TTen police personnel and a civilian driver were killed after Naxals blew up a vehicle which was part of a convoy carrying security personnel in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada district on Wednesday, an official said.
This was the biggest strike by the Maoists on the security forces in the state in the last two years.
The blast, carried out using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) containing an estimated 40 kg of explosive material, took place under Aranpur police station area between 1 pm and 1.30 pm, when a team of the state police's District Reserve Guard (DRG) was out on an anti-naxal operation, Inspector General of Police (Bastar Range) Sundarraj P said.
DRG personnel are mostly recruited from the local tribal population and trained to combat Maoists. Sometimes surrendered Maoists are also recruited in the DRG.
The area where the blast took place is around 450 km from state capital Raipur.
The Multi-Utility Vehicle (MUV) carrying ten DRG jawans was blown up between Aranpur and Sameli villages, the IGP said.
All 10 jawans and the civilian driver of the vehicle were killed on the spot, he added.
The MUV had been rented by the security personnel, said another official.
Reinforcement was rushed to the spot and the bodies of the deceased were brought to Dantewada, the IGP said.
Security personnel have launched a search operation in the area, he added.
Another senior police official posted in Dantewada said that around 200 security personnel had set out from Dantewada district headquarters on Tuesday night after getting information about the presence of Maoists belonging to the Darbha division in the area.
On Wednesday morning, there was an exchange of fire between the patrolling team and Naxals near Nahadi village, around seven km from Aranpur, following which two suspected Naxals were held, he said on the condition of anonymity.
Subsequently, security personnel were returning to their base in a convoy of vehicles, he said.
There was a gap of around 100-150 metres between vehicles, and the Naxals targeted the second vehicle in the convoy, he said.
After the blast, the security personnel in the leading and following vehicles took positions and opened fire on both sides of the jungle, the official said.
Visuals from the spot showed a huge crater across the road at the blast site, almost 10-feet deep. The MUV was completely destroyed while bodies covered with plastic sheets were also seen in the video.
During a search of the spot, around 150 metre-long wire connected to the trigger of the command IED was recovered, the official said, adding that it seems that around 40 kg of explosive material was used.
A forensic team has reached the spot, he added.
Chhattisgarh Director General of Police Ashok Juneja held a meeting of officials of the Anti-Naxal Operation (ANO) and State Intelligence Branch (SIB) units in Raipur to take stock of the incident.
Expressing grief over the loss of life, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said the fight against naxalism was in its last phase, and the naxals will not be spared under any circumstances.
We will work in a coordinated way and eliminate naxalism, he added.
Baghel, who was scheduled to leave for poll-bound Karnataka this evening for campaigning, cancelled his visit. He will attend wreath laying ceremony for the martyred jawans in Dantewada on Thursday, officials said.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Baghel following the incident.
"Anguished by the cowardly attack on the Chhattisgarh police at Dantewada. Have spoken to Chhattisgarh's Chief Minister and assured all possible assistance to the state government. My condolences to the bereaved family members of the martyred Jawans," Shah tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condemned the attack.
"Strongly condemn the attack on the Chhattisgarh police in Dantewada. I pay my tributes to the brave personnel we lost in the attack. Their sacrifice will always be remembered. My condolences to the bereaved families," Modi tweeted.
The deceased were identified as head constables Joga Sodi Munna Ram Kadti, Santosh Tamo; constables Dulgo Mandavi, Lakhmu Markam, Joga Kawasi, Hariram Mandavi, and `secret police' Raju Ram Kartam, Jairam Podiyam and Jagdish Kawasi. The driver was identified as Dhaniram Yadav.
Most of the victims were residents of Dantewada district.
Asked if Naxal incidents are showing an uptick, Chhattisgarh Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu told reporters that the rebels' activities had declined 40 percent in the four years of Congress rule and the government has succeeded in putting them on the back foot.
The Naxals carry out one or two such incidents periodically to show their presence, he added.
In the past, numerous attacks have taken place on the security forces in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, comprising seven districts including Dantewada, between March and June.
During these summer months the Maoists carry out their 'Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign'.
Security officials say the menace of stealthily placed IEDs, especially in the border areas of south Chhattisgarh, "continues to pose a challenge".
"A general alert was issued to the security agencies stating that the naxal-sponsored TCOC period is on and hence they should be alert while conducting operational and administrative tasks," said an official.
In the last major incident, 22 security personnel were killed on April 3, 2021, in an ambush along the border of Sukma and Bijapur districts.
Seventeen security personnel were killed in a Naxal ambush in the Minpa area of Sukma district on March 21, 2020.
On April 9, 2019, BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel were killed in a blast in Dantewada district.
The Burkapal attack of April 24, 2017, in Sukma district claimed the lives of 25 CRPF personnel.
Several senior leaders of the state Congress were killed in Jhiram Valley Naxal attack on May 25, 2013.
The Tadmetla massacre, the deadliest Naxal attack in which 76 security personnel died, had taken place in April 6, 2010.