The Naxals, who killed 25 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in an ambush in Sukma district on Monday, had sent some villagers to the forest to distract the troops minutes before attacking them, said a CRPF constable injured in the fight.
The Maoists attacked the 100-member CRPF patrol, providing security to the road-building workers in Chintagufa area, killing 25 jawans and injuring seven.
CRPF jawan Sourabh Kumar Malik, undergoing treatment at Balaji Hospital in Raipur for bullet injuries, said around 100 jawans were out on a regular road security operation since Monday morning to facilitate the ongoing construction of the Chintagufa-Jagargunda road.
He recalled seeing some villagers in the area just before the attack.
"One of them was wearing a black scarf around his face. When we stopped him, he replied he had come to relieve himself,” Malik said, adding that villagers usually visit the forest in the region for picking up Mahua fruits and tendu leaves.
"Therefore, we considered that their movement yesterday (Monday) too was for the same purpose," he said while narrating the sequence of events.
"Within minutes after the villagers left, the CRPF team came under fire from three sides of the forest at around 12.40 pm. We immediately took positions and retaliated but by then some of our buddies were hit by bullets," Malik said adding they started retrieving the injured personnel.
He recalled some villagers, who were present at the spot, started making noise to distract the jawans.
"While replying to the firing by the Naxals who had surrounded us, I also sustained bullet injuries. The strength of the Naxals was around 300 while we were just 100 divided in two teams. The exchange of the fire lasted for around three-and-half hours,” Malik said.
He said in most of the Naxal attacks, it has been noticed that villagers were used as human shields by the insurgents during the gun battle.
"We cannot do anything to the unarmed villagers as we have been asked that they should not be harmed at any cost,” said Malik who sustained bullet injuries on his left shoulder and legs in the encounter.
Malik said he and his colleagues are ready to take on the insurgents again.
"Given a chance, we will go and fight again. We are still ready to fight," said the CRPF constable from his hospital bed.
He demanded that the state police too should be involved in providing security to the road construction works along with the CRPF.
Another CRPF constable Manoj Kumar, who was also part of the patrolling party, said he was feeling disappointed because even after helping the villagers with medical aid several times, they supported the ultras and not the jawans.
While speaking to the media at the Burkapal camp of the 74th battalion of CRPF on Tuesday, Manoj said, “I have administered treatment to several injured villagers many a times, but they never supported us. They give us some information at times but that too later proves wrong. It is really disappointing that they supported the Naxals.”
He said besides triggering an improvised explosive device blast and resorting to indiscriminate firing, the ultras also shot explosive-laden arrows at the security personnel during the ambush.
‘Attack planned and executed by local Naxal commander’
The deadly ambush was planned and executed by a local Naxal commander.
The Naxal commander was reportedly camping in the area for the last few days, said the official.
The incident took place in the same base region of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist where 75 CRPF personnel and one state policeman were massacred in April, 2010 in Tadmetla.
"We got regular inputs on April 22 that dreaded Maoist commander Situ was camping at Tadmetla village, around 7-8 km from Burkapal where the ambush took place yesterday," a senior police official involved in anti-Naxal operations told PTI.
“We suspect that the attack was planned by Situ and his group by taking the support of local lower-rung cadres of Maoists like Sangham and militia members,” he said.
When the paramilitary troops were around 1.5 km away from their camp towards Chintagufa at around 12.40 pm, Maoists surrounded them apparently from three sides taking cover of rocks and trees and unleashed attack by resorting to random firing, he said.
Besides indiscriminate firing, the Naxals also lobbed grenade through under-barrel grenade launcher and locally made explosive-headed-arrows on security personnel, he said.
“It was the deadliest attack on security forces in the recent years in the state,” the official said.
The first military battalion of Maoists, headed by Naxal commander Hidma, which is active in Sukma has been involved in several deadly attacks on security forces in the past.
The battalion has two military companies of Maoist, of which, one headed by Nagesh and another by Situ, he said.
Notably, the Chintagufa-Jagargunda patch is part of the strategically important road being built from Dornapal to inaccessible Jagargunda (58 km long), around 450 km from the state capital of Raipur.
The official said security forces were put on alert fearing Maoist offensive activities in view of annual ‘tactical counter offensive campaign’ (TCOC) being observed by rebels from March to June.
The summer season proves to be favourable period for carrying out Maoist attacks when long grasses and bushes dry up, providing clear view of the force movement in the vast jungle terrain, he said, adding, during this period they step up their activities.
On March 11 this year, as many as 12 CRPF personnel, belonging to the 219th battalion, were killed and three others injured in Sukma’s Bhejji area.
In the wake of that attack, security forces deployed in different parts of Bastar were asked to be extra cautious while carrying out operations as well to beef up security around police stations and their camps in remote areas, he added.
IMAGE: CRPF officer pay tributes to martyred jawans at Patna airport on Tuesday. Photograph: PTI Photo