Six soldiers of India’s elite anti-Naxal strike force were shot dead during a series of fierce gunbattles that has now been on for more than 48 hours in the southern Chhattisgarh rebel redoubt of Dantewada.
This is the biggest loss suffered by the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) in what is their major anti-Naxal operation in Dantewada, 500 km south of state capital Raipur.
More than 30 rebels are dead and their weapon-production unit destroyed.
This operation demonstrates that the security forces can, and will, act against the Maoists in their strongholds, a home ministry official in Delhi said.
Hundreds of troops backed by two helicopters searched the area where five CoBRA soldiers had gone missing on Friday.
The bodies of two assistant commandants, an assistant sub-inspector two head constables and a constable were found by a rescue team on Saturday, said Inspector General of Police (Bastar range) T.J. Longkumer.
“It’s the first time the CoBRA has suffered casualties of this magnitude...” said Deputy Inspector General (Intelligence) Pawan Deo.
Despite the involvement of specially trained and outfitted troops, there appeared to be communication problems between pursuit units and the main body of CoBRA troops.
It took rescuers 24 hours to find their bodies.
The director of the army’s Jungle Warfare and Counter Insurgency College Brigadier B.K. Ponwar said unified action against the Maoists required a flawless communication network, something that failed on Friday.
“When forces are inside remote forest areas communicating with them becomes difficult, even impossible,” said police spokesman R.K. Vij.
The Chhattisgarh police planned to buy advanced radio sets that would work regardless of terrain and climate, said Vij.