The nation is shocked yet again with mass causalities of the policemen who were part of an anti-Maoist operation launched in the forests of Bastar in Bijapur district of Chattisgarh, a Maoists infested state. The forces not only suffered large fatal casualties with many seriously wounded and one policeman still missing but the Maoists also managed to escape after the successful operation with a booty of weapons,bullet-proof jackets, boots and other personal accessories of the martyred policemen. What is shocking is the fact that such large losses occur frequently, and we hardly learn lessons from the past failures to ensure that the losses in future are minimized. The bitter fact is that the Maoists have proved more professional in the sense that they are known to critically analyse each operation by video filming the same and carrying out the post operation analysis to draw lessons for the future. Unfortunately, while analysing the instant operation it is very sad to note that same mistakes have been repeated as was done in the Sukma incident of 2018. Evidently, our forces have failed to learn from the past mistakes which speaks poorly of the leadership. In fact, popular journalist Shekhar Gupta has observed that, “the first reaction after any such operation is to cover the backside of the senior officers.” How true? Narratives and stories are spun to justify the failure by converting it into a well contested successful operation. We lack investigative journalism and the media houses also buy the narrative spun by the government agencies.
In order to draw a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the red corridor, it is essential to understand the shortcomings and professional errors committed in the conduct of instant operation. It is learnt that the operation was launched on a specific intelligence input provided by an aerial platform (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Objective was to trap Hidma (a top-rated Maoist commander known for successful ambushes). A careful analysis of the intelligence input should have prompted the planners to maintain the contact with the high value target and keep all his activities under surveillance through both Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and Human Intelligence (HUMINT). Obviously, it was not done, otherwise how can the ability of Hidma to gather 400 Maoists for the ambush be justified? Hence inadequate intelligence assessment and poor intelligence gathering setup along with faulty operational planning are obvious shortcomings which are almost like the shortcomings noticed in previous failed operations. The conduct and execution of the operation was as good as its planning. It reflects on the standard of training particularly specialized training in Jungle Warfare.
The other major shortcoming was lack of proper command and control coupled with absence of commanders with their respective units and formations. Since four different types of forces were operating together, a foolproof command and control structure was mandatory. Anti-Maoist operations can’t be treated as routine operations, the troops and commanders need to acquire the skills not only for counter insurgency operations but for the Jungle Warfare as well. Standard Operating Procedures are good for routine activities and drills but for actual combat quick mental reflexes are needed to respond and act as per the emerging tactical or operational situation. That needs immediate availability of the commanders at headquarters and in combat with the troops for on the spot decision making. This is also a frequently observed shortcoming. CRPF must inculcate the habit in its officers of leading from the front in these types of operations.
Unpredictability is the key to success in unconventional operations like the instant one. However, a study of the operations carried out by the CRPF leads one to believe that their operations are very predictable and hence afford an opportunity to the Maoists to surprise them. The fact that the troops were lured into a “U-Type” ambush bears testimony to the fact. Proper terrain analysis during the planning stage would have identified the likely ambush sites on the route-in and route-out and plans made to secure these sites before advancing further. Obviously, it was not done. No tactical operation is ever launched without planning and catering for reserves. In the instant case, lack of reserves was obvious. Also obvious is the lack of coordination for casualty evacuation and reinforcements using helicopters.
A thorough overhaul of the force operating against the Maoists is needed. The police culture must give way to military culture. A patch-work solution will lead us nowhere. To eliminate the Red Corridor which has already shrunk to less than one-third (only 31 affected districts remaining out of the original 200 plus) a synergized approach is needed. The first and the foremost requirement is to regain the confidence of the people and convince them of the government’s determination and capability to eliminate the red terror. Its only when the local population is convinced of the government’s upper hand in the red corridor that the much-needed human intelligence would start flowing.
To begin with there is a need of thorough overhaul and shake-up of the organizational structure. This includes creation of a separate Ministry of Internal Security through restructuring of the existing MHA, a separate operational command for the entire red corridor led by a Lt Gen. This command should cut across state boundaries and be mandated to conduct seamless operations within the designated geographical area.The force needs to be provided operational and logistics wherewithal tailor made for conduct of operations as well as for logistics support. Drones, Helicopters and UAVs should be totally integrated with this force. The senior officers of the rank of DIG and above for operations should be replaced by Brigadiers and above on secondment from the Army. Army has large number of officers in these ranks with adequate combat experience of counter insurgency and fighting in the jungle terrain.
The logistics branch can continue to have officers from the police. Only those units of CRPF or other police organisations which are trained in CI and Jungle Warfare should be on the ORBAT of this Anti-Maoist Operations Command (AMCOM). The Command should also have specialized units for Psychological Operations and WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds) operations.
Population Control Measures to isolate the Maoists should also be initiated prior to launching full-fledged operations to eliminate the Maoists on the pattern of Sri Lankan Army, which undertook the operations to eliminate the Tamil Tigers or the LTTE. The government will come under tremendous pressure from the Maoist sympathisers which include the Urban Naxalites, leftist ideology intellectuals, legal luminaries and a section of the media. A favourable national opinion will have to built by highlighting the danger Maoists pose to not only local development but also the national integrity and security. A “hammer and tongs” strategy is needed to eliminate the red corridor and bring the Maoists to the negotiating table.