In the deadliest Maoist attacks till date, Red rebels enticed a CRPF team into a trap early on Tuesday and butchered 76 of them in two separate ambushes deep in the jungles of Chattisgarh’s Dantewada district.
In Delhi, Home Minister P Chidarambam confirmed that the men had walked into a trap. "This shows the savage nature of the Maoists — the brutality and savagery they are capable of," he said.
And Home Secretary G K Pillai added the government would give the Maoists "a fitting reply".
These attacks come barely four days after Maoists attacked and killed 10 policemen in a landmine attack in Orissa and beats by a comfortable margin the previous record for the "biggest" attack — Red terrorists had killed 55 security men in the same state in March 2007.
Experts blamed poor traini-ng of security personnel and intelligence failure for the deaths. A senior police officer, however, said: "We’re trying to locate all our personnel now. We’ll look into the causes (behind the deaths of so many men) later."
Following the attacks, experts questioned the anti-Maoist strategy and the effectiveness of the security forces in tackling the menace.
"The anti-Naxal strategy is a flop. Someone picked up the strategy from some book and forced it down the throats of the paramilitary forces," said K.P.S. Gill, former director general of Punjab Police and the man credited with ending the Khalistani insurgency in that state.
The CRPF men were on search and area domination operation for four days near Chintalnar, a Maoist stronghold 450 km south of Raipur, when they received a "tip-off" about the movement of rebels belonging to the Peoples’ Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), the Maoist armed wing, near Talmetla village nearby.
But the route to the village, through dense jungle, was booby-trapped. The PLGA set off mines and opened fire on the CRPF men from all sides. Many security men died before they could reach for their guns.
But those who survived the initial onslaught returned fire. Crucially, they were able to radio back to their base for help.
A relief force of 81 CRPF men, on their way to help their under-fire colleagues, was encircled and attacked by another large contingent of the PLGA about 2 km from the spot where the first CRPF team had been attacked.
"More than 1,000 rebels encircled the two units, triggered powerful blasts and fired indiscriminately at them," said DIG (anti-Naxal operations) S R P Kalluri.
By 8.30 am, the fight was all but over. Four helicopters were pressed into service to evacuate injured personnel. Top sources said more than a dozen troopers, many of them critically wounded, had been airlifted to hospitals in Jagdalpur nearby.