The government suspended on Saturday all road construction work in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar for two weeks and said security forces would focus on hitting back at Maoists for killing 25 soldiers in an ambush earlier this week.
Sources told Hindustan Times that the forces – Central Reserve Police Force, Central Industrial Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Border Security Force -- were taking stock of strike capacity and intelligence, and would start fresh counter-insurgency operations in the region within the next 48-72 hours.
“We will concentrate on operations now and all the forces will be engaged in that only,” said DM Awasthi , special director general (Naxal operations).
Nearly a third of the 30,000 security men in the region are deployed to protect road construction workers and contractors– and these soldiers will now be shifted to direct anti-Maoist operations.
The late-evening announcement came five days after the paramilitary force suffered a reverse in south Sukma when soldiers overseeing a road construction – called a “road opening party” – were ambushed and killed by Maoists.
An almost-identical attack on another road opening party just miles away had killed 12 CRPF men in March.
The back-to-back attacks proved that despite government forces gaining significant ground over the past decade and a sharp fall in violence, Maoist rebels still controlled vast swathes of the heavily forested, sparsely populated terrain where state administration is often practically absent.
The latest offensive is seen as a move to wipe out the insurgents from the tribal-dominated region.
Awasthi told HT that the forces were planning to hit back, based on specific intelligence inputs. “We need the force for operations now for the next few days.”
The fresh operations will occur based on fresh intelligence and in coordination with governments of the neighbouring Telangana , Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra.
Roads are a crucial link in the government’s anti-insurgency plan as they can be used by forces to access inhospitable terrain and scuttle the Maoists’ knowledge of local geography and guerrilla warfare. But road construction often comes at a heavy price because CRPF men end up as sitting ducks for Maoist violence.