In his book “The Life of Reason”, George Santayana, the Spanish American philosopher observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. This statement, made in the larger historical context, has equal applicability to conflict situations. If operational lessons are not correctly learned, casualties will continue to occur with monotonous regularity. The Maoist ambush of a Central Reserve Police Force patrol at Sukma in Chhattisgarh on March 11, 2017, is yet another chilling reminder of the truism of Santayana’s words wherein 12 CRPF personnel were killed and two critically wounded. The Maoists also took away ten rifles and two radio sets from the killed men of the CRPF patrol party.
Let us rewind a bit to the sorry history of loss of lives in the state of Chattisgarh.Way back in march 2007, fifty five policemen were killed and 11 injured when the Maoists stormed a police station in Bastar division of Chhattisgarh. April 2010 saw the biggest bloodbath yet, when in a well planned ambush, the Maoists killed 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada. A few months later in June, 26 CRPF men were killed in Bastar. Then on 25 May 2013, 31 people were killed including a major part of the state level leadership of the Congress party in an ambush by the Maoists in Darbha Valley in Sukma district. The horrific stories contiuned when on March 11, 2014 11 CRPF and 5 police personal were killed at Tongpal, again in Sukma District. And the list goes on and on. Besides the loss of precious lives, what is particularly galling in all these cases is that the Maoists made away with the weapons and equipment of the killed soldiers.
A well planned and executed ambush by terrorists will cause casualties to the security forces, but through proper drills and procedures, these can be minimised. Even if ambushed, the situation must never be allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that the terrorists can loot the weapons and equipment of the slain police personnel. That is totally unacceptable for it reflects the total domination over the area by the hostile force.
To learn the right lessons, it is incumbent on the part of the security forces to carry out a detailed analysis on what went wrong and what needs to be done to avoid casualties in future. Too often however, after an action where the security forces have suffered heavy casualties, the difficult questions are rarely asked, unpleasant facts are covered up and accountability is rarely established. In deference to those who have laid down their lives, statements are given to the media of the brave resistance put up by the security forces, even if the ground action gives no indication of any such resistance being offered. So history repeats itself, not because it has been forgotten, but because we failed to record it correctly in the first place, leading to continuous loss of life and a further cycle of cover-ups and misreporting.
In the March 11, 2017 ambush of CRPF personnel at Sukma, about 100 men had moved out in the morning to dominate the area. A portion of this force was ambushed, which led to 12 CRPF be determined is what action if any did the rest of the personnel who were in the vicinity take to help their colleagues who were under fire. There certainly appears to be serious weaknesses in the training and leadership level of the CRPF, if the terrorists could get away with ten rifles from the slain soldiers.
While the polic area by day, the area is left to the Maoists by night. Domination requires patrolling by night also and setting up ambushes where movement of Maoists is likely. Such ambush sites are chosen randomly, to avoid the pitfall of falling into a fixed and predictable routine. Only then can caution be imposed on the Maoists. In the present ambush, the Maoists set up IEDs on the road near the CRPF post by night which indicates they had a free run to do so. So the questions to be asked with respect to area domination are; does the CRPF carry out night patrolling? Are they trained to do so? Do they have the requisite night vision equipment? Do they set up ambushes at random to prevent the move of armed militant groups? Unless we ask these questions, how can we even hope to improve the quality of our response?
The next question is, were the police forces moving tactility? While moving out for operations, there is a laid down standard operating procedure where troops move well spaced on either side of the road. It is important to remember that the leading elements carry out such road itself, with the rest of the column following tactically in file formation. Movement in such a manner increases the chances of detecting an ambush and obviates the possibility of the whole group being hit simultaneously. Should the leading elements come under fire, the rest of the group is in a position to react and break the ambush, in turn causing severe casualties to the militants.
The Maoists took away the rifles and radio sets of the killed CRPF personnel. This indicates a lack of resistance by the rest of the group as any form of resistance would have prevented such an occurrence. The question to be asked is what did the rest of the group do when the leading lot came under fire? It would be important to get an answer, if corrective measures are to be applied in terms of training in battlefield skills and junior level leadership training.
The last question pertains to communication within the group? It is important to ask these questions and hold commanders at all levels accountable for acts of omission or commission if the war on terror is to be won.
The discourse unfortunately has shifted to peripheral issues. The media consistently refers to lack of intelligence, but this does not apply to security forces moving out on operations. They have to be prepared for an ambush each and everytime they move out. The media also pointed out that the ambush was executed by a large Maoist force, in excess of a hundred personnel. This appears unlikely. Ambushes to be successful are conducted by small groups, which make a quick getaway after execution of task. Large numbers are easy to spot and also provide a bigger target to the security forces. And if indeed there were Maoists in their hundreds, all set to ambush the CRPF, that reflects very poorly on the security forces for failing to detect them. T
There are basic weaknesses in the training and leadership levels of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) taking part in anti Naxal operations. These need to be addressed on priority if we are to win the war against terror. For a start, CRPF units must start operating as an organised body under their own commanding officers. They must also be trained in unit or company groups. Officers of the rank of DIG and IG must leave the towns and live with their personnel who are taking part in operations to provide front line leadership.We must train our police forces taking part in such operations to make them adept at jungle fighting.
It is also open to question whether the CRPF is the right force to be the lead agency in combatting the Maoists. The Force calls itself a Paramilitary Police Force, but that is a contradiction in terms. A force can either be a police force, trained on police lines or a paramilitary force, trained on military lines and led by military officers. As of now, it is led by police officers but is required to function on military lines. A mere change in nomenclature cannot give teeth to an organisation, which is a function of leadership, training, equipping and a host of other factors. As of now, serious shortcomings exist in the functioning of the forces deployed for operations against the Maoists and unless these are rectified, we will continue to suffer casualties in sudden and surprise attacks carried out by the Maoists. Urgent corrective measures need to be taken if we are to obviate such casualties from occurring in future.