On 3 April, between 1400-1600 hours (broad daylight), a Counter-Insurgency Task Force (CITF) comprising Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Chhattisgarh State Police, and some specialised forces, were ambushed by Maoist insurgents in the Sukma forest area. There were 27 casualties, and more than 30 personnel injured. The CITF had undertaken this operation based on the specific information on the whereabouts of Madvi Hidma, an infamous Maoist leader known for brutalities against security forces. Tragically, instead of CITF getting him, Hidma got the better of the task force.
The very fact that out of 27 casualties, none was an officer reflects upon the lack of seriousness and sincerity of the planners who had planned and executed this headless operation. Reports suggest that there was one Assistant Commandant who was injured. Was the rest of the force of around 2,000 personnel, divided into six teams, led by only inspectors? There is something amiss with their (Central Armed Police Force) officer cadres to lead their men from the front.
It is also strange that information on the dreaded Naxal leaders' whereabouts were not adequately analysed. It now seems that it was a well-planned trap by the Maoists. What was more surprising is the kind of tactics used. There was no proper drill to break the ambush. Nor was the high ground and hills on the flanks were secured.
Director General (DG) CRPF says that the force was suddenly surprised from behind while returning. Suddenly surprised? What did they expect? A marriage party being hosted by the Maoists? The question arises, had this force gone on some picnic like the Mughal Army? They did not secure the flanks and nor cleared it, where Maoists had deployed themselves.
The CRPF and State police, be it the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) or the Special Task Force (STF), is only suitable for action against ‘law abiding-citizens-going-astray.’ The fault is not of the Jawans but the officer cadre's composition, which nests Indian Police Service (IPS) in the top echelons. They have no idea of Counter Insurgency Operations (COIN-Ops) training and the need for high-quality leadership in the conflict zone. As a result, untrained and poorly led Jawans are being sacrificed like lamb to the slaughter.
The CRPF was created to augment state police for ‘Law and Order’ maintenance. It is trained, organised, equipped and officered for such tasks only. Therefore, it is suitable for election duties or handling political riots. They are not suitable for fighting against motivated and well-trained insurgents like the Maoists. Also, it is not accustomed and trained to lead a hard life like the Maoist insurgents. It's an urban-oriented force. Jawans are not trained to fight in jungles and mountains, (barring the CRPF COBRA).
The latest ambush shows that they conduct road and track bound operations, which always lead them to be trapped in an ambush. This has been happening over the past decade since the Dantewada ambush of 2010. CRPF, then, had lost some 78 Constables. Unfortunately, CRPF leaders have not learnt their lessons. CRPF and state police cadres have to be appropriately trained to do justice to their new role envisaged. Asking for the Indian Army’s deployment is not the answer. The Army can train it and orientate it. However, CRPF has to have its cadre right to the top. IPS intake must be stopped forthwith.
One is reminded of General Moshe Dayan of 1967 Arab-Israeli war fame. In the early 1970s, he visited the United States Army in Vietnam. After the visit, he had predicted that the US Army would fail in Vietnam, which it did in the late-1970s. His reason was that US soldiers had all the dream weapons, equipment, and facilities, but they lacked the will to operate off the roads and tracks, which gave the Vietcong initiative. The same is true of Indian police forces fighting the Maoist insurgency in Central India.
Some scholars and analysts now suggest an easy way out of palming off responsibility to the Indian Army. The Army must resist it at all costs. It has become a routine for all such dirty jobs. Let all instruments of State power perform their roles sincerely.
It is important to note that there was a need to create equally well-motivated leaders of the force. More often, CRPF is led by only inspectors in such operations. IPS guys stay away, and they only fly in and out when such mishaps occur. They are not emotionally connected as the permanent cadre would do. They fill the slot and enjoy the perks and privileges.
It is true of all CAPFs be it the Shasastra Seema Bal (SSB), Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Border Security Force (BSF) and even various intelligence agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) et cetera, which has IPS cadre on the top. No wonder DG CRPF was astonished by Maoists "suddenly surprising his force from behind.” This is why every time CAPF loses 30-50 men since the Dantewada incident in 2010.
The scene of the ambush was just 14 kilometres away from the permanent location of the CRPF Battalion. Surprisingly, there was No Control Headquarters monitoring the operation; probably there were no communications too. There was no reserve kept reacting quickly. Strange that Jawans' dead bodies were recovered only on the second day, while ambushes had taken place between 1400 -1600 in the day. DG CRPF should have been rueing this inaction, rather than making alibis for such inaction.
Lack of conceptual and directional leadership and lack of motivation, compounded by training deficits, make such forces incompetent to handle insurgency/Mobility- whose cadres are always on a ‘suicidal’ mission. In counter-insurgency operations numbers do not matter but the quality of motivation and competent leadership do. There is a false operational strategy by CRPF and State police to flood the forest with numbers. This works to the advantage of Maoists.
Therefore, large scale operations are the antithesis of counter-insurgency. Mission-oriented or target-based operations need to be worked out. Operate in small teams, with laid down specific targets, acting on actionable and real-time intelligence will bear dividends. Operating like the Mughal Army will only lead to casualties.
The analysis of intelligence is also critical. Most often, misleading information is also floated by insurgents to lure security forces. In the instant case, indications are that it was a trap and intel agencies fell for it. They were enticed into a killing ground.
Reports indicate that when bullets begin to fly, all men of the so-called CITF ran helter skelter. The non-availability of officer leadership made it difficult to organise a coordinated resistance to minimise the damage. There are apparent grey areas in CITF training and the ability to tackle insurgency. This is the difference between non-officer led troops.
They should have known and practised the tactics of breaking an Ambush — A reserve force should have been immediately launched. The communication system was probably lacking. If it existed, then the Control HQ would have immediately known it and reacted with Plan "B".
Do these above thoughts explain the state of affairs of the CAPF? Moreover, one expects them to fight highly motivated Maoists! As highlighted earlier, CAPF jawans are poorly led but untrained and are not tuned to fight in insurgency environs. Moreover, they are a ‘Law and Order’ force against those who violate laws and not against those who openly flout India's constitution.
The government's policy on COIN ops is lopsided. The Government, both State and centre, are confused to think of Maoists as ‘our misguided youth’. No Sir! They are enemies of the State. Anyone who picks up arms against the State is its enemy. ‘The enemy needs to be crushed with heavy hands like in Punjab in the early 90s and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) today.
About the Author
Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected].
(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')