One day after India’s Maoist rebels killed 76 policemen in their deadliest attack in recent memory, the government sought to tamp down public anger that the guerrilla forces killed so many officers without taking a single casualty.
The Maoists, also called Naxalites, who claim to fight for India’s poor, have battled the government for four decades. They have been labeled one of the top security threats in India, with a presence in 22 of 28 states. Despite a massive offensive launched against them last year across seven states, called Operation Greenhunt, they recently rejected an offer of peace negotiations.
“Something has gone very wrong,” India’s home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram admitted, but he cautioned against any “knee jerk” reaction to the attack.
Ambush, booby traps
According to Indian and Western media reports, a convoy of the Alpha company of the elite Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which is involved in Operation Greenhunt in the state of Chhattisgarh, walked into a rebel trap while heading to a base. It is a rocky area enveloped by thick forest.
At dawn, more than 500 rebels, armed with a sophisticated inventory of weapons, besieged the convoy in their signature guerrilla style. They opened fire indiscriminately, threw grenades, and set off IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Fleeing soldiers fell over the mines and booby traps that the rebels had laid beforehand on the escape routes. Two sets of police reinforcements arrived on the scene, and also came under fire.
“Tuesday’s ambush was no low intensity affair,” said an editorial in The Indian Express, a national daily. “This is a large scale, if protracted war … Tuesday’s massacre is not to be construed as a warning or another small episode in a war of attrition.”
“Therefore, it is time to review Green Hunt: a tactical upgrade, even an overhaul,” it continued.
No reinforcements, for now
Mr. Chidambaram ruled out for now the possibility of bringing in the Army or Air Force to fight the Maoists, but pledged there would be no letup in the offensive.
“We think the state police assisted by Central paramilitary forces are sufficient to overcome the Naxalite threat. It is our present assessment of the threat,” he said. “But if necessary, we will have to revisit the mandate to make some changes.”