Bhopal: Nine CRPF personnel were killed and two others injured on Tuesday when Maoists blasted the mine protected vehicle (MPV) they were travelling in using over 50 kg of explosives in Kistaram jungle, in Chhattisgarh’s south Bastar district of Sukma.
The attack came about four hours after another CRPF team had a fierce gun battle with about 100 Maoists, also in Sukma’s Kistaram forest in which, sources said, at least three grenades fired from Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) failed to go off.
“All Maoists were in uniform. Initially our party thought that it is another party of CRPF… but after few minutes they realised that they were Maoists… Initially, our party fired UGBL but three grenades did not explode. Had the grenades gone off, we would have major success in the encounter”, the CRPF officer told to this newspaper.
Despite that the jawans 208 CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) battalion forced the Maoists to retreat into the nearby jungle.
“The Maoists were heard communicating on a Chinese communication set that one Maoist was killed in the incident,” the CRPF officer said.
At around 12.30 pm, the Maoists emerged again, to blow up a vehicle carrying men from CRPF’s 212 battalion.
The impact of the explosion was such that the MPV was tossed eight to ten feet in the air before it crashed on the ground, throwing many personnel out of the vehicle, officials said.
The slain include one assistant sub-inspector, one head constable and seven constables of CRPF. The injured were evacuated by a chopper to Raipur.
The CRPF men were moving from Kistaram camp to the new camp in Palodi in the MPV when Maoists triggered improvised explosive device (IED) targeting them, D.M. Awasthi, special director general, Maoist operation, said.
The blast is suspected to have been triggered by joining wires from a distance when the MPV crossed over the IED, officials said.
Some of the CRPF personnel who were killed had recently returned from leave and were going to report at the new camp with their belongings and weapons, officials said.
The attack came a few hours after the Intelligence Bureau (IB) issued an alert of a possible Maoist attack on security personnel in the area.
“The attack site is in the core area of Maoist zone, where encounters take place almost every day between Maoists and security forces. Only inputs by security forces deployed on the ground reflect the ground situation,” Mr Awasthi said.
This was the fifth attack by Maoists on CRPF personnel in Sukma district since 2010.
Twelve CRPF personnel were killed on March 11 last year in the Bheji area of Sukma district and their arms looted when Maoists ambushed their patrol party. A few days later, on April 24, 25 CRPF personnel were killed in a similar ambush in Sukma
In the deadliest ever attack on security personnel by Maoists, 75 jawans of the Central paramilitary force were massacred in Chintalnar in the district on April 6, 2010.
Tuesday’s attack came a day after Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh threw a challenge at the Maoists by riding pillion on a bike on Inzaram-Bhejji road, barely 40 km from the attack site.
The chief minister condemned the attack, describing it as an act of cowardice. He said that the Maoists had targeted security personnel because they are angry over the developmental work being carried out in the area.
He convened an emergency meeting of senior officers and police officers to take stock of the situation and that counterinsurgency operations in Bastar be intensified.
Home minister Rajnath Singh said the incident was “deeply distressing” and asked CRPF director general R.R. Bhatnagar to rush to Chhattisgarh.
“My heartfelt condolences to the families of those personnel who lost their lives in Sukma blast. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured jawans,” he said.
The home minister also spoke with the Chhattisgarh chief minister and directed minister of state Hansraj Ahir to reach the state by Tuesday night and “review the ground situation.”
Officials said Maoists, led by their elusive commander Hidma and his PLGA (Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army) battalion no. 1, could be behind the deadly attack.
Sukma, considered one of the worst insurgency-hit regions of the state, has witnessed several deadly attacks on security forces in the past, particularly in summer months when rebels carry out their annual tactical counter offensive campaign (TCOC), which begins in February till onset of monsoon in Bastar in mid-June.
Those killed have been identified as assistant sub-inspector Ram Krishna Singh Tomar, head constable Laxman and constables Ajay Kumar Yadav, Manoranjan Lenka, Jitendra Singh, Sobit Kumar Sharma, Manoj Kumar Singh, Dharmendra Yadav and Chandra H.S. The injured are Madan Kumar and Rajesh Kumar.