Mines for miles

36injuredCRPF Lurking danger: An injured CRPF jawan being taken to hospital after the Maoist strike. The attack exposed glaring gaps in the intelligence gathering system | PTI

Maoists explode 340 IEDs to kill 10 CoBRA commandos

Ten commandos belonging to the elite Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed on July 18 in a Maoist attack. The improvised explosive device (IED) blasts hit the commandos while they were on a combing operation in the Chakarbanda-Dumarinala forests in Bihar's Aurangabad district.

CRPF Director General K. Durga Prasad told THE WEEK that the Maoists exploded 340 IEDs against the commandos, who were on an intelligence-based operation to bust a Maoist gathering in the region bordering Jharkhand. It was a joint operation by the Bihar Police and the CoBRA unit, and the local superintendent of police was accompanying the team. The attack exposed glaring gaps in the intelligence-gathering system as the commandos walked unawares into the death trap.

Sources in the security establishment said the elite unit had received no prior intelligence about the impending attack. "We had no clue about this area being mined," said a top officer who coordinated with the state police. The intelligence gathering unit of the Bihar Police, which gave the commandos inputs about the Maoist meeting in the area, failed to warn them about the 12 km-long mined stretch alongside Dumarinala.

Prasad said the team was moving from one hill to another alongside Dumarinala. “Since there was a nala (streamlet) on one side, there was hardly any place to move, and when the explosions took place, the men were caught in it," he said. Home ministry sources said it took time to remove the wounded and the dead, as helicopters could not land immediately because of the thick forest cover and incessant firing by the Maoists. Combing operations were launched later, supported by additional forces. Security officials said at least four Maoists might have been killed in the encounter, which went on for several hours.

The attack is a wake-up call for the Central and state governments. Officials overseeing anti-Maoist operations said Bihar remained a state of concern. While the Nitish Kumar government has its own strategy of "development first" to contain Maoist insurgency, home ministry officials said Bihar was lagging behind in tackling the threat effectively. They said Central forces had been highlighting the need to tackle the IED threat because the Maoists had, of late, made significant progress in innovating, manufacturing and planting IEDs. Following the attack, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh phoned Nitish to take stock of the situation and to offer Central assistance.

"A soft approach to the Maoist problem cannot yield results,” said an officer engaged in anti-Maoist operations. “A two-pronged strategy of security and development has to be adopted and any let up in operations will spell trouble in areas where the Maoists have the upper hand.”

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