The 24 Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) personnel killed right inside their camp in daylight in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district on Monday were sitting ducks even though they were equipped with INSAS rifles and AK-47s.
The camp was located within a primary health centre in the middle of Silda town, about 170 km west of Kolkata, with markets, a bus terminus and residential houses all around it.
There were no entry checks; within the camp, there was even a public toilet used by the locals. Its only defence was a five-foot wall and barbed wire fencing.
There was no perimeter watch, no battle readiness and no competent camp management despite the camp being in the heart of the Maoist war zone.
Worst of all, though the state had armed the jawans to the teeth, it had not trained them in the basics of guerrilla warfare.
The growing conviction that the government had put the lives of the security men at stake was expressed forcefully by the relatives of the killed jawans when six state ministers arrived at Salua, the barracks of the first, second and third battalions of the EFR, about 60 km from Silda, on Tuesday.
“The Maoists came very close to the sentry box, lobbed grenades and opened fire. Only two guards were on duty at the sentry box,” a senior Home Ministry official said.
The Maoists completed the operation in 15 minutes, leaving a trail of bodies and taking away 12 AK-47 assault rifles, 17 INSAS rifles, 16 Self-Loading Rifles and two 9 mm pistols.
On Tuesday, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said only a thorough review would reveal how the police camp was overrun in daylight. But he admitted there were indications of failure in some aspects.
Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen said, “The Union home secretary has asked for a detailed report from us. We will send it by tomorrow. There might be an intelligence failure on the part of the police.”
The final toll stood at 25 with a villager also having been caught in the cross-fire.
(Inputs from Kolkata)