and hoped the Central government take immediate action against those involved in the act.
"We hope the Central government will act against all those who have committed this crime and take immediate and appropriate action against them, be it Maoists or anybody else," he said at the All India Congress Committee briefing.
AICC incharge of communications department Randeep Singh Surjewala said this was the second dastardly attack by Naxalites in recent times in the state.
He said on March 11 this year, 11 paramilitary commandos had sacrificed themselves in a brutal Naxalite attack.
"Did the BJP-led Chattisgarh government learn any lesson? Is it not a clear case of Intelligence failure on part of Central and state government? How does the present government propose to tackle Naxalites?
"The prime minister should take decisive action against anti-national forces, who are directly challenging the might of the nation," he said.
"Our salute to the brave soldiers and condolences to their families," Surjewala said. "Congress fought with Naxals and sacrificed. Nand Kumar Patel/Vidya Charan Shukla/Mahender Karma and other leaders laid down their lives," he said.
The Congress party also tweeted, 'Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the security personnel who lost their lives in an encounter with Naxals in Chhattisgarh.'